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Lecture Capture: A Bold Idea to Make Classroom Learning Flexible

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At the beginning of this school year, Echo360 Inc. CEO Fred Singer wrote an editorial for The Huffington Post extolling the virtues of lecture capture. He observed that the lean economy “won’t allow institutions to simply erect new buildings and hire qualified staff to meet rising needs” but that lecture capture can assist because it’s “like DVR’ing class with full playback functionality.” Singer went on to argue that “lecture capture addresses overcrowding by freeing seats,” permitting students who prefer to view an online lecture to skip class.

He also cited studies that pointed to higher student achievement and even better classroom attendance resulting from students reviewing video materials outside of the classroom.

Nevertheless, my interest was piqued by Singer’s argument that lecture capture can substitute for the in-class experience for a student who prefers watching online. It’s not something I often hear in the promotion of lecture capture. While companies list distance learning as a core use case, they take care not to imply that recordings of classes in on-the-ground curricula should substitute for attendance.

Justified or not, the relationship between attendance and lecture recording is a sensitive issue. When there’s resistance to adopting lecture capture, the risk of encouraging would-be slackers to cut class is a prime objection. Thus, I was surprised that Singer would be so blunt.

Around the same time Singer published his commentary, competitor Sonic Foundry, Inc. released the results of a survey conducted at the University of Maryland–Baltimore (UMB) Dental School. A graduating class of 118 students were polled on their opinion of the lectures in their curriculum captured using Sonic Foundry’s Mediasite platform. Ninety-seven percent of the students indicated that they watched the lecture recordings and thought they made it easier to learn.

The UMB recordings were made in lecture halls and in laboratory sessions. Dental school instruction is very visual in nature, and in venues such as lecture halls and labs, it can be difficult for a student to get a close, clear view of materials. Seventy-three percent of the students surveyed said they “used a combination of in-class lectures and Mediasite to enhance their studies.” So in this case, the recordings are used to give most students an opportunity to review materials, perhaps more closely than the first time around.

Taking all of this into account, it’s worth considering what the uses and value of lecture capture technology are and might be. It is certainly a growing segment of the online video industry. Continued growth arguably depends on greater acceptance and new applications. It's important for educators to define what return they want on their investments.

Improving student performance is a return that most educators can embrace. There are quite a few small studies and surveys that indicate lecture capture can assist and even encourage students to study and review course material outside of class. Furthermore, in a lot of graduate professional programs, lecture capture seems to be gaining ground as a kind of perk. Students in weekend or evening programs appreciate having less pressure to take exhaustive notes.

Class recordings can be valuable to students who face practical challenges to attendance. Being able to watch missed lectures may make the difference that helps a student graduate rather than drop out.

While the most selective colleges may not see overcrowding as a problem, there are many institutions dedicated to providing access to education through open enrollments. Perhaps Singer’s bold proposal that lecture capture can be used to ease crowding may help a college stay accessible, even if many would legitimately argue that education funding should never have been so low in the first place.

Those of us producing and using video in education should welcome a healthy debate about lecture capture, or any use of media. Video in education is growing quickly, and openly sharing our ideas and concerns can only help make it stronger and more useful to students. 

This article was published in the October/November 2011 issue of Streaming Media under the title "Capture Lecture, Skip Class?"

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