Modernizing the learning experience with lecture capture

- May 15, 2015

Physics prof Ted Monchesky, one of the instructors who's been involved in the lecture capture initiative. (Danny Abriel photo)
Physics prof Ted Monchesky, one of the instructors who's been involved in the lecture capture initiative. (Danny Abriel photo)

Today’s faculty and students are learning in a digitized world that’s transforming at an extraordinary rate. Post-secondary institutions everywhere are taking note, evolving their educational tools to suit the learning styles of increasingly digital-savvy students.

In 2013, Dalhousie’s Faculty of Science began to introduce lecture capture to select introductory courses. Lecture capture is a digital classroom-recording system that offers students an engaging, efficient and flexible way to learn that enhance the in-class experience. It does this by capturing the presenter’s voice, and accompanying PowerPoint slideshow and, in some cases, the entire lecture using live action cameras.

Once recorded, students can access lectures on Dalhousie's learning management system (currently Blackboard). They can watch mini tutorials or review a select part or all of the lecture. The online lectures are accessible all term long for repeated use, which can come in handy on the days or nights leading into a quiz or exam. 

Accommodating student needs

One of the many appeals of lecture capture is its ability to provide support to a diverse student audience. The international student struggling to adapt the English language, the anxious student who cannot focus in a full room of students, the diligent scholar who is unable to get to class in bad weather — these are just a few examples of situations where lecture capture can be incredibly useful. It’s a teaching tool to supplement course content, not a replacement for class attendance.

“Before the program started, we conducted surveys and focus groups to measure student perceptions of lecture capture as a study tool,” explains Doug Rogers with Dal’s Centre for Learning and Teaching, who originally served as research coordinator for the lecture capture pilot project. “Those who spoke English as a second language focused on that as a major benefit.”

Competitive paddler and Dal student Jason McCoombs found the program helped him maintain the school-life balance during his training in Florida for the 2012 Olympics.

“The recordings made me feel like I was right there in class,” says McCoombs. “I followed along and took down all the notes as if that were the case. This made understanding the material of that course a whole lot easier.” (Read Jason’s story on Dal News.)

And professors appreciate the program’s ability to assist a range of students in their class.

“Providing recordings of all first-year biology lectures, by a team of six professors during the year, has been a great way to support our students,” says Gillian Gass, a senior instructor in the Department of Biology. “Students who made use of the recordings tended to see them as a really valuable resource.”

Pilot success

The Faculty of Science saw the potential benefits of lecture capture for students and secured Strategic Initiative funding to roll out a pilot program in introductory Chemistry, Biology, Physics and Psychology courses. Due to the great success of the program and enthusiasm exhibited by students, the program was extended for another year. 

Participation varied depending on the application of the technology. In cases where the tutorial videos were directly tied to particular assignments, like in Physics, upwards of 75-80 per cent of the class made use of the videos. In the case of first-year lectures, the use varied by program, but was typically more moderate by comparison.* Those who did use the system found having access to lectures decreased stress or anxiety associated with the course, and clarified concepts discussed in class.

Students were quick to praise their professors in their recorded classes: “Ted Monchesky provided me with all the help I could have asked for in my second year Electricity and Magnetism class. He recorded every lecture I would have otherwise missed completely,” said McCoombs of his former Physics professor.

Part of the success is also due in part to the efficiency of the recording system, Echo360, purchased under trial during the programs pilot year. Akin to a digital video recorder (DVR), the program includes a digital storage box installed in Ondaatje Hall (the largest lecture hall on the Dalhousie campus, located in the McCain building).

Beyond its ability to upload large video files and automatically organize lectures into faculty, term and course, Echo360 spits out analytics of viewing habits, including views per week and “heat spots.” These are areas in the lecture recording that are visited most frequently by students, giving instructors a snapshot of possibly confusing topics in the course.  

“There was no added workload for faculty, the Echo360 software was included, and the students could access lectures almost immediately through Blackboard,” says Rogers.

“The Centre for Teaching and Learning made lecture capture very easy for me,” says Dr. Monchensky, who taught Jason and is an assistant professor in the Department of Physics and Atmospheric Science. “Roger Brush and Spencer Cantley did a fantastic job of recording and editing the video, producing a very professional product that was uploaded on the Echo server by the next business day.”

Fostering faculty collaboration

An unintended outcome of introducing lecture capture to Dal was the relationship-building that came naturally among the faculty and staff involved. It’s this collaboration that contributed in the success of the program. Professors in the Faculty of Science met throughout the term to discuss the progress of lecture capture in their respective subjects. This involved sharing statistics regarding student usage and perceptions of the digital system.

“During this project, I’ve enjoyed working together with colleagues from across the Faculty of Science and from CLT,” says Dr. Gass. “Meetings about lecture capture resulted in some excellent and complex conversations about teaching, learning, and the role of new technologies in our classes.”

Funding the program for the 2015-2016 academic term and beyond is still uncertain, but The Centre for Learning & Teaching, working jointly with the pilot project’s Science instructors, envisions interest in lecture capture increasing at Dal. Its vision includes an increase in lecture-capture capable classrooms, a larger variety of course offerings that extend campus-wide, and, introduction of a web-based tool that would make online lectures accessible to all Dal students.

In the near future, such an innovative learning experience powered by lecture capture could be available to many more Dal students, allowing them to connect back to their classroom experience on demand.

*Editor's note, May 26: These numbers have been updated for clarity.


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