In a short video The ‘disruptive potential’ of lecture capture posted in December I challenged a astonishingly persistent narrative among learning technologists that lecture capture is the ‘worst’ educational technology.
On Wednesday I had the opportunity to debate this issue further with a lively audience from Queen Mary University London as part of their Teaching and Learning Conference. I was up against a formidable opponent, Andy Brown, Head of Academic Development at University of the Highlands and Islands.
My argument was that lecture capture is a genuinely transformative technology in higher education, benefitting our students, our staff and our institutions. Any cynicism I may myself have had about this approach has been dispelled by my experience of seeing at first hand the effects of lecture capture implemented at large scale in at UCL. I now believe it is a game changer and I use that awful cliché deliberately as lecture capture is not often seen in that transformative light.
We started with a small pilot using Echo360 around five years ago; fast forward to today we have over 60 installations across the campus, 20% of our lectures are routinely recorded with 2000 recordings last term, 10,000 hits a week and 15,000 at exam time. An important aspect is that we did not start out by making recording compulsory; we just made it available. The growth therefore is due to student demand, our surveys show students are overwhelmingly in favour and two thirds use the system. There seems to be a ratchet effect – once students use lecture capture on one course, they want it on all courses and this is a common story among all institutions who implement at large scale.
Of course just because people like something, doesn’t mean it is good for them. I’m fond though of Josef Stalin’s maxim “Quantity has a quality all its own“. Remember most of our growth is due to voluntary participation. Academic colleagues might sometimes be skeptical about new technologies and we know our students are often strategic learners, but the data from thousands and thousands of micro-decisions seems to show there is a clear perception at an individual that level lecture recording is in some way educationally beneficial.
In the recently-finished REC:all project which UCL led, we tried to identify some concrete educational benefits, starting with ‘classical’ lecture capture the recording of live teaching events. We used a simple framework to describe educational value – the 3 I’s, namely image, interactivity and integration (all the references, by the way are in Beyond lecture capture, one of the guides on the REC:all web site).
Of the three, image is the weakest part of lecture capture, a small video window with iffy quality – what can that convey? Student surveys reveal it can get across emotion, enthusiasm, energy, models of academic thinking. It provides the authenticity, reality sometimes drama of a live performance and above all helps orientate especially if students unfamiliar with material, lecturer or language.
The jewel in the crown of lecture capture is perhaps interactivity. Lecture capture transforms an ephemeral event into a learning object. The learning object can be accessed on demand on students’ devices in their own time and is controlled via search start, stop, pause and review. The slide based indexing (synchronising video with slide changes) is key to this. It is important to realise that students generally only look at a small percentage of a recording. Research shows students “actively choosing specific sections of content to review rather than passively revisiting entire lectures”, and our UCL data certainly backs this up. Sometimes students use the recordings for clarification (there is a peak of use immediately after a lecture), sometimes for consolidation (there is another peak before exams but in wither case this simple control and interaction is in my view a rich form of engagement. It is active, selective, process oriented, and learner centric; using lecture captured recordings is much more than transmission.
Even if colleague are not convinced by the intrinsic benefits of video itself the third educational benefit integration provides another route to student engagement. Where do the recordings of lecture capture go? Into the virtual learning environment (VLE) appearing as links, in our case, in Moodle. This allows the lecturer to enhance or expand the recordings with additional resources, worksheets, background readings, quizzes discussion forums and so on and evidence suggests they do. Lecture capture drives traffic into the VLE, and students spend longer in the system, it becomes part of their study workflow this in turn encourages academics to invest time more in developing richer online student resources. One result of this ‘virtuous circle’ is that in a survey last year our students considered a remarkable 45% of our Moodle courses were ‘enhanced’ with media, forums, discussion and so on.
Lecture capture also has benefits for the university or college. Implementation rightly conveys the image that the institution is responsive to student demand and that they are providing a supportive and sophisticated, media-rich online environment for them. But we are also building capacity in the institution; infrastructure, technology, support skills, knowledge of copyright, accessibility, IPR and so on and above all sustainable budgets. This kit is not cheap and making cases to finance committees forces the institution think about media use and our future priorities.
One final point is our experience at UCL suggests while it may be hugely beneficial itself, lecture capture also acts as a ‘gateway’ to greater use of media across the institution. It is easy to use so it draws ‘mainstream’ academics into using media and gets them familiar with seeing themselves on media. Once they have done this in our experience they often ask “what else can I do with this system?”. Some start thinking spontaneously about more sophisticated learning designs such as ‘flipping‘, using screen capture, recording mini lectures and even getting students to create video. Video is increasingly used to prepare lab sessions or field trips, elaborate on ad hoc problem areas, provide feedback At UCL a community of practice is now emerging around the idea of the ‘media-savvy academic’. All this in turn is impacting on the use of video in distance learning, for CPD, marketing and maybe one day for MOOCs or MOOC-like offerings. Not everyone ‘upgrades’ in this way but the path is clear and a significant group of our lecture capture users are taking it. Lecture capture provides the experience, expertise and infrastructure to make this possible.
Was my argument successful? It seems so. Using ‘clickers’ we found those in favour of lecture capture at the beginning of the debate were already an encouraging 48%. This however rose to 57% by the end of the debate – despite some tough critical questioning! – so a 9% positive swing is not too bad!
Many thanks to QM’s Stella Ekebuisi for organising this very enjoyable event, Prof Omar Garcia for chairing and of course Andy for her impressive counter-argument.