As the Covid 19 pandemic develops, universities are asking serious questions about how they can continue to successfully deliver teaching and learning. Is online streaming and lecture caption the answer?
The good news is, technology can support the university ecosystem, enabling effective remote working, delivering high-quality online content, and nurturing new ways of collaborating. But while academics have expertise and teaching skills in spades, many are concerned about the rapid changes in delivery that coronavirus necessitates. In traditional face-to-face lectures, they’re used to communicating complex information in a specific environment in a certain way; most academics are in their comfort zone in physical, bricks-and-mortar lecture theatres. Similarly, learners know what to expect in this context. Moving to an online environment changes everything.
For a university, the first step towards streaming and lecture capture is making sure everyone – staff and students – knows how to access the online platforms that are currently in place. Can people log in? What happens if they forget their password and IT staff are working from home?
Beyond that, many academics worry that they lack the skills to edit and upload filmed lectures. Some worry about how they look on film, or how they might come across. Many worry about the extra volume of work required to produce video content. Even the most confident face-to-face lecturers may balk at working with unfamiliar structures, technologies and techniques. In a sector that’s built on expertise – whether subject expertise or teaching skills – it’s hard to find yourself unsure of what buttons to press, how to share your screen, or how to engage your faceless yet all-seeing audience. It can seem overwhelming.
Taking the lead
Jisc’s online community, webinars and account managers and subject specialists can help with specific questions and advice – but there is no blueprint because each university has its own systems, culture and practices. Providing clear guidance on teaching approaches that will work for your institution will support a consistent whole-university approach. That might involve university leaders creating supportive documents, and perhaps asking a tech-savvy member of staff – a familiar face on campus – to make step-by-step videos on how to approach lecture capture. That can make a real difference when building confidence and tends to land well with academics.
In fact, capturing lecture content is reassuringly low-tech; all it requires is a laptop with a microphone, and a quiet space to record. Is the window open with cars going past? Is there a risk of someone knocking on the door while the camera’s rolling? Setting up a suitable environment helps build confidence. And, for those that aren’t yet comfortable in front of the camera, do you really need to be filmed? You can save a lot of time and anxiety by just recording audio, talking over a well-designed slideshow.
For learners, away from the focused, distraction-free environment of the lecture theatre, online learning is experienced differently, and on a range of devices. Some students may use an iPad outdoors, others may use a desktop at home, or their phone on the bus. Academics can safely assume that all their learners will be multitasking in some way – and many will be dealing with additional responsibilities, such as childcare. Just trying to mimic the lecture theatre experience for an online environment won’t work. And while there’s often an assumption that learners are confident with technology, able to engage with live streaming and lecture capture with no problems, this isn’t always true. Web spaces need to be quite carefully scaffolded, introducing things simply before moving on to bigger, more advanced learning tasks.
Necessity is the mother of invention
The positive impact of moving lectures online is that it can free academics from conventions. On campus, universities tend to run 50-minute lectures – but that isn’t because 50 minutes is the perfect period of time, it’s down to timetabling. Trying to hold a learners’ interest for 50 minutes in a video is both difficult and unnecessary. Without that logistical, timetabling issue, academics could break a lecture down, maybe deliver it in 10-minute chunks. Done well, online streaming and lecture capture can be a much more engaging platform. It gives new freedom to create content in the way that works best for both teachers and learners.
At first, it can be hard for lecturers to adjust to an environment in which they can’t see their learners’ reactions, establish eye contact, and catch those affirming nods from the audience, it’s still important to generate enthusiasm and create that buzz, because online learners still want to be engaged. If they aren’t, it’s a very isolating experience. One way is to get learners to do something. Talk for up to 10 minutes – that’s the didactic bit of the session – then ask learners to write something down, research a question or, with Blackboard or Moodle, contribute to the discussion forum. In a video format, those pauses for reflection are crucial. Online pedagogy doesn’t rely purely on lecture capture, it’s something to incorporate with asynchronous elements.
A graded approach
Finally, people will feel pressure, so it’s important to safeguard wellbeing and build academics’ confidence in their ability to do their job in this difficult time. A graded approach can work, starting with how-to videos on basic lecture capture, reassuring staff that, at least initially, ‘good is good enough’. A week or so later, level two is about challenging students and providing a little bit more content and creativity. By level three, staff and students will hopefully be more comfortable with lecture capture and asynchronous content, so universities can start to approach assessment in a meaningful and robust way.
In this fast-moving situation, everyone is finding their way. This is the time to make sure everyone is aligned and supported with the confidence and tools to support meaningful online learning.
A short guide to successful lecture capture:
- Making sure everyone – staff and students – has access to the technology they need and knows how to access online platforms
- Make sure everyone knows where to go for support and advice. This can be online videos – ideally filmed by someone at the university – printed resources and helplines. Jisc’s online community, webinars and account managers and subject specialists can help too.
- Set up a quiet, professional space for filming.
- Remember that learners will be distracted. Aim for ten-minutes of didactic lecture followed by an activity. Use this opportunity to rethink your approach to teaching.
- Good is good enough. Start small and build up.
- Aim to mix lecture capture and streaming with asynchronous elements – such as online discussions or working on collaborative documents.
- Remember this is new for learners too; learn together and be kind to yourself through that process.
Jisc’s advice and resources can support universities as they develop contingency plans. Further support is available though a community of practice and a series of webinars, with the next one at 2pm on Monday 23 March.