In this extra post, Dr Anna Wood and Dr Kate Symons, share their findings from a recent research project, exploring how online students engaged with a range of different types of recorded media…
Like many schools at The University of Edinburgh, the Centre of African Studies in the School of Social and Political Sciences (SPS), is expanding its online teaching of international development. One new and popular online elective for the online MSc International Development is Key Skills in Development Practice, which introduces students to life as an international development professional with weekly guest lectures from NGO and policy practitioners. This course, like many other online courses in SPS, began life as an on-campus course, and runs alongside its on-campus counterpart.
This course was the starting point for our recent PTAS project (also involving Jean Benoit Falisse and Hazel Gray), ‘Using Lecture Capture Effectively for Online Learning’, which explored the pedagogical issues, difficulties, opportunities and challenges involved in re-purposing lecture recordings for online students. Of course, lecture capture is a controversial topic, and online learning is about far more than simply repurposing recorded lectures. However, like Key Skills in Development Practice, many of the online courses in SPS are not ‘born digital’, and, instead, try to reshape and improve on-campus courses for a digital format. We therefore wanted to use lecture capture as a lens to explore whether online MSc International Development students could benefit from on-campus teaching.
We interviewed 12 students studying online for the MSc in International Development about their experiences of a range of different types of recorded media, including lecture capture, purpose-made video lectures, and specially-recorded short videos (like Q&As, ‘shorts’ from development practitioners and reports from the field).
The results were unexpected. We were surprised when most students were enthusiastic about the idea of watching lecture recordings, contrary to what research in online pedagogy tells us about best practice. The students gave several reasons for this:
- Students preferred the way in which the lecturer spoke to a live audience. Compared to a video-to-camera lecture, their speech in the lecture recording was more enthusiastic, more spontaneous and less monotone.
- Students enjoyed hearing interactions between the lecturer and the other students, and they felt that this was a more interactive experience than watching a video-to-camera lecture, even though they knew they couldn’t participate in the interactions themselves.
- Students felt like they were getting more of what they perceived as the ‘real’ and ‘authentic’ campus experience.
Students had concerns too. The main one was that lecture recordings were not created intentionally for them. Even if the subject matter was very similar, they felt they were getting the recording second hand as the primary focus was the live audience, and they therefore did not address their learning needs and concerns.
Do these findings mean that we should be using more lecture recordings more widely in online courses? Not necessarily, and these findings need to be treated with some nuance. In fact, these students tell us a bigger story about online learning, which can be used to improve our teaching practice. We theorised that students had a deficit model of online learning. Many felt that it could not possibly offer the same level of connection to lecturers and to other students as a face-to-face course, and appeared to privilege forms of teaching which they were familiar with from their face-to-face learning experiences.
We also noted that some students had bad experiences of discussion boards (though some students had excellent experiences), describing them as ‘just a tick box exercise’, which didn’t encourage deep engagement with the material, or support meaning connections with peers. We also found that students liked watching dialogue, and felt that hearing questions asked and answered offered a new dimension on topics (even if it is not them directly interacting with members of their own learning community). In short, our students’ enthusiasm for seeing videos recorded on campus provided a useful lens onto what was missing for them in their online courses.
So where does this leave repurposed lecture capture? Our sense is that this research raises questions about how and why we use videos in online teaching, and allows us to think creatively about when and where to use a variety of recorded material, which may include selective use of lecture capture if appropriate to the course. Most importantly, our research indicates that we should improve students’ opportunities for meaningful engagement online. This might prevent students looking towards the campus for a source of social presence.