On Lecture Capture

This past week I received an e-mail alerting me that, because I teach in a particular classroom, I can have access to lecture capture this fall.  The e-mail, from the campus’s tech folks, reported that of students with access to this technology, 70 percent watched at least one capture per week, and 78 percent of students said they would like more classes to use lecture capture.  The lectures get posted to iTunesU and also to Blackboard.

Those of you who know me well know that I have been an evangelist for the use of certain kinds of technology in higher ed–particularly blogs, wikis, c0llaborative mapping, and certain uses of mobile devices–but I’m deeply uneasy with lecture capture technology because I think it’s a step backward from the best uses of technology for instruction.*

Lecturing and lecture capture are by their nature unidirectional. Yes, both lecturing and lecture capture could be made interactive–lecturing by peppering the class period with questions and activities, and lecture capture by adding some kind of commenting or discussion function wherever the audio and video are posted.  I have yet to see anyone use institutionally sponsored lecture capture in this way.

The lectures can be shared most easily within corporate repositories–Blackboard and iTunesU–rather than to open-source, not-for-profit educational repositories.  Yes, iTunesU has some fabulous stuff on it, but I’m not ready to share there.

It’s also too easy for the university to repurpose content in online courses that could be adjunctified. I’m not sure what the policy is at my current institution, but I signed away a lot of intellectual property rights at my last one.  In an age where people seem to think that education is just a matter of “delivering content” that translates into mad workplace skillz, I’m uneasy about providing the university with any multimedia content that could be aggregated into a enormous-enrollment course taught by a grossly underpaid and underinsured Ph.D.

There also may be a misunderstanding or miscommunication on the part of tech folks and their student workers that faculty should be driving this bus. A colleague was teaching in a classroom where a student was in charge of running the technology. She was going to review answers to a quiz they had taken in class, and she asked the student worker to turn off the lecture capture for that time period.  The student refused, saying she’d need to check with her boss.  Because the lectures can be posted automatically, the instructor wasn’t certain she’d have the opportunity to edit out that portion of the class (nor should she have to, I might add–the lecture capture should be at the instructor’s request).

There definitely was a gap in understanding between me and the technologist with whom I communicated about lecture capture. I asked if the system could capture students’ portions of class discussion, and I was told that the system captures only the instructor’s audio, and thus–and I’m quoting here–”we train faculty to REPEAT all questions before answering them, so that they are on the capture.”

This assumes, of course, that students–and not instructors–are asking the majority of the questions.  (It also assumes instructors can be “trained,” which made me LOL, since one of my previous job titles–one I don’t think I’ve ever admitted to–was actually “faculty technology trainer” and even then I knew going in that faculty are not easily housebroken.  This faculty member, I assure you, does not sit. lie down. roll over.)

Lecture capture is about delivering content

I do understand the utility of lecture capture.  As faculty are asked to teach increasingly larger courses, lecturing seems more “natural”–because how could one have a live conversation with 200+ students? (Trust me–it can be done!)  As more courses offer online sections, it’s efficient for faculty members to repurpose in-class lectures for their online students–and it ensures all students receive the same content.

But again, this entire form of course presentation is predicated on a belief that higher education is about acquiring content knowledge and not about encouraging critical or creative thinking.  See, in my Women and the West course I could in a lecture repeat and reinforce what my students have already read in some textbook about 19th-century women’s contributions to, for example, early business development in California (they ran boardinghouses during the Gold Rush–surprise!)–and then test students on that knowledge. . .

What were the three most common forms of women’s entrepreneurship in mid-nineteenth-century California?

. . .Or I could provide them with primary-source materials by, say, Theodosia Burr Shepherd and her daughter Myrtle Shepherd Francis–pioneers of horticultural entrepreneurship in California and cultivators of plants that students likely have growing in their neighbors’ yards or have seen at Home Depot**–and ask them larger historiographical questions.

  • Why might women have been early pioneers of California’s floricultural and horticultural industries?
  • What challenges do you think faced women entrepreneurs between 1865 and 1900?
  • Why, in “The Woman in Floral Culture,” does Shepherd suggest women’s clothing is the greatest encumbrance to their entrepreneurial success in floriculture? Based on your knowledge of the era, do you concur? Why or why not?
  • Why might have nineteenth-century California provided more fertile ground for women entrepreneurs (and scientists!) than states east of the Mississippi?
  • Why are early women entrepreneurs not better represented in today’s history textbooks, especially considering we live in an era that celebrates the entrepreneurial spirit?

The answers to those kinds of questions are unlikely to be cleanly and clearly articulated, either by me or by my students.  And lecture capture is, it seems, all about decisive articulation of disciplinary facts.  (And I so do not do disciplinary facts.)

Lecture capture wish list

I do occasionally “lecture” in five- to seven-minute chunks that students might find useful to revisit.  So. . . What would have to be in place for me to use lecture capture?  (Maybe some of these options exist, but I’m sure others do not.)

1.) Ways to record multiple, simultaneous small-group discussion by students–and a simple way for me to provide some kind of feedback on those discussions, perhaps using video or audio.  (The name of the lecture capture system–Echo360–would imply that technology exists to capture and play back all audio in the classroom, yes? Alas, not yet.)

2.) Ways to annotate the classroom-generated audio and video with text, so that if I wanted to share a link related to a certain moment in the video, I could.

3.) Fully accessible–the software should generate an automatic transcript that I can edit when I find transcription errors.

4.) Video and audio must be fully, and easily, editable by me.

5.) A setting that ensures only I, and no one else, can upload the videos.

6.) A choice of how open I’d like to make the videos–that is, I’d like to make them easy to upload to YouTube so that I can embed them on a (publicly accessible) class blog.  Other instructors would likely prefer Blackboard, but since I only use Blackboard to calculate grades (and I hope to use Excel for that in the future, but I’m innumerate, so I rely on an LMS) and share an occasional document, I don’t want any of my content uploaded to Blackboard.

What about you?

Have you found a satisfactory way to use lecture capture–one that is more about achieving your desired learning objectives rather than student convenience and efficiency of content delivery?  I’d love to hear about it. . .

* Granted, my unease with lecture capture is rooted in a deep distrust of lecturing as a teaching tool.  A select few do it well, and a select few students learn best from lectures–but after working as a teaching consultant for a few years, I observed that most people don’t lecture well, and most students retain next to nothing from the average lecture.

** Doubled, fluted, frilled, ruffled, and pinked petunias! Blue morning glory (Ipomoea ‘Heavenly Blue’)!  Eschscholzia californica ‘Golden West’!


  1. Kaleberg says:

    I think lecture capture is something a professor should decide to do, like converting his or her class notes and handouts into a textbook. It makes the most sense for core classes, the big introductory classes that are given every year and have to cover certain material. Even then, there is a big difference between just a random recording of a course and producing a course as a teaching tool. I can see why a professor might want to record every class, but only if the use and release of the material were under a certain level of control and agreed on in advance.

    P.S. If you have to record a lecture, put in a lot of textbook quotes and let their lawyers deal with the textbook company lawyers.

  2. Leslie–I share your deep distrust of lecture capture you very effectively lay out all of the reasons why faculty should think twice before cooperating with these schemes. Like clickers, it seems like another way of enshrining lectures as the center of classroom interaction, when to me it seems like just another shiny distraction that doesn’t really improve mass education but lets us pretend that it’s less industrial-scale than it really is.

  3. irene knokh says:

    One thing that I find interesting is “training faculty to REPEAT the question.” I think that it is good teaching practice to repeat the question to the group and to your class participant. By repeating the question, you make sure that you confirm what you’ve heard so that you can give a correct response.
    The faculty probably know this already so this practice shouldn’t be tied to lecture capture. :)
    Also, are there orientation sessions between faculty and technologists? Having an orientation and covering in advance tricky issues such as “who drives the bus” may help. :)

  4. Leslie: Panopto was developed on-campus, by academics, for many of the reasons you reference. Panopto allows you to do all six of things you mention (with the possible exception of capturing a audio for a large classroom which requires a special microphone). Don’t want to make a sales pitch here, so just check us out if you want…. and you will find lecture capture is moving quite rapidly in the right direction, no longer limited to chunky, large classroom “lectures”, but rather opening up options and possibilities.

    • irene knokh says:

      It certainly depends on how you use classroom lecture.
      The faculty who want to use it (or any presenters for that matter), may want to think about what’s the goal of using lecture capture in the classroom. Is it to make sure that students have a chance to review every presentation?
      Is so that the students review a particular presentation?

  5. I’m going to have to use this as one of my first opportunities to say, “in my day…”

    You missed the lecture, you missed the class, along with the questions from the students, which usually sparked fantastic conversations. You missed that. All of it.

    You CHOSE to miss those lectures, and did (or did not) pay the price. Maybe you had a buddy who took great notes. Maybe you didn’t.

    Lecture capture seems to be a way to take university classes online. This option is fine if you’ve chosen to take *online* university. Those students who have chosen to take the in-person version have chosen to fucking BE THERE for the human interaction (and probably other reasons).

    Lecture capture without complete professor control over editing and publishing is a cheat and a travesty.

    “In my day,” we didn’t get second chances to review lectures. You got through (or didn’t) through creativity (I got a B in Biology by cramming all night), craftiness (I lied about a family emergency to get extra time for my final paper in International Law), and actual studying in the classes you cared about. Taking the *method* of delivery of information away from the professors is just plain wrong.

    You’ve met me, LMB. I’m a 43 year-old graduate of a CA state university before there were computers. How did that work out, in my case?


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