Lecture capture: this year’s moonbeam and sparklepony technology?

Artwork by Stefani Rossi and Chloe Leisure

Over at The Clutter Museum, Leslie M-B has a great analysis of the moonbeams and sparkleponies of something called “lecture capture.”  What is “lecture capture?”  It sounds like a digital recording of a professor’s lectures that has all of the pitfalls and no advantages beyond old-fashioned video taping, except that the “product” can be posted on proprietary software.  It doesn’t take a technoskeptic like myself to see “lecture capture” as “intellectual capital capture” that can contribute mightily to the further adjunctification of our profession and the dumbing-down of public higher education.  Leslie explains:

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 (emphasis Historiann’s here.)

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.

Just go read the whole thing.  (I would just reprint it all here if it weren’t for my pesky respect for Leslie’s intellectual capital, my disinterest in “capturing” it for my own profit, and for Fair Use doctrine.)  In particular, instructors considering a flirtation with Satan Hirself should read this part:

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.”

Pony by Stefani Rossi and Chloe Leisure

Ah, yes.  Any technology that must be served rather than serves us seems to me fundamentally corrupt, if not also fundamentally pointless.  In the end, Leslie’s objections boil down to the fact that “lecture capture” feeds the fiction that 1) lecture is simply a delivery of “content,” and 2) that student questions/interactions with faculty are interruptions of that content delivery and are therefore unworthy of being recorded.  I’d like to add another point of objection, namely, that “lecture capture” feeds the popular idea among college students that going to class is optional rather than necessary to a college education. 

Take a look at a key sentence in that first paragraph of Leslie’s that I quoted above:  “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.”  Well, 85% of my students think I assign too much reading, 75% resent the weekly essays I make them write, 60% think my grading standards are “ridiculous,” and 90% would prefer that I never asked them questions or demanded answers back during my lectures.  I’m sure your students are pretty much the same, unless you teach at Moonbeam Sparklepony University, where the students think they need to do more critical thinking on their feet, more reading, and more rigorous analysis in more essays throughout the semester, and demand more contact with faculty both in class and in office hours.

Where is the demand by faculty for “lecture capture?”  Why doesn’t that seem to matter to universities and their IT folks?

33 thoughts on “Lecture capture: this year’s moonbeam and sparklepony technology?

  1. From this post and several posts by More or Less Bunk, it appears that your classes are lively in-depth exchanges with students led by you by navigating the fascinating maze the material constitutes. My personal experience as a student and teacher for decades is that students are mostly passive, reluctant to be coaxed into exchanges and don’t even voice their need for repeated or elaborated presentation when they fail to understand. Only classes with less than ten students turn into exchanges rather than speeches that may as well be delivered by a robot.

    Twenty years ago some classes I taught were video taped and sent to students on travel. Some of these students did well eventually.


  2. koshemBos, your argument could be summarized as, “education has deteriorated, therefore let it deteriorate further.”

    A good lecturer, even when there is no visible interaction with the students, is gauging comprehension and altering her or his presentation on the fly to the extent possible. Do lecturers always hit the target of universal comprehension? Of course not. But they get a lot closer than a robot.

    A bad lecturer who’s excited about the subject can still communicate, even with a bad student, in ways that aren’t possible without physical presence.

    Case in point, me and one of my basic chemistry classes. I hated chemistry and tended to get C’s on a good day and with the wind at my back. The class had 600 students. The lecturer was a Nobel Prize winner who’d go off on tangents, lose all of us except the two or three Chem majors, work problems out on a calculator during lecture, and then get into the weeds and abandon the effort, and so on.

    And yet he was the person who showed me that chemistry can be as much of a voyage of discovery as the fields I like. That was when I began to see the point of learning what I’d always called “that crap.” On a video, all his lapses into bad lecturing style would have been merely annoying, not a window onto someone who played with the knowledge and loved it.

    The point is not whether some students learned something using the modern form of correspondence courses. Remote learning has its place. The question is what happens when that place takes over most of education.

    It doesn’t and it won’t work precisely because students are mostly passive and all the rest of what you said. Without physical presence, it’s a thousand times harder to learn to be anything aelse.


  3. That interminable comment didn’t even get to the “intellectual property” issues. In a time when a mere ringtone is worthy of protection by the DMCA, the huge amount of creative work that goes into lectures and teaching materials deserves at least the same protection.

    By the definitions that are used for ringtones, universities are stealing when they grab the work of faculty for nothing.

    And it is for nothing. The salary is supposed to cover forty hours of work per week. Teaching the classes and the associated work takes more than 40 hours by itself. Preparing new material is invariably, except in the cases of sabbaticals, done on the instructor’s own time.

    Even when it’s not, the understanding back in pre-cyber days was that the faculty’s creativity belonged to them and to humanity generally. It was the open source model of creativity. Now that we’re using electrons, suddenly we’re supposed to think that whoever controls the money has bought a wholly-owned slave? That economic model results in precisely the dead end, it’s-not-my-job drones everybody complains about in teaching.


  4. The sad fact is that while I love technology and would like to make class activities easily available to students who have to miss a class (illness, bad weather, bereavement, etc.), I “lecture” less and less. In fact, this year, I’m aggressively not planning lectures for my British survey class: every session will start off with discussion on a pre-circulated question and I’ll be pitching a bunch more of questions back at them during the course of the meeting. I’m preparing questions that line up with our readings and putting together lecture slides that provoke discussion, not note-taking!

    I believe that even in a large-ish class of 80, this is better education but I’m afraid that lecture capture, focused only on the prof and set up to privilege the expert imparting knowledge as opposed to the students, you know, actually learning. If the capture is only going to be able to give students any screen content and talking heads moments, it’ll be missing more than half of the class!


  5. You should ask the Profhacker people over at the Chronicle to do a thing on this and survey their readers — I’d love to know what the technophiles think of this new thing.

    (PS, I had a variant of this — live streaming lecture to the other half of my class in a nearby town — and it was horrible. I counted down the weeks until it was over. It forced me to lecture when I wanted them to do class and small group discussion. And every time we started a good conversation, the people in the “remote” class got pissed because all they saw was me standing at the front nodding my head at people who were talking to each other.)


  6. I second Sisyphus on this. Its a great question. And it would be interesting to see the folks at profhacker kick it around.

    I have colleagues who use a lecture capture system at Woebegone State. They run the equipment from their laptop and edit the material before posting. It seems like our school leaves the control of the materials and the IP in the hands of the professor. My colleagues have found it useful, as have the students, especially when students miss because of illness or weather. My colleagues report that there is no real impact on attendance. That said, this is anecdotal evidence, not a real study with measured outcomes.

    I am tempted, except the whole thing seems like more work for limited pedagogical pay off.


  7. When there’s a new technology on offer, I always ask myself:

    1. What’s it for? What is the goal of this technology?

    2. Are the goals of the technology the same as my goals in the classroom?

    3. Does it solve a problem I actually have? Does it do something better than I already can do it?

    Running down most of the possible answers for number one that Leslie and commenters here have already suggested, and plugging in my own standard goals for #2 (roughly equal parts content and critical thinking/pattern recognition/problem solving), I find I don’t really need to go on to #3.

    I *could* see this being a valuable tool for students with learning disabilities. But the cynical part of me sees this as a way to push faculty into “teaching” remote-learning courses without asking their permission or paying them for it.

    Here’s a theory: if students really could be autodidacts, we wouldn’t need universities. Conversely, if universities provide something that, say, obsessive reading on a subject cannot, it’s the opportunity to ask questions, form and test your own ideas with expert guidance, and be a part of a learning and teaching community. So the way I see it, technologies like this offer students nothing that they can’t get for free, and can’t provide what’s really unique and valuable about a university education.


  8. Sounds like a fucken dumpster fire to me. Especially the part where some fucken pissant little sniveling undergraduate A/V nerd is telling the faculty member what they can and can’t do in their own classroom. Fucke thatte noise.


  9. This is all driven by the VENDOR-administrator-industrial complex that’s eating it’s way into, and across, campuses today. I assume that if the thing was studied microscopically we’d find the same “revolving door” career patterns between campus “tech folks” and the cubicle-dwellers of the vendor technopolis. I find myself not really caring that much about the substantive pedagogical conclusions and positions, anecdotal or systematic; viz., about whether this or that tool “has uses,” but more about the authority and governance implications. Rhetorics to the effect that “we train the faculty” and the student worker’s understanding of who “my boss” is lead me straight to the “pull the plug” response. On a unionized faculty like ours the claim is that virtually everything we do is the property of the creator rather than the institution but who knows how that would play out in the era of the Roberts Court? Why help them tee-up more potential test cases?


  10. Pingback: I like “technoskeptic” much better than “Luddite.” « More or Less Bunk

  11. The fact that it’s not “discussion capture” tells me yet again that commercial concerns are destroying academic rigor in higher education. I realize that’s hardly news to anyone here, but I still find it extremely depressing to be continually reminded of that fact from so many different directions.


  12. I really like CPP’s shorthand of lecture capture as a “dumpster fire,” although Indyanna provides more nuance with his coinage of the “VENDOR-administrator-industrial complex.” And I also really appreciate Jonathan’s comment that this is more evidence that “commercial concerns are destroying academic rigor in higher education.” I’d just add that I think that’s not a bug, it’s a feature!

    This is just further evidence that commercial values are entirely antithetical to educational values. But of course, to stick up for educational values means I’m either a sucker (quite likely) or I’m actually working my own angle and am on the take. As I’ve said here before, people who worship The Market can’t believe that mammon isn’t the only motivational force in the world.

    I also really like Notorious’s succinct summation:

    “Here’s a theory: if students really could be autodidacts, we wouldn’t need universities. Conversely, if universities provide something that, say, obsessive reading on a subject cannot, it’s the opportunity to ask questions, form and test your own ideas with expert guidance, and be a part of a learning and teaching community. So the way I see it, technologies like this offer students nothing that they can’t get for free, and can’t provide what’s really unique and valuable about a university education.”

    Next time you hear someone blathering on about how Bill Gates quit college and did just fine and that the internet is making universities obsolete, just quote Notorious. And remember that it’s probably a better strategy to FIGHT rather than cooperate with schemes that perpetuate simplistic as well as mistaken ideas about what college is and what makes it effective and valuable.


  13. At the school where I just completed my (second, subject) master’s degree, lecture capture was used quite well, but in a very specific way: lectures in in-person sections were used for on-line sections by the same instructor. The instructor had a habit of saying to people who had questions, “And make sure you speak up so the on-line folks can hear you!”

    The demand for on-line classes came very much from students and not so much from faculty. However, faculty were largely on board with students’ reasons for wanting them: most of them were preparing for second careers as ordained ministers and had existing family and financial obligations that made quitting their current jobs to accommodate all in-person classes unfeasible. (Opportunity cost + high debt + low-paying future job = fail.) Certainly some classes translated better than others; the on-line version of Pastoral Care was especially mocked by participating students. But one the whole, everyone involved considered the development to be a positive and important one.

    Not quite the same as BA or PhD education, of course!


  14. (There was another instructor who didn’t bother catching student comments, but he mostly ignored them during in-person classes too, so I can’t blame the technology on that one.)


  15. Funny how negative comments here are mainly from people who have never used lecture capture, and the positive ones comes from users. Based on my experience as a relatively new user of one of the more modern internet systems (Panopto), I was pleasantly surprised and find our faculty using the system in many innovative ways..lectures between classes so class time could be more discussion based, capturing labs/simulations, guest lectures, student presentations. We get analytics and most students use to review before tests and papers, not as sub for missing class. The system has a search engine and we have a campus wide “intellectual capture” library that can be accessed by students and faculty. Questions about intellectual property are interesting, but using LC (for us) is totally optional and I don’t know of anyone who has tried to re-sell our presentations, but if we did, I think it would be handled like authoring of articles and books. For me, I only tape some of my classes and supplement all of my classes with mini-lectures and assignemnts I can tape in my office in about 15 to 30 minutes (and re-use the best ones next semester). And this is not just me as talking head, I can show streaming video, slides, and screen shots. My students can review with their smart phone or computer. You guys need to try it before you bash it. It is a nifty tool that can enhance learning, but like any tool, it needs to be creatively embraced and utilized in ways that enhance the professor/student dialectic.


  16. You guys need to try it before you bash it.

    No, I don’t. I’m perfectly able to critique a technology that raises questions about my intellectual property and the vivisection of components of my job without sampling its wares.

    For me, it’s the issue of faculty control and the criteria that Notorious set out so brilliantly. I’m interested to read comments from people who have seen it used (or used it themselves) effectively. I’m glad that you and Mark K. have seen it used in creative ways, but that’s not at all the way that Leslie M-B described either the “capture” (controlled by the IT department student worker, installed in a large lecture hall). It’s her post that originally inspired my comments. As you say, Henry, technolgies can be used productively to enhance one’s job, or they can be used to further erode the quality of education and job security of university faculty.


  17. I think the technology doesn’t have a future in my classroom. For professors who seem to have an inordinate amount of time on their hands, they use new technologies in infinitely creative ways, integrating video, web and other media into already intricate lecture-discussions. These are fabulous, but, in all honesty, until I’m off every faculty committee, have no grading, no research and don’t have other classes to teach, I can’t imagine ever having the time to make 15-20 minute recorded lectures on top of everything else. I suppose my students will just have to miss out and show up to my classes, which already do all of those things, and which I can change to suit the crowd that’s there. So what does this do for students, exactly, that doesn’t impinge on my already loaded schedule?

    If I am supposed to worship the corporate model, where’s my corporate salary? And I’d better have a serious contract that gives me serious royalties EVERY TIME a video is downloaded. Pay-as-you-go education! I’m all for it.


  18. Love the sparkleponies image! If students could just sit and absorb knowledge on their own, Gutenberg would have put universities out of business centuries ago. I lecture in my surveys, since I cover multiple centuries and regions. I use lectures to give students a framework into which they can fit the mass of information they are struggling with, to highlight important analytical points, illustrate the drier concepts with stories or even jokes, and to give them yet more information. I also ask them questions, discuss texts, and repeatedly bug them to ask me about what they are not following. All of that critical give-and-take (which has led my classes into completely unexpected and very fruitful directions) gets lost in mechanical reproduction. I can see the value of lecture capture for adult students in professional programs, but not for most undergraduates.

    Another control problem: lecture capture has been used to trap professors and get them in political trouble. Once something is on the internet, there are ways to distort and re-distribute it that the prof (or poor adjunct) cannot control. We should not agree to such a racket.


  19. Excellent points, joellecid & Northern Barbarian. Yeah, where’s our corporate salary? The glibertarians would say, “but tenure!”

    Tenure is valuable, especially since as of next week I’ll be teaching a history of sexuality class in addition to my usual Marxist feminist cant, and as NB suggests, excerpts from some of those lectures could be compromising on the YouTubes. But I don’t think tenure is quite as valuable as the golden parachutes on the backs of the golden parasites that are the rentier class. Ask them if they’ll trade their millions and billions for tenure and $60K a year.


  20. What joellecid said. I’m just glad I went to colledge back when carbon paper was about as nifty a “tool” as anyone would want to bring to the task, with a few phreaks suggesting that something called “wite-out” was only a product cycle or two down the road. The “rule of the tool” is paved with unbought stuffed dogs, as Hemingway might have phrased it. (We actually read stuff then).


  21. I do like that Henry has moved his lectures outside of class time, allowing for in-class discussion. (In fact, as both a technologist and as an instructional consultant, I’d recommend that very practice to faculty whose students might benefit from it.) I don’t understand why anyone would need fancy-schmancy lecture capture technology to do that. . . All it takes is a video camera or webcam and a place to upload the video, yes?

    While we’re talking about video, I do want to point out what I feel is a really good use of it–Dawn Sumner’s brief (but not comprehensive) clarifications of muddy points from her large-lecture geology classes. She uses a simple webcam. You can see her videos on her YouTube channel.


  22. I teach at a community college, and my students desperately need daily practice in self-control, paying attention, getting along with authority figures, and communicating and relating to others in a civilized way.

    Technology is a negative for all of this. They need to be in class with real students and real teachers.


  23. Would love a corporate salary, but not if it means giving up teaching/research….and I certainly don’t work less hours or avoid my best simply because of the salary/tenure system we have in higher ed.
    Agree with Leslie M-B, that system does not need to be costly or sophisticated. Ours works with web cams and captures slides/video/screen AND presenter “synched” and cost the U. about $3 per student. One of the best things about academic freedom is the ability to weave our own mosaic for each class using our knowledge and experience, the books and research that are relevant, and also to utilize technology and rich media assets when it “fits”. If the printed word doesn’t “fit”, don’t assign books….your choice, my choice, open choice. I feel sorry for those who have LC mandated, just as I sympathize with those that are forced to adopt a textbook they do not value.


  24. Just watched Dawn Sumner’s geology presentation and read the student comments. Great example of how video can enhance learning. If it was on Panopto or Tegrity (or other less expensive, internet systems), it would have better HD and adaptive streaming (no waiting/buffering you get on YouTube). It would also be “searchable” within a library of other content. And viewers would be “controlled” to only whoever Dr. Sumner wanted….her students, all students at her college, or the whole world on YouTube. Some topics lend themselves to visual learning…theatre, speech, science labs, vo-tech, art, geometry….


  25. Thank you for posting this. The institution where I teach is a little behind in these issues, though they are up to date in and allow the use of lots of technology. However, it is a private Jesuit university in Latin America, so they are still into the “traditional teaching” mode. I would not be surprised, however, seeing how things were already going in the US when I left and, lagging behind, here, that this will be considered a “bright idea” by the tech department here a couple of years or so down the road.


  26. Respectfully, is there any use of technology that you do support? I drop in occasionally because observing how teachers adapt to new technology is part of my job, and I would really be interested to know if you think that any use of technology has contributed to our profession in a positive way. I already know how you feel about electronic readers and online courses.


  27. Samantha, I think paper, wipeboards and markers, and codex book are wonderful technologies. I think video and audio clips in the classroom can be aptly chosen and provocative of further thought and discussion. (Admittedly, as an early modernist, this doesn’t come up quite as often as it does among modern historians, but there are quality fictional representations of the past that I use in class.) I have used PowerPoint since 2006 to organize my lectures because of the ease with which I can combine textual and visual information (in the form of period images and illustrations, primary sources, images of material culture, etc.) I now use an in-house version of BlackBoard to post my syllabus and some class readings for the convenience of my students and myself, but I don’t record my grades there.

    I have no use for online readers because codex suits me just fine. I drop books and/or read them on boats/the beach/the bathtub, so an e-reader would probably have a short life here. In my view, online courses can be helpful to some students, but in my experience, the old-fashioned technologies of codex, analytical composition, and in-person class discussions are the most effective ways to model and teach critical thinking. Everyone needs to make hir own judgments about these things.

    In sum, I am not against the use of technology. Indeed, I use it every day all day long in my work. I’m against the mindless adoption of new technologies, and in favor of their thoughtful use. “Digital,” “interactive,” and “online” are not magical incantations that we should assume are better in all cases (or even in most cases.) I also think it’s probably in the purview of historians and cultural-studies types as well as communications people to ask questions about the productive use of new technologies.

    Tony prep schools and liberal arts colleges had it all figured out at least 150 years ago. Small classes and well-trained faculty are still the way they do business. New technologies are too often cheats meant to convince the rest of us that we’re getting the same thing for much, much less. I’ll cop to being old-fashioned enough to believe that in the end, we all get what we pay for.


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