We have one of the largest collections of online lectures in the UK and dozens of colleagues have learned how to contribute to the collections. Our captured lectures provide content for developing online courses and iTunes U. There is so much enthusiasm for this activity ( capturing and consuming) that we are currently considering, as part of the MediaHub project, new approaches to keep our service sustainable in the face of growing demand.
Currently the capture of lectures and events is a manual process, with the larget resource expense being staff time. We are now considering automated ‘Lecture capture systems’ to pilot for the University.
The automation of lecture capture is crucial if we are to meet demand from students and staff. Not only is the time required to manually film and edit lectures prohibitive, but we believe captured lectures should ideally be made available as soon as possible to have the greatest possible utility for students.
Lecture capture systems can be hardwired into specific teaching rooms, removing the need for technical set up each time. They can permit automatic scheduling of recordings ahead of time. Advanced systems have further automatic features, including tracking the lecturer’s position for automated camera panning.
Our preliminary research has found that lecture capture offers many potential benefits to students. Obviously, it can be a boon to students who have to miss a lecture because of illness or other reasons. Captured lectures can also provide a useful tool for revising a subject. Lecture capture may open the possibility of new styles of learning beyond what the standard lecturehall experience provides.
Lectures in video form can especially helpful for studying technical subjects, where they permit repeated viewing of complex content such as demonstrations, diagrams, or mathematical formulae. Video lectures permit the student to pause and closely examine the steps of demonstrated procedure or a mathematical proof. It has been argued that this ability ‘may enable freer thinking . . . students who find themselves struck by a particular comment or point can pursue that line of thought, confident that the lecture itself can be reviewed later.’1
Lecture capture help to open up disciplinary boundaries by allowing students to browse lectures in another department, or to hear lectures from two classes whose schedules conflict.
Currently almost all of the content that we capture quickly becomes publicly available on the Web with the speaker’s permission. If we move towards automated capture of teaching we would hope to offer a choice to colleagues of being able to restrict content for use locally in WebLearn as well and instead. Lecture capture’s primary goals are convenience, utility and automation; content to be presented as part of the public face of the University often enjoys more polished videography, editing and presentation.
People often suggest that recording lectures may tempt some students to skip attending lectures in favor of watching the recorded version, disrupting the experience of learning in a social community. While this is a real risk for those whose pedagogical model relies heavily on the lecture to deliver the bulk of course content, we hope that the kind of close supervision Oxford students experience as part of the tutorial system makes them less inclined to engage passively with lectures or to fall behind in attendance.
Our current practice focuses on capturing high value unique Oxford lectures. One of my favourite accounts of the place of lectures in Oxford pedagogy from Stephen Leacock describes the learning and teaching experience thus:
In the colleges of Canada and the United States the lectures are supposed to be a really necessary and useful part of the student’s training. Again and again I have heard the graduates of my own college assert that they had got as much, or nearly as much, out of the lectures at college as out of athletics or the Greek letter society or the Banjo and Mandolin Club. In short, with us the lectures form a real part of the college life. At Oxford it is not so. The lectures, I understand, are given and may even be taken. But they are quite worthless and are not supposed to have anything much to do with the development of the student’s mind. Other judgments were that the lectures were of no importance: that nobody took them: that they don’t matter: that you can take them if you like: that they do you no harm.
It appears further that the professors themselves are not keen on their lectures. If the lectures are called for they give them; if not, the professor’s feelings are not hurt. He merely waits and rests his brain until in some later year the students call for his lectures. There are men at Oxford who have rested their brains this way for over thirty years: the accumulated brain power thus dammed up is said to be colossal.
1Educause, ‘Seven things you should know about lecture capture’