Saturday, August 28, 2010

Online Lecture Content

A lot of us have been talking about providing online lectures and tutorials to students in our classes. I am going ahead with a limited version of this in my classes this year. Thinking about doing this and looking at the technology aspects has stimulated a lot of thought. Stephen Kinsella has written a lot about his experiences in UL, and has been advocating an idea where students would get the lectures up front as a podcast and the class then could be used to really probe ideas and generate discussion.

In thinking about how to do this, I think a lot of us go with the default option of thinking about something cheap and downloadable that can be used quickly on any computer. I have been working with Camtasia for the Mac (also on PC) and I have found it to be absolutely brilliant. Various people have been giving me tips about how to get it working fully but even the very basic recording is useable. Many readers will know the UCLA STATA tutorials, which are excellent, and recorded using Camtasia.  Another option though is to think of something with much higher production values. Michael Sandel's course at Harvard is still, for me, the best example of making lectures available online that I have seen. I don't know how much Harvard paid for the production but this doesn't look cheap. There is, at least, a professional cameraperson and a very high quality camera and a lot of website development. It is probably possible to do these things that well without much cost but it is worth remembering that thousands of people will be downloading and using these videos for several years so if quality can be improved by spending some money, the default option shouldn't be always that we try to do these things for free.

Again, this is one of those issues that gets people emotional. I have talked to colleagues and some students who believe that online content is the beginning of the end for traditional university education and an ominous development. As I have said here a few times I am a complete optimist for this technology both in terms of the massive expansion in access to quality learning that it opens up but also in terms of how it benefits me personally as a professional. It really is frustrating when half of your interactions with students are made up of very routine things that could be handled more effectively for both parties by directing them to a site. Secondly, it is frustrating for students to try to keep up with technical material that really is not meant to be digested in an hour. When I was watching the NBER videos of Imbens lately, I realised how much better it was to be able to stop the video when you wanted to digest a point or play with some notes. This just simply has to be a better way of learning technical material than a live presentation. Does this mean that Imbens becomes obsolete? No, completely the opposite - it means he has a much bigger audience of people that understand him and also that he can give more lectures about innovative things that he is deeply interested in and less lectures previewing standard material that everyone should know. It also augments standard courses given all round the world in a very effective way.

For me, this is the first year I am really going to try and work with this technology in my courses so I will post a bit on how things are going. More generally, I think figuring out how this technology fits with our careers is a useful thing for anyone in research and teaching to think about.


Rob Gillanders said...

Doesn't that line of reasoning lead one to not bothering with lectures (live or video) at all then? Just tell the kids to read the textbook (or some notes) and ask you any questions in a tutorial.

I think its a bad thing if tapes of the same set of lectures are used for years and years. It means that the content doesn't change and if you want it to theres a big cost. Also I would think that if people can download the basic content then a lot of them won't bother going to the indepth discussion.

The usual lecture\tutorial set up is permitting of course. Just because you can do things in a new (seemingly flashier) way with tech doesn't mean you should.

By the by, I reckon ALL your interaction with undergrad students should be routine. You explain something to them and if they don't get it they ask you questions and you tailor your answer to their level of intelligence.

Liam Delaney said...

No it absolutely does not lead you to abandon live lectures unless you have another reason for doing so. If you look at the UCLA STATA videos for example, I can't for the life of me figure out how you would think anything other than these are a good thing for students to have access to. Of course, students shouldn't be fed out of date material and of course students should be able to talk to lecturers and ask them questions. And of course one should not use technology just because it is available and I do not have a record of doing this. I tend to adopt simple robust technologies like blogger for example and use them to improve things. I see this blog, for example, as just a way of facilitating interaction and the fact that a lot of students and former students use it doesn't mean that I am planning not to talk to anyone in person anymore.

But having access to online material can leave more time for real discussion in class, actual questioning of applications and so on.

Liam Delaney said...

As well as recording one's own talks, some thinking needs to emerge about the best use of online materials from other institutions. Again, I am trying to be fair to Rob's points while distancing myself from any of the motivations he is implying as to why people would do this. Yes, it is possible that such things would be used to "strip out" degree programmes. But lets think about people who are trying to make their programmes better. How could we continue to ignore the existence of things like the MIT open courses. Or to give an example from my course, I teach what I think is a reasonably good lecture on time preferences. Both David Laibson and Shane Frederick have online videos where they give perfect comprehensive reviews of time preferences. I recommend these to the students but do not make them essential but am tempted to start doing so. In fact, I am tempted to make them essential to watch before the class so that the class can probe the most interesting aspects in more depth including looking at applications. All of this occurs within time constraints both for the module and the students but I know for sure that watching these lectures will give the students a better experience than if I simply ignore them.

Liam Delaney said...

one avenue we should not forget is the public broadcaster. I will post on this at some stage. Both RTE and BBC have a long tradition of broadcasting educational content. For example, the BBC broadcasts open university lectures at weird hours of the evening. RTE has run lecture series on radio and so on. If we really did want to develop very high quality broadcasts for a larger audience, RTE collaboration with universities would be an interesting vehicle. I don't think they will do my STATA tutorials though,

Liam Delaney said...

I did some self-moderation above. Momentarily broke my own dont be an asshole rules.

Iain said...

We use a range of technologies for lecture recording in different courses here in NUIG. Several venues have echo360 lecture capture systems installed and the advantage of these is that the system is automatic and doesn't interfere with the lecture , the recording appearing automatically online afterwards in Blackboard. Evaluation over the last few years has been very positive and students primarily use it for recapping on tricky concepts raised in the lecture and overseas students also report that it is helpful to them in being able to replay parts that they found tricky to follow in class.

Camtasia, as you say, is powerful and used fairly extensively too. We also have recording tools which capture just the audio and the computer/projector screen installed in every lecture theatre (Sympodium, Smart Recorder).

In addition, Apple's Podcast Producer is very straightforward to use (linked in with iTunes U server).

Finally, authorPoint which embeds in PowerPoint (PC only) is actually quite nifty, easy to use and produces nice SCORM compliant (if interested in such arcane things) packages. Perfect for a single-take, live capture not so hot if you want to edit.

Liam Delaney said...

Thanks Iain - very helpful. I wasn't familiar with Echo360 and it looks very interesting.

I have been looking also at the various things on offer in UCD central including options for livecasting to external audiences. I gave two four sessions in the dedicated facilities in UCD to a group in Malta recently and it was an amazing experience. I regret not just hitting the record button as there were a lot more people in the group who wanted to go but couldn't make it.