Lecture capture: vital learning aid or a licence to skip class?

Academics say that online recordings must be emphasised as a supplementary resource, not an alternative to lectures, or some students lose out

October 31, 2018
one-student-in-lecture
Source: Getty
Is everyone here?: Since recording became compulsory, ‘One colleague with 150 students enrolled has lectured to 15 students. Three of us have lectured to empty rooms’

The introduction of lecture capture has proved, like most technological innovations in higher education, controversial.

Debates over the merits of recording lectures and making them available online for students have ranged from the issue of who retains copyright of the content to the divisive use of pre-recorded lectures to provide “tuition” during strikes by academics.

Online recordings can allow students to watch missed lectures – invaluable for those absent because of ill health or those who have disabilities that make attendance on campus difficult – and to use them for revision, which is particularly beneficial for students who have learning issues or struggle with the language. The footage can also serve as a study aid in a flipped classroom set-up.

But critics say that the recordings encourage students to skip lectures and damage the overall attainment of those who rely on them because recordings can lack the personal engagement that frequently drives learning.

Anecdotally, some academics have reported that introducing lecture capture has caused attendance rates to drop. Melanie O’Brien, a senior lecturer in international law at the University of Western Australia, told Times Higher Education that since lecture capture was made compulsory at her institution, attendance to lectures in her department has plummeted. “One colleague with 150 students enrolled has lectured to 15 students. Three of us have lectured to empty rooms,” she said.

Social media has been awash with posts from academics sharing similar negative experiences, but contrasting views have been equally well represented. The academic literature on the subject is much the same: a number of studies report that the introduction of lecture capture has had a negative effect on attendance, while others reveal no correlation.

In a paper published earlier this year, researchers at King’s College London found that the introduction of lecture capture on one course was followed by a doubling of the number of undergraduates who did not attend any lectures – and also a doubling of the proportion of students who skipped all classes, to 40 per cent. A 2009 study in Canada of nearly 900 students found that 37 per cent of them said that their attendance was affected by lecture-capture availability, and a 2013 University of Birmingham study reported a decline in attendance at lectures from 84 per cent to 71 per cent after lecture capture was introduced.

In contrast, a new study led by Emily Nordmann, a psychologist who has recently moved from the University of Aberdeen to the University of Glasgow, found “no compelling evidence” of a relationship between attendance and recording. The study, accepted for publication in the journal Higher Education, says that it was the first to look across four years of an undergraduate programme and that it found “no negative effect of recording use”.

Other studies have reached similar conclusions. Computer scientists at Queen’s University Belfast who monitored the introduction of lecture capture on their courses judged that it had not harmed attendance and reported that students had used the footage to aid their learning, according to a 2015 paper. Meanwhile, a Solent University study released the same year found that 79 per cent of student respondents said that lecture capture would not encourage them to skip lectures.

One big problem is that the majority of research into lecture capture relies on self-reported data, indicating students’ intent to not miss lectures, rather than information about actual student behaviour. Some recent studies, such as the ones undertaken at King’s and Aberdeen, have tried to overcome this by comparing attendance and attainment before and after the introduction of lecture recordings.

Other research efforts have focused on the relationship between how students use lecture capture and the grades that they achieve. A 2012 Australian study showed that students who substituted viewings of recorded lectures for physically attending were found to be at a severe disadvantage in terms of their final marks; “moreover, those students who attended very few live lectures did not close the gap by watching more online”, it said.

Although several studies have found no negative correlation between use of lecture capture and attainment, these have sometimes focused on cases in which students have used the footage to supplement their existing learning activities.

“Simply logging on to a recording does not equate with engagement with material,” said Michael Draper, an associate professor of legal studies at Swansea University, who conducted a study that found that lecture capture did not harm attendance.

The 2013 Birmingham study, which reported that even high usage of lecture recordings did not have a significant impact on academic performance, took a balanced view. “Overall, this approach appears to be beneficial, but may reduce lecture attendance and encourage surface learning approaches in a minority of students,” the researchers said.

Martin Edwards, who led the King’s research, said that even if a minority of students say that they will not attend lectures because recordings are available, that can still translate to a sizeable portion of the cohort suddenly going absent. Dr Edwards pointed out that even Dr Nordmann’s study found that the one course that did not have lecture recordings had significantly higher attendance than those that did have recordings.

He added that when talking about whether lecture capture had a positive influence on students, it was important to note that there was a difference between the introduction of lecture capture and its effect on attendance, and lecture-capture viewing and its effect on attainment.

“The people who are so-called deep learners will attend lectures and use lecture capture to boost their study, so it won’t have a negative effect on their attainment. The problem lies with the introduction of lecture capture, which the overall evidence shows does translate to a drop in attendance, and those ‘surface learners’ who watch lectures online instead of attending,” he said.

A 2013 Canadian study showed that students who were identified as surface learners tended to report missing more lectures and using recordings as a replacement for lectures, whereas deep learners tended to use the recordings as an extra resource, to help with revision, for example.

“The evidence shows that students who choose not to go because they rely on lecture capture will struggle to keep up, and that’s a real problem; it can potentially disadvantage certain types of learning styles,” Dr Edwards said.

Dr Nordmann said that she believed the key takeaway from her study to be not the lack of a relationship between lecture capture and attendance or attainment, but rather the revelation of just how many different things impact attendance. “It’s actually really difficult to draw these big conclusions about the effect of lecture capture based on individual studies. You have to look at the literature,” she said.

Most studies are a snapshot of one course at one level of study, Dr Nordmann continued. “Even in our study that looked at four years, we found that there was a difference in attendance between two recorded courses in the second year, and I think the reason for it was that one of the topics was more popular,” she explained.

“Currently, studies are only ever comparing a recorded course and a non-recorded course in one discipline. But if you compare your recorded courses, you will find a difference in attendance; that’s a really strong signal that it’s not just about the recordings,” she said. “You can’t say lecture capture is good or bad, it’s how it is being used and who it is being used by.”

Lecture capture is already a fixture in higher education around the globe. Its use is widespread, and many institutions are joining Western Australia in making it compulsory, including De Montfort University and the University of Huddersfield in the UK.

“Lecture capture is here to stay,” said Swansea’s Mr Draper. “In a short space of time, students are so used to the system that they are likely to complain if it is not available.”

However, he cautioned that it must be integrated as part of a strategy “that seeks to support students in their studies or as part of a blended learning programme, rather than an immediate substitute for traditional learning though face-to-face contact”. At Swansea, for example, the policy is to “wipe” the lectures at the end of the year and to give lecturers the choice to opt out, he added.

For Dr Nordmann, the most important thing is to start providing guidance for students. “We give them this technology but don’t tell them how best to use it,” she said. They need to know that supplementary use is best and not to use it as a substitute for in-person lectures, she added.

Most universities offer online courses, so it’s not illogical for students to believe that that is how you can use recordings, Dr Nordmann continued. “We need to be making the case for attendance and lecture capture as a supplemental technology in a way that we aren’t now; we’re complaining about attendance but not doing anything to guide the students.”

Dr Edwards added that one of the ways to counteract the drop in attendance was to ensure that lectures provide something special that cannot be replicated in a recording. If lectures are interactive – employing in-class polls, for example – students get something more from being present in the room, he said.

There are good arguments for why all lectures should be recorded, particularly for students with special educational needs who require some extra help, he said. “The problem is, there will be a proportion of the cohort that will not go because there is a recording of it.”

anna.mckie@timeshighereducation.com

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POSTSCRIPT:

Print headline: Watch and learn? Lecture capture gets mixed reviews

Reader's comments (11)

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I would be concerned about students who would not have any structure to their work days, with no impetus to get out of bed in the morning, and lacking interaction and socializing with other students. Some might drown in their loneliness.
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Another use of lecture capture is to provide the 'lecture experience' to distance learners, for whom the recorded lecture IS their lecture. Many of them, however, report that they do miss the 'personal' touch of actually attending, so we have found considerable success by recording 15-20 minute topic-sized lectures specifically for them (using a webcam & slideshow) rather than giving them the on-campus recordings. It may be that using similar recordings for the online support for on-campus students would be more effective... PS Could you please provide references for the papers you mention in the article, or at least sufficient information - like the names of the researchers - to be able to find them?
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Absolutely agree! We've also taken this route at my University, avoiding going down the route of full blown live lecture capture and instead providing facilities to record 15-20 minute lecture videos. These began for distance and professional courses, but are quickly gaining momentum with blended, part-time and even some of our full time face to face programmes. We provide webcams and headsets for individual use, video 'booths' which can be booked with a basic computer set up with webcam / mic etc for recording video lectures (primarily focused on providing quiet spaces) and have now branched out into providing a staffed studio with a basic green screen setup (mainly for providing higher quality video required by distance and professional programmes). Where I find a lot of resistance comes from with this approach however is around justifying these videos as contact time, and therefore replacing the lecture where appropriate rather than just doubling up lecture input. It should be said though this is an internal debate rather than an QAA issue or similar. However, that's just because it hasn't got that far yet so it's untested ground.
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Just a passing mention of disabled students at the very end? Disabled students account for 12% of UK HE students and a huge number of them benefit from lecture capture - not just those with Specific Learning Difficulties (a more accurate phrase than 'Special Educational Needs'). Lecture capture is certainly no substitute for attendance but it can be an excellent enhancement for learning - and not just for disabled students.
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Some teachers by their style regardless the content or subject reduce lectures to a sharp or slow torture for which many students are unwilling to endure. Lecture capture for them might be some form of rescue if. Subject for subject, an arresting pedagogical style will trump preference for lecture capture and leave the latter as supplementary addendum that it really should be. Having said this,there may be student/learner factors that make lecture capture the better option no matter the odds. Basil Jide fadipe.
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Go on, I’ll stick my neck out and say that most recorded lectures are actually more useful than live lectures. I’ll qualify that by adding that I’m referring to purely didactic lectures - which most seem to be. Why would we want students to watch a monologue from the back of a lecture theatre when they can do it from home and replay the parts they have difficulty with? They can make notes at their own pace and take breaks when their attention lapses. Unless the live lecture requires live interaction then why insist students attend. I’d also point out that most didactic lectures in the first 2 years of a degree don’t change year on year. So why not scrap live didactic monologues - put them on line and update them if necessary. Perhaps students could use the saved travel time to read the literature and get a better understanding of their subject.
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Agree to record all your lectures and then learn that your institution has asserted ownership of the copyright. Your services are no longer required.
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Any change in learning and teaching methods are inextricably bound to resourcing questions. The evidence, and comments above, are clear that, for much of what students need to learn, there are much better ways than to sit in large groups taking notes (or not) for an hour or two, or to sit at home watching (or not) an unedited lecture that was presented to a near empty room. Methods such as creating carefully designed short video segments, integrating a mixture of online and offline activities with a mixture of organised group activities and individual consultations, are likely much better for most subject matter but all require different resourcing models. The change in resource required is both the amount of time that educators are allocated for different kinds of preparation and delivery and the types of skills needed to produce and deliver the material. For too many institutions, recording lectures is a very cheap way to appear to be helpful to students, when much better ways of helping students develop their intellectual capabilities (such as those noted in the comments) might be available. The choice is not between to lecture 'capture or not'. The real choice is between offering primarily campus-based learning with a range of carefully designed activities for that environment or offering primarily online learning with a different set of carefully designed activities. Shoehorning one mode of learning into a very different medium because it lowers student complaints and is cheap and managerially easy to deploy will fail. Institutions that take a much more holistic approach to selecting learning and teaching methods, and actively help their staff develop new sets of teaching skills, will serve their students better.
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A lecture delivered live would be very different from a "studio recording" of the same lecture. The lecturer may chat to the audience, ask questions (some rhetorical) wander around the room, insert asides that only make sense if you're there, stop sentences mid-way to rephrase the thought better, and do a variety of other things that don't matter in live performance, but that sound awful in a recording. The idea of doing a rehearsed, scripted, 20 minute "studio recording" lecture as an adjunct to the live performance seems sensible to me. For me, the finest example of recorded lectures was Neil McGregor's "History of the World in a hundred objects" for Radio 4. Each episode was just fifteen minutes long, but packed in a great deal of information, albeit without pictures.
new
Stasi - vital citizenship aid or a licence to skip work ethics?
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Many universities are expanding online programmes where 'live' teaching and learning is deemed unnecessary. It will be interesting to see how attainment compares with on-campus learning in future.

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