That the college lecturer could be replaced by the Gramaphone…

It seems that University Union debating societies in 1931 were having very much the same discussions that we have had in the past few years on the subject of recording lectures, albeit the technology may have moved on somewhat.

Scan of University College of South Wales Union Debating Society Programme 1931-1932.
University College of South Wales Union Debating Society Programme 1931-1932. 20th Nov 1931 ‘The the college lecturer should be replaced by the gramophone’. Shared by colleagues at our Lecture Capture Forum.

As we move into the second year of our opt-in lecture capture service, lectures have been recorded, lectures continue to be attended, no one has been replaced by a gramophone (or any other form of technology, that we know of). Our students with recorded lectures are pleased.

Lecture recording at Oxford, like at many institutions is an educational technology driven by student demand. And we took it on to deliver.  The feedback we gather throughout the year from our students is almost exclusively positive. Our students particularly value:

  • reviewing lectures for exam revision
  • listening in lecture rooms rather than focusing on writing notes (with more comprehensive notes being enriched after with the aid of the captured event),
  • replaying lectures at a pace that suits them, to understand the more complex issues covered in the lecture
  • the ability to catch-up if they have a clash with another class or miss a lecture for another reason
  • connecting departmental teaching and college teaching in a more timely way (a term of tutorials on Feminist Literary Theories may be quite a distance away from the lecture series).

The recording of lectures supports students with accessibility and disability requirements, especially after the withdrawal of the Disabled Students Allowance meant HEFCE/BIS put the onus on universities to remove paid-for notetakers. However, we need to be careful in promoting this a major driver when advocating lecture capture. Making recorded lectures only available to students with registered disabilities, who request them, is not what this service is about. It is to support all, inclusively, whether those disabilities are visible or hidden, physical or mental, registered or not. A student with depression can struggle to keep up, recorded lectures provides them with an opportunity to revisit their classes gently in their own time.  Lecture recording supports varied learning styles and the varied strategies students employ to assimilate and critically reflect on the huge amounts information they receive in their studies. As one student put it at a recent event  I attended ‘Lecture capture is part of the toolkit students need‘.

As is the case at most other institutions, the threat to attendance at lectures continues to be debated. By and large it has not been an issue, students miss lectures for many reasons, generally not because they consider the recorded version to  be a replacement for the lecture experience. Our feedback from students is that they plan to continue attending their lectures citing structure to their studies and contact opportunities with their peers and subject experts as key reasons. The lecture has a social context and this is key, particularly at Oxford where  undergraduates are largely taught in small groups in their colleges, and lectures provide an opportunity to engage with a wider discipline cohort and connect with their departments. *

Whilst things are looking positive in relation to the student experience, some interesting questions are being raised by academic colleagues. These were echoed by the sector at the University of Leicester’s event Implementing Lecture Capture: what are we learning? which I attended earlier this term. Some lecturers, who have employed more interactive methods in their sessions, have expressed that capture is forcing them to retreat to didactic methods of teaching – knowing they are being recorded keeps them positioned at the lectern and compelled to deliver a ‘to-the-camera talk-piece’. But, on the ‘flip’ side others have reflected on the traditional practice of the lecture and are now setting their students pre-lecture ‘viewing’ of previously recorded sessions, or specially produced own mini talk pieces, then release the lecture time for other group learning activities to test, reinforce and explore foundational knowledge and understanding.

This is great example of digital enabling an extension of teaching practices and fostering  more active blended learning. The role of the learning technologist is vital here, professionals who can advise not just about what digital tool to use and how, but provide exemplars of how it can be used to meet learning outcomes. This was echoed in a fantastic talk delivered at our own Lecture Capture forum by Tony Lancaster and Karl Luke from Cardiff University who advocated the role of the learning technologist in supporting change and iterative design of learning strategies.  

Four years on from introducing lecture capture at Oxford, conversations are happening around the role of the lecture in education.  More and more academic colleagues are exploring flipped learning and student response systems , the lecture space is shifting.  It would be over-zealous of me to suggest that lecture capture is the reason these conversations are happening, but capture certainly brings an interesting element to the table, not just in regards to recording but the wider use of video in teaching and learning, and the spaces it creates for innovation. The lecture has survived 1000s of years, it has survived books, gramophones, televisions and YouTube. I don’t think we will see the back of it quite yet, although a little disruption is rarely a bad thing.

* Lecture capture should also not be used as substitute for teaching, as in the case of #USSStrikes.


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