Lecture Capture: A Study Supplement or Excuse to Skip Class?

Technology makes it easy to record and distribute lecture material presented in class. What concerns many faculty is whether having the recorded lectures available gives students the excuse they need to skip class. Moreover, recorded lectures don't give students the opportunity to ask questions. True, sometimes they don't ask questions in class when they are confused, but often the teacher can see or sense their confusion in a classroom setting and offer additional explanations; that's not the case when viewing a recorded lecture.

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Technology makes it easy to record and distribute lecture material presented in class. What concerns many faculty is whether having the recorded lectures available gives students the excuse they need to skip class. Moreover, recorded lectures don't give students the opportunity to ask questions. True, sometimes they don't ask questions in class when they are confused, but often the teacher can see or sense their confusion in a classroom setting and offer additional explanations; that's not the case when viewing a recorded lecture.

Students have been surveyed about the use of lecture capture: asked how often they view the recorded lectures, how long they look at the recordings, and what role they see recorded lectures playing in their efforts to learn the material in the course. The survey results collected in various research projects offer mixed results. Students consistently report a range of benefits from having lectures available outside of class. But data on how often students report using them differ, and certain questions remain. For instance, are student reports accurate, or are they describing how they think they should be using recorded lecture material? Moreover, so far there are very few analyses of how using recorded lectures impacts learning. Do students who report viewing recorded lectures after they've attended class perform better on exams?

A study done in Great Britain begins to answer some of these questions and concerns. It's a large, two-year analysis of more than 1,400 students enrolled in a first-year, undergraduate economics module (think 24-week course with three 50-minute lectures each week and a weekly discussion seminar). Each of the 70 lectures delivered in the course was recorded and made available to students. The lecture capture technology automatically recorded the number of individuals who watched each lecture, when the lectures were viewed, and how long viewers looked at the recordings.

The results are rather encouraging. In the first year (2012–2013) 639 students, or 87.8 percent, accessed the recordings at least once, with 613, or 84.2 percent, watching at least two minutes of the recording. In the second year (2013–2014) 709 students, or 99.7 percent, accessed the recordings at least once, with 680, or 95.6 percent, watching at least two minutes. For students who watched a recording for more than two minutes, the mean viewing length was 28 minutes (SD 24.3) the first year and 27.8 minutes (SD 21.3) the second year. Not surprisingly, the number of views spiked during exam weeks and most of the viewings took place during the evening hours.

This research team also surveyed students about their use and perceptions of the recorded lectures. Primarily, students said they used the recorded material for review. “Students highlighted the benefits of using recorded lectures for revision [review] purposes, to support independent study and understanding material they found challenging, when introduced in lectures, and as of particular value for international students and students with special learning needs” (p. 164) According to the study authors, “Ultimately, recorded lectures seemed not to be perceived as an alternative to lecture attendance, but a very useful tool to assist follow-up study.” (p. 163) Student attendance was not tracked in the study, but lecturers reported that class attendance did not drop significantly when lecture capture was being used.

And there was one additional positive outcome. “Generally, module evaluation scores were higher for the module after lecture capture was introduced, particularly in the 2012–2013 academic year—the first year the technology was trialed” (p. 161)

This research does verify use of recorded lectures in a more reliable way. The cohort is large, and although the course did not enroll students from across a wide range of disciplines, it did enroll students from several different fields. However, it's still data from a particular kind of course taught at a particular institution. And it still doesn't explain if or how viewing part of a lecture affects learning. Students report that it's a viable study strategy, but questions remain: for example, are students who include the recorded lectures in their study time getting better exam scores?

Reference: Elliott, C., and Neal, D. (2016). Evaluating the use of lecture capture using a revealed preference approach. Active Learning in Higher Education, 17(2), 153–167.