Thursday, September 13, 2007

Does the World Really Need More Lectures?

I did some quick mental math and came to the conclusion that I must have sat through many thousands of lectures delivered by hundreds of lecturers in my lifetime. And through all of this - primary school, middle school, high school, undergraduate studies, graduate studies, and innumerable professional development courses and conferences - I could probably point to a small handful of lecturers who were totally enthralling and provided a meaningful and memorable learning experience. There are two reasons for this. One, genuinely good public speaking and presentation skills are scarce. Two, straight information presentation is not a good way to learn anything at other than a surface level.

What brought on all this reflection was a notice I received that Lectopia, a lecture capture system developed by the University of Western Australia, had been acquired by a company called Anystream. The newly combined entity is now known as Echo360. Their mission is to supply universities and colleges with this technology that allows for the capture of live lectures to be played on a browser later, allowing the user to see and hear the lecturer via a small window, and to see the lecturer's notes / presentation in a larger window. The idea, as far as I can tell, is that learners could replay the lecture later for review, or the captured lecture could be "dumped" into a course management system for inclusion in online versions of courses.

After viewing some of the sample lectures on the Echo360 site, and remembering other similar examples using other technologies, I can definitely say that I am not impressed. Most lectures are bad in person, but they are even worse when replayed later online. You cannot really see the lecturer (window very small), the sound quality is crappy, many of the graphics used are difficult to read, and you cannot interact with anyone or anything. Everything about it reinforces the impression that you are not there and not part of it.

If the idea is to merely present information for easy anytime access online, why not produce this professionally in a controlled environment (not the chaotic echo chambers of huge lecture halls), where you can ensure that sound, pictures, graphics, animations, etc. are all in synch, of good quality, and working as intended? Not to mention editing out all the "ahs," and "ums," and "where was I now" comments. You can then use the in-class time for meaningful interactions beyond information transfer (e.g. debates, case studies, role plays, etc.) and deeper levels of learning.

Recording lectures to replay online reminds me of the very early days of silent films. Directors filmed stage plays. Then someone realized that having this new technology (the camera) meant that they were not bound to the stage, that they could take the camera and go on location and film virtually anything anywhere. We still haven't had that "aha" moment yet with respect to the ways that technology can free us from the lecture hall and the mind-numbingly boring way that we continue to educate and train. We are still walking backward into the future.


Blogger Lee Kraus said...

Your point is that lectures are typically bad for learning (and I agree) and capturing them digitally is just a promotion of bad instruction (if all the learner does is watch then, I agree). But I think that capturing information digitally does do some interesting things, like expose bad lectures and the instructors who create bad lectures. It can also put the learner in control of the relatively bad content (like turning it off).

It does appear that some organizations still believe that capturing content in a digital format is what elearning is all about, but not everyone. So for me, the "we" you reference is more the "they" or those who believe this practice is somehow, how you do elearning.

However, to be honest, part of me doesn't want them to stop. The more real world educational practices we can capture (good, bad, or whatever quality) and put on the web or show to the world, the more we can have discussions like this one.

It would be great if every lecture was on and everyone could annotate it and collectively improve the quality of the presentation. It would be interesting.

12:08 PM  
Blogger Rick Nigol said...

Hi Lee:

Good least when viewing the lecture later, the learner does have more control (e.g. pause, fast forward, play again, exit).

Thanks for pointing me to I think lecture capture software would be far more interesting if learners could provide embedded feedback and comment as they can with viddler. Boy, would that be an eye-opener for lecturers!



12:42 PM  
Blogger Lee Kraus said...

NO problem. Viddler is awesome and is also an excellent tool that takes a similar approach.

1:41 PM  
Blogger Tim said...

Rick, Your comments are quite consistent with Instructional Design views. However, in the real world of students demand to have content delivered for "just in time" learning, this old school thought process will not work. For example. If a faculty member asks to post digital video content for his/her students, do you think it's important to produce this content in a timely manner? Or would the students really benefit if the content "looked good" but because of editing, slick fade in's and removal of the Ah's and uah's the same content took 3-5 days before it was accesible? Thats been the largest problem with on line content. If it takes that long before a student can review the Chapter 2 Calculus questions, because they need to move on to Chapter 3 by tomorrow! WHY EVEN BOTHER! the content is not useful and requires too much duplication. Oh yea, we all know Faculty are more than willing to take extra time and sit in a fancy production studio and re-create lessons that they just covered the previous morning. Good luck!

it's very simple....just record what they do every day....and not bother them with learning video production, editing, or change the educational process. that's what most of them want anyway...

2:32 PM  
Blogger Rick Nigol said...

Hi Tim:

If the idea is just to capture lectures for later viewing by students who missed it, or who want to see it again for review, then, sure, just capture it and slap it up on a server. However, I get concerned when I see institutions think that this will pass as a means for true online distance learning.


10:03 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Or seminars?

My observation, as both recipient, and presenter, is that the lectures / serminars / sermons with the most lasting impact are those where >passion< for the subject is the principle content communicated, not information. If only all "lectures" could have the dramatic impact of invertebrate zoology with Prof John Morton (University of Auckland), or the humour of church history with Dr Bob Glen (Bible College of New Zealand - yes, I had an eclectic education).

I now work in for a research company, which is attempting to reinstate a dead seminar culture - for reasons of "team spirit", and "training". What is it that gives monotonic Powerpoint in a darkened room such convincing communication power for (some) scientists?

2:49 AM  
Blogger Rick Nigol said...

I feel your pain....Rick

9:16 AM  

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