Wednesday, November 20, 2013

#ITFocusWeek - What's wrong with "lecture capture"? This:

Today I'm taking part in a Question Time panel about lecture capture technology. I'm cast comfortably in the role of curmudgeonly old git who doesn't like it. The reality is slightly more complicated.


Everyone likes online videos. I do, that's why my YouTube channel is closing in on 1.5 million views. At least, I like good online video. But what does that mean? It certainly doesn't mean the lowest common denominator of talking head video - plonking yourself in front of a webcam and droning on because that's the easiest thing to do. And it certainly doesn't mean any video longer than five minutes. All of which means that the idea of "lecture capture" is wrong headed. reports that people average 17 minutes per day on YouTube and watch 12 videos, that's 85 seconds per viewing. Here's a graph which shows YouTube's own data for "audience retention", i.e. the length of time people pay attention to online videos before stopping or skipping ahead. What do you think this data says about the concept of "lecture capture"?

YouTube Audience Retention

Ah, you say, but people sit on their sofas watching David Attenborough with rapt attention for an hour. Well first of all, you're not David Attenborough. Second, you don't have 1% of 1% of the budget or the time that the BBC or Sky spent on making that program. But most important of all, you don't understand the difference between lean forward and sit back media. The interactivity of an integrated control bar in online videos banishes the passivity of watching linear video on a big screen such as a television and encourages use of fast forward skipping. Online, all attention spans are short.

The Atlantic recently ran a piece titled Lectures Didn't Work in 1350—and They Still Don't Work Today. It's hard to know where to start listing what's wrong with this article. First, it's not about higher education or about lectures at all, it's about primary and secondary education where lectures (rightly) don't feature as a mode of instruction as far as I'm aware. But even if you apply it to higher education, the whole piece conveniently ignores the rather obvious fact that lectures have indeed worked since 1350 - that's why students pass rather than fail. It is simple minded twaddle to simply ignore this. And in an age where technology increasingly threatens to distance us from each other, the physicality of the lecture room increases its impact and its value. Sitting in front of a recording erodes that valuable link between staff and students.

So what's my problem with lecture capture technology? The very name. The idea that a lecture can be captured and bottled is laughable and shows a fundamental misunderstanding. This technodeterministic language cements the idea of technology replacing rather than augmenting pedagogy, the wrong-headed notion that disruptive technologies kill older technologies. This is demonstrably false - TV didn't kill radio, and radio didn't kill newspapers, etc. Instead, in the real world we have the Lindy Effect - the longer a technology has been around, the longer we can expect it to survive. Lectures are here to stay, so the question is, how do we use new technologies to augment and improve lectures, not to replace them?

And that's where the use of technologies such as Echo360 and Panopto come in useful. We use them to produce short (less than 5 minute - look at the graph) high impact videos covering the threshold concepts that students struggle with. And we use those recordings to augment and improve the vital lecture experience. Give 'em the old TED razzle dazzle. More importantly, we make these technologies available to students and we challenge them to make their own videos explaining threshold concepts. Instead of sitting passively in front of recorded lectures students become active partners in transmitting knowledge. And we stop pretending that technology solves problems. Technology doesn't solve problems, people do. But technology can cause problems, such as increasingly passive learning. Let's not let that happen. Let's encourage the use of online video. Let's stop talking about lecture capture.

But don't take my word for it:


  1. Thanks Alan, great post. Looking forward to the debate ... I'm watching 4 people try and set the equipment up at the moment ;-)


  2. Good post Alan. Personally, I've yet to be convinced about lecture capture in it's current format. What is it students are after when they revisit those lectures? Precisely what you've identified above, those key concepts, a particular stimulating debate that occurred within the lecture? The value then is capturing those key sections, not the entirety of the lecture. And therefore, it's about supporting the judicious editing (which happens with those David Attenborough films far more than everyone realises) of that lecture or identifying alternative videos which support the key messages that need to be learnt.

    1. Potentially there is the opportunity to capture a lot of data about that. What uses that data is put to and what policies govern such data is another question.

  3. Great post Alan, and thanks for the references (added to Mendeley). I agree that the technology which enables lecture "capture" (I'm also not a fan of the term) shouldn't be limited to just lecture capture, and some interesting usage cases are coming up, but surely it's to the benefit of students to have a recording of a lecture they've attended, to allow for clarification, revision (however limited), etc. Your argument, or at least the comparisons given, assumes that students haven't already attended the lecture, and in most cases (despite widespread assumptions) this is not the case. I agree we should move beyond *just* lecture recording, but the simplicity of recording and distribution surely means that it's worthwhile continuing to record lectures as well?

    1. I don't think so. The lowest common denominator of time means that this will be an inadequate experience, then people will blame the technology. We don't make TV programs or films by just recording a live event.

  4. Nice post, Alan. I particularly like "make these technologies available to students and we challenge them to make their own videos explaining threshold concepts"

  5. Good post Alan.

    I'm generally in agreement, although just because students have been passing, doesn't make lectures effective or even prove they 'work'.
    Having said that, I'm not personally in favour of recording the whole lecture, but from the staff perspective, the ability to click start and stop makes it the easiest thing to do. This is especially true in institutions such as Liverpool where many colleagues from our research institutes may do a tiny amount of teaching and simply will not pre-record.
    So if we're introducing recorded content, full recorded lectures could be the first stage. Having staff pre-record video to flip the classroom, or even just summarising the key concepts in a small chunk might be the next phase, but it takes extra time/effort. Also, it's not clear that students even want that. The data captured in my student survey recently suggests students prefer audio recordings synchronised with slides, and they'll use them to catch up on elements they didn't quite understand or they'll use them for revision. They were open to flipped classroom approaches, but if they could choose one method, it's the full audio sync'd recording.
    I blogged some of the data here -


  6. ta! Do your licenses for Panopto/Echo 360 allow staff to record the short sessions on their own device?

  7. Thanks for the article. Can I recommend Steve Fuller's video recently released at