In the School of Divinity, Ethics and Society has always been a popular course. When enrolments exceeded the capacity of our biggest lecture theatre, we put in place a plan to live stream the lectures to an overflow room, using Panopto. Because this automatically records the lectures, they can easily be made available for later viewing on a course’s Learn site.
What began as a solution to a problem became the key learning technology innovation on the course. After a lecture, students were able to go online and review material they hadn’t absorbed. They could speed up the lecture, slow it down, pause for reflection or note-taking, or skip to particular points identified by slide titles and images. News of how useful this was spread through the 150-strong group, and, with the help of study guidance, changes in behaviour were quickly visible during lectures. Rather than continually notetaking for fear of missing significant points, students were more engaged, able to sit back with the lecture handout and write just occasionally. The course was the fourth most viewed in the University, with 2147 individual views and a total of 765 viewing hours (on average 5 hours per student), outperforming many courses with larger cohorts. The average number of minutes viewed was 22, indicating that students watched the lectures selectively rather than in their entirety.
We also trialled the Top Hat electronic voting system in the lectures. Because they were live streamed, students who couldn’t attend, as well as those who were present, could respond to multiple choice and free text questions via their mobile device without being identifiable to peers. Answers were then reviewed in plenary, such as to open questions displayed as students arrived, like ‘What does Old Testament ethics mean to you?’ Active participation was further promoted in the weekly tutor groups, where topical ethical issues were debated.
To obtain detailed feedback, the Bristol Online Survey was used to produce a course questionnaire, with the results collated before the Student-Staff Liaison Committee. 48% of respondents said the recordings had greatly enhanced their learning, with 94% reporting some degree of positive impact. Picking up missed points, flexible viewing, reinforcement, refreshment, expanding notes and reflective learning were among the benefits listed in free text by over half the respondents. A student wrote:
“It was great that I could go back to something I didn’t catch and listen to that part again. That makes me feel way more prepared and more confident for my exam.”
The recordings continued to bring benefits during revision, with full lecture availability effectively extending the teaching semester by six weeks. In the fortnight before the exam, usage quadrupled. One student, Titus Morley, emailed:
“The recordings have really helped. The ability to go over an idea slowly and listen to it being explained has been very useful. It has really revolutionized revision for not just me but many others on the course. Why is it not done for many other courses?”
Lecture capture appeared to raise typical lower quartile performance in the exam. However, it was unclear what impact, if any, it had on attendance, with research having consistently failed to establish any clear relationship. In the online survey, 68% of respondents said it was having no effect on their attendance with 6% stating it made them more likely to attend. 26% suggested they were less likely to come if they could watch the lecture elsewhere or at another time. However, this was less than one third of the number who stated that lecture capture had enhanced their learning. Students were sometimes absent for justifiable reasons, such as mental health issues or a timetabling clash. One was able to participate in the lectures from her hospital bed while recovering from an operation.
Our positive experience of lecture capture raises points for further reflection. Considerable time and resource go into student attendance monitoring and the provision of physical teaching space, but the intrinsic benefits of presence in a designated room aren’t always clearly articulated. Depending on the teaching approaches and learning technologies deployed, a distance learner might be more actively engaged than one sitting in a lecture theatre. Face to face lecturing obviously remains a key component of the student learning experience. Nevertheless, in a time of increasing mobility when physical location matters less than ever before, it is certain that learning styles, and the modes of teaching delivery these dictate, are rapidly evolving due to new communication technologies and a growing cultural preference for active engagement. This suggests an increasing need for close collaboration between academics and technologists in learning design.