Mini-series: Lecture recording and the issue of flipped classes

safety net feature
Boy and safety net, Credit: Flickr, skuds, CC0

In this post, Dr Anna Wood shares the findings emerging from the lecture recording Principal’s Teaching Award Scheme project investigating the effect of lecture recording on student learning in first-year courses in the School of Mathematics and Physics…

Almost all lecture recording research is based on ‘traditional’, didactic style lectures: lecturer talking, students listening and writing notes, minimal interaction. Yet many classes, particularly in pre-honours science subjects, use a flipped, active learning approach where students do a pre-lecture activity (e.g. reading and a short quiz, or watching short videos) so that class time can be spent on more in-depth thinking about the ideas. In physics, this involves spending about 50% of class time on conceptual questions that test students’ understanding, voting using the TopHat system and small group discussions, and 50% on the lecturer providing additional explanations and detailed answers to questions (Wood, Galloway, Donnelly, & Hardy, 2016).

As the roll out of lecture recording at Edinburgh continues, what are the implications for these classes, and how does recording impact on the way that students see the recordings and the way in which they use them?

These are some of the questions that our PTAS funded project set out to explore in the context of maths and physics classes. To do this, I interviewed 10 first-year students who all had experiences of both flipped and non-flipped classes.

Findings and Emerging Themes

A number of key themes emerged, including:

  1. Students didn’t see lecture recordings as their ‘go to’ resource, but just one of a range of digital resources available to them (including slides and notes).
  2.  Choice of resource depended on the affordances of the resource and their approach to learning.
  3. Flexibility and personalisation of learning was highly valued.

Two themes were particularly relevant to thinking about flipped classrooms:

Preference for attending lectures

Students preferred to be in lectures! Reasons included: the opportunity to ask questions; social contact; social pressure to concentrate; getting out of their room; a pre-defined schedule; and the feeling that this was more of a ‘real’ experience compared to watching online. But one theme commonly mentioned was that they would miss out on the active learning aspect of the lecture if they just watched it online:

I find it’s just better to be there…. in physics we use Top-hat, so there’s some cases where we are asked to discuss answers to questions with people beside us, and obviously if you don’t go to the lectures you miss out on that, and I think that’s a really, actually quite valuable, that discussion. (Student 4)

Students also noted that the recordings did not capture the demonstrations that took place in physics. This finding is relevant to one of the biggest worries about lecture recordings: that students will stop coming to lectures. The data in the literature is mixed (Hove & Corcoran, 2008; O’Callaghan, Neumann, Jones, & Creed, 2017) and, while overall there seems to be no cause for concern, occasional papers find a big drop in attendance (Edwards & Clinton, 2018). From our results, it seems reasonable to conclude that if lectures have some discernible additional benefit, then students will attend them rather than watch online.

We did, however, find that if students watched active learning classes online instead of going to the lecture, not only did they miss the peer-discussion element, but they also skipped over the self-test questions, so that the recording could be ‘watched’ in a shorter period of time:

I feel like a lot of the time I’m just more tempted to skip over it [TopHat Questions] because, you know, I just want to get through that 50 minutes. (Student 4)

Clearly the temptation is there – and guidance is needed to ensure students know how to make the most of these classes.

Supplementing live-lectures

Another theme that emerged was that lecture recordings could be used to supplement lecture attendance. When this happened they were used strategically by students to support their learning. For example, during a lecture, when students missed something that they felt was important they marked it in their notes as something to return to, then listened only to the short section of the recording that they needed, rather than watching the whole lecture from start to finish.

Students found that the availability of recordings (and slides) reduced the need to make notes in lectures, and freed them up to fully listen to what the lecturer was saying. This reduced the need for multi-tasking, which was a concern for a number of the students I talked to.

These difficulties – of keeping up with the quantity of information in the lecture and of taking notes while listening – are issues which affect all classes, but which apply particularly to traditionally taught classes, where there is greater emphasis on information transfer. Certainly the students I talked to seemed to use lecture recordings less often for active-learning classes.

However, all the students valued lecture recordings as a safety net in case they couldn’t attend a lecture. Examples included: illness; family emergency; or, in the case of one student, because he was waiting for a piano to be delivered.

Our takeaways from this are:

  • Students prefer to be in lectures, particularly were they see a distinct benefit over watching the lecture recording.
  • Lecture recordings provide particular benefits to traditional (non-active learning) lectures, such as reducing the need for multi-tasking.

The pedagogical approach of the lecture may affect both how and whether students use lecture recordings, but more research is needed to look at this in detail and to develop guidance to help students to make the most of the resources that they have available to them.


Edwards, M. R., & Clinton, M. E. (2018). A study exploring the impact of lecture capture availability and lecture capture usage on student attendance and attainment. Higher Education, 1–19.

Hove, M. C., & Corcoran, K. J. (2008). If you post it, will they come? Lecture availability in introductory psychology. Teaching of Psychology, 35(2), 91–95.

O’Callaghan, F. V., Neumann, D. L., Jones, L., & Creed, P. A. (2017). The use of lecture recordings in higher education: A review of institutional, student, and lecturer issues. Education and Information Technologies, 22(1), 399–415.

Wood, A. K., Galloway, R. K., Donnelly, R., & Hardy, J. (2016). Characterizing interactive engagement activities in a flipped introductory physics class. Physical Review Physics Education Research, 12(1), 010140.

You can read more blog posts about flipped classrooms here:

From University of Edinburgh staff to student: A flipped classroom approach

Flipped classrooms – an evidence-based reflection

From students to scientists: the impact of interactive engagement in lectures

Anna Wood

Dr Anna Wood is an education researcher, currently in the School of Mathematics. Her background is in Physics and her current research interests include the role of dialogue in teaching and learning, and the use of technology in large, undergraduate science classes. She is currently employed on a PTAS-funded project, working together with Pamela Docherty, Ross Galloway, Judy Hardy, Chris Sangwin, and Tony Bailey.

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