Mini-series: What is the value of lecture recording at the University of Edinburgh?

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Credit: Pixabay, CC0

In this post, Jill MacKay, a research fellow from the Royal (Dick) School of Veterinary Studies and the Principal Investigator leading the University’s lecture recording evaluation, shares some of the findings and conclusions from the evaluation, and poses some fundamental questions about learning and teaching…

I have a confession. I love academic blogging. This is probably a good thing too because I’ll be talking to you folks at several points over this Teaching Matters mini-series on lecture recording. There are so many constraints and traditions in academia that I think blogs give us a place to experiment freely with how we conduct our core business of being an academic: discovering, developing and sharing knowledge.

This post is about our university-wide evaluation of the lecture recording roll out that ran from January – June of 2018 and asked: what is the value of lecture recording at the University of Edinburgh?* Since then, I have been to conferences, written up a (very long) report, and will be writing up the papers to communicate our findings to the wider academic community. In other words, there are lots of traditional research communiqués about the project, so in this blog I want to talk to you as if you’d just popped into my office for a cuppa and a chat.


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Figure 1: Thematic map of staff and student concerns with lecture recording

I’ve always found conversations more useful than written communications, which is probably why I’ve used unstructured interviews to collect some of our data on attitudes towards lecture recording across the university. Unstructured interviews are essentially conversations with a purpose. I talked to 13 staff participants across different schools and roles, including professional services and guest lecturers, to find out what value they saw in lecture recording. This is one of my favourite types of data collection, being able to talk to people about their passions and life’s work is such a great joy.


One of the most interesting findings of these conversations was a fear among staff that recording a lecture fundamentally changed something about the lecture space. This fear manifested in two main ways.

  • Recording could make lecturers more self-conscious about their appearance, or stop them from making certain jokes, changing how they wanted to present the material.
  • More worryingly, recording a lecture placed undue importance on the lecture.

Lecturers talked about recordings ‘canonising’ the material in the lectures, making them the definitive version of the material in the eyes of the students. Both of these types of transformation were worrying for lecturers.

However, in the parallel student focus group and survey, we didn’t see any evidence of this fear. Instead, students wanted lectures to be more predictable, to know when and where they’d be recorded, and know exactly what material they could access. This was often talked about in relation to the exams, which are an ever-present worry for many students.

The one thing I’ve really taken away from this project is that as a university we need to come to a common understanding of what happens in a lecture. I don’t think either staff or students have quite got it completely right. Students should be able to rely on their lecturers making materials accessible by using microphones and clearly communicating which materials will be recorded. Vice versa, staff should not have to worry that students will recite the lecture word-for-word in an exam.

After spending this time listening to the opinions of both staff and students, I know that there is more to lecture recording than just this difference in opinion. There are concerns about ethics and technical challenges, and valid questions about how we support students to learn with this new technology. But, if I come back to that initial question we started with, I think the value of lecture recording is that it makes us think about why we lecture at all.

Staff and students walk into a lecture hall to create learning. They have different roles and levels of responsibility in that space, but ultimately, you need to have both in order to create that learning experience. Despite some of the scare-mongering, I can’t imagine a future where students sit at home and receive a bank of pre-recorded lectures, left over from the last HE-employed lecturer decades ago. But I do think that lectures are only one component of teaching, and one that we need to think about as we move into a world where we desperately need critical thought, not fact memorisation. How we use recordings to facilitate that will require some experimentation, a little like this blog . ..

And finally…

I have one final thought (giving me a platform may have been a mistake). And I hope, dear readers, that you will forgive me for coming over a little jingoistic. Talking to people at this university, staff and students, truly inspires me. I think we worry a little too much about how a new technology might change us. After all, we are the University of Edinburgh! We opened in 1583, and since then we have hosted some of the greatest minds the world has ever known. We have over 23 Nobel Prize winners, 2 Turing Award winners, 1 Abel Prize winner, 1 Fields Medal winner, 2 Pulitzer Prize winners, 3 Prime Ministers of the United Kingdom, 2 currently-sitting UK Supreme Court Justices, and many Olympic gold medallists in our alumni. We all work here together to discover, develop and share knowledge. That is our mission.

Lecture recording could be a real opportunity to review how we teach here at Edinburgh, and spur us on to explore how technology can enhance learning. If recording a lecture does change it, let’s change it for the better.

Recording our lectures cannot change us unless we want it to.

*Click here to read the Value of Lecture Recording at the University of Edinburgh interim evaluation report.

Jill MacKay

Jill MacKay is a Research Fellow in Veterinary Education with an interest in digital education, the staff-student relationship, human-animal interactions, and interdisciplinary research methods. She teaches on several R(D)SVS MScs and the Global Academy of Agriculture and Food Security BScs. You can find her on Twitter @jilly_mackay


  1. I don’t think this article appreciates the complexity of the issue. The two concerns mentioned are just the tip of the iceberg, and even they are not fully discussed. Moreover, the text focuses on *what lecture capture does or is*, whereas it seems that this is not at all what most people have a problem with. Most people have a problem with:
    – how it is introduced (by force and with no appreciation for the contexts where it is introduced)
    – how academics are treated in the process (as mules who must take yet another responsibility without question and whose concerns are ignored)
    – what aims it really serves (i.e. business & student satisfaction, not education)

    I worry that the last comment does come across as more than jingoistic. It sounds like you are taking an instrumentalist approach to technology – a view criticised widely, as it fails to appreciate that technologies are much more than tools which will just do their job when used. Technologies are used by people in different social contexts characterised by different values and interests. More often than not they do way more or less than intended, and end up having consequences reaching far beyond what their creators imagined.

    You say:
    We are University of Edinburgh! What can lecture capture do to us?

    Here’s a comparison:
    We are liberal democracy! What can Twitter do to us?

    For details see:

  2. Hi Simon,

    There is definitely far more to lecture recording than I can get across in a 700 word blog (there is more to lecture recording than I’ve been able to summarise in the 7000 word report(!)), so there are many other publications and talks which have already occurred and many more planned. I hope I can do the investigation justice. Keep an eye out.

    That being said – the aim of this blog was to be provocative. And I do believe that sometimes we are negative (or perhaps the word is ‘conservative’?) by instinct, because we worry about preserving our teaching, which is understandably extremely important to all of us. And yet teaching has to change, because knowledge is always changing, so I wanted to explore that from a different angle in this blog.

    I’m really pleased you commented, because this is the kind of discussion I think we need to have. Does recording something really fundamentally change it?

    Or, in the spirit of the provocateur, can we really say that Twitter is changing a liberal society, or simply reflecting the liberal society back at itself? 😉

    Hopefully catch you around soon,


  3. Sure, and I am definitely looking forward to reading the future parts of the Mini-Series!

    I’m not sure about what ‘provocative’ means in this context though. It seems that the University mainly publishes and funds opinions which are ‘provocative’ in a way which follows their business agenda. Which is completely unsurprising if we understand the university as an institution which is set to act in its own interest, but a bit disappointing if we understand it as a community of scholars who want to get at the truth, even if it’s inconvenient.

    And this blog seems to fit the picture, being provocative but only in ways which present the University in a good light and aren’t too critical. I happen to have submitted an article on lecture capture to Teaching Matters and got it rejected on the basis that it wasn’t positive enough and could annoy some people. Teaching Matters is for UoE what BBC is for the Conservative Government, it seems . (I wonder if they will approve this comment! How’s that for provocative? 😛 )

    In any case, in reply to whether recording will make a fundamental change to learning. My worry is precisely that it will make no change at all. That we basically just spent loads of time and money on something that just doesn’t do much at all. I mean, most of the evidence we have points towards the view that lecture capture has negligible if any effect on student learning.

    Which suggests that all this is just a political stunt. Lecture capture is not a learning technology at all, it’s a PR technology that our CIO and other Corporate Overlords decided to deploy to bump us up in NSS scores and make us look more modern. Even if it will have some positive effect on learning, this is just incidental to why it is introduced. The decision to introduce lecture recording is a political, not an educational decision, and it is about as evidence-based as most political decisions in the UK.

    As many such decisions, its cost will be borne by those who are already exploited – the lecturers who will be expected to add yet another thing to their 55-hour weeks.

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