Sunday, September 16, 2012

How Lecture Capture Changed My (Teaching) Life: Part 2

In Fall 2011, I implemented the Echo 360 lecture capture for my Introduction to Ancient Rome course.  There were about 225 students in the course.  Before class started, I put on the microphone and taught as usual.  The only difference was that, a few hours after class, that in class presentation was posted on Blackboard for students to watch (or re-watch).  Because I had adopted it so close to the start of classes, I decided to treat that fall as an experiment: I did not adopt an attendance policy (or use i>clickers); and, initially, I taught exactly as I had done in the previous fall.  Almost immediately, I noticed a couple of important changes in the classroom.  Somewhat fewer students were in class (but the attendance rate wasn't noticeably different from the previous fall for most of the semester).  Those students were looking at me, not their computers (or their phones or Facebook or  Nobody was madly scribbling down every word I said, with no attention to what was important, what was less important.  Nobody asked me to go back to a previous slide so they could finish copying down the information on it.  Nobody asked me to spell something that was spelled on a slide.  The students were paying attention to what I was saying, they were thinking, the wheels were turning.  When they asked questions, it was a question about the lecture itself. In other words, instead of acting like scribes, they were thinking and, dare I say, learning.

Within a few weeks I figured out two other fantastic things about lecture capture.  First, I didn't need to worry so much about cramming as much as I could into class.  I could let students go off on tangents a bit more, I could slow down the pace and explain difficult concepts more thoroughly.  If we got behind, I would wait until I had a good chunk and then would use the Personal Capture to record a 20-25 minute "catch up" lecture on my laptop.  This posted to Blackboard just like the in-class lectures.  I could also use the Personal Capture to post topical lectures on Roman Culture (e.g. gladiators; slavery; triumphs).  I used the Personal Capture to review the exams and, in particular, the answers to the short answer questions (students were also directed to the TA who graded their exams if they had additional questions, but we found that this substantially decreased post-exam office traffic).   Furthermore, if I missed class due to illness or an academic conference, I no longer needed to promise my firstborn to a colleague to get them to come in and do a guest lecture that would likely not quite be consistent with how I was teaching the material.  Now I could simply record the missed lecture and post it. Far from hurting student learning, lecture capture was facilitating it in myriad ways--even in a course that hadn't been designed to take full advantage of what it culd offer.

The teaching assistants and I found that students no longer pestered us with factual questions that had been answered in lectures (or assigned reading).  On the rare occasion that they did, we could now tell them, "that was covered in X lecture, about 1/3 of the way in", and so on.  On the whole, students demonstrated a degree of self-sufficiency that we had not seen in this type of course.  We could hold them accountable to a higher degree of mastery because we knew that they had the opportunity to review the lectures ad infinitum, and at their own pace.  And speaking of pace, the lecture capture technology is ideal for students with cognitive disabilities that make focusing for a 50 minute lecture next to impossible.  Now they can review the lecture in manageable chunks.  We no longer needed to make arrangements for several students to be note-takers and distribute their notes to students with that accommodation since now, students could pause the lectures and watch them at whatever pace they needed.

Fairly early in the semester, Mike Heidenreich (the Echo guru in our Liberal Arts ITS Department) reported to me that my students were using the Echo system in large numbers.  By the end of the semester, my class had used the system several times as often as any other class.  The average number of views per student was 14.5 across classes using the system; my class averaged 49 views/student.  I suspect there are at least a few reasons for this high usage: my tests require substantial depth of knowledge; in doing the study guides for each exam, the students would return to the lecture and listen to the part where I covered a particular concept; Roman history is full of unfamiliar names and ideas--listening to the lectures a few times greatly increased familiarity.  And, of course, for some students the Echo recording were a substitute for class attendance.  Overall, though, attendance didn't suffer dramatically (somewhat to my surprise).  In part, I think the students themselves figured out that it helped them to come to class and hear the lecture first in person.  In part, I spent time at several points in the semester outlining the benefits of attendance.  Certainly, students would miss class from time to time, especially during times when they had exams in other classes.  On the whole, though, most seemed to grasp that they were paying tuition to have the in class experience. 

Despite my initial reservations about adopting the lecture capture technology, I found myself completely converted by the end of Fall 2011.  Mike was an excellent resource, responsive and always willing to answer my questions or to pass along tips garnered from other faculty users of the technology.  More than anything, though, I was converted because I realized the potential that lecture capture had to change the way that content was delivered and, therefore, change the way a large, introductory level class could be taught.  It was clear to me that the Echo 360 was very user-friendly and reliable (there were occasional glitches, but they were rare); and that students actually used it.  It was also clear to me that the opportunity to review lectures outside of class time enhanced student learning.

Sometime in late Fall 2011, I also began to think about adding what UT calls an "Ethics Flag" to the Intro to Rome course.  This would require finding some classroom time to teach ethics--a real challenge since the course was already jam-packed and really had no wiggle room.  I began to think about how I might use the lecture capture to create some room for incorporating ethics into the Intro to Rome curriculum.

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