I’ve been thinking of writing a post about my experiences with recording lectures in Intro Bio for a while, and, with coronavirus spreading, now seems like a good time to finally write it up. Overall, I think there have been a lot of different benefits — well beyond what I initially anticipated. And, at a time when we really don’t want sick students showing up in lecture halls, there’s a strong public health argument for recording lectures and setting up class structures so that sick students aren’t penalized for staying home.
Recording lectures doesn’t seem to have impacted attendance noticeably.
Before shifting to recording lectures, our main concern was that students might stop coming to class. But, as far as we can tell, this mostly hasn’t happened, probably because we use clickers in class. The clickers are optional (we calculate the grade two ways, with and without clickers, and use whichever is higher), and students can miss up to five classes without it impacting their clicker score. (We have two lectures a week, so that’s 2.5 weeks of class.) But, even with those allowances, students are pretty highly motivated to come to class, hopefully because they find the in class exercises and discussion useful, but I know a lot of it is because of clicker points. I think adding in the clickers had a big positive impact on attendance, which much more than offset any dropoff in attendance from recording the lectures. (In a twitter discussion of this, it seems that some share my experience of not noticing an impact on lecture attendance, while others report that it has impacted it. Please share your experiences in the comments!)
Recording lectures means that students who are ill (or have a death in the family or some other life event) can miss class and still catch up later.
While recording lectures hasn’t had a noticeable impact on class attendance, students attending class isn’t always a good thing! I want my students to learn about infectious diseases, not spread them. Recording lectures helps with that. Students sometimes write me worried about what to do since they’re sick but don’t want to fall behind. I encourage them not to come to class, remind them that all the lectures are recorded, and remind them that they can miss five classes without their (optional) clicker points being impacted.
In the context of coronavirus, I think there are a few key things for instructors:
- Record lectures and make them available to all students. (This is straightforward for many classes at Michigan, thanks to Lecture Capture integrating with Canvas.)
- If you have a component of the grade that relates to attendance, make it optional and/or make it so that students can miss several classes without it impacting their grade. Otherwise, you are encouraging sick people to come to your classroom. Given where we’re at now in terms of public health recommendations, I think “miss several classes without it impacting their grade” should probably be “miss many classes without it impacting their grade”.
- MAKE SURE STUDENTS KNOW ABOUT THE PREVIOUS TWO POINTS! This is important because, even near the end of the semester, I still talk with students who are surprised to learn that they can miss several classes without it impacting their clicker points. That always makes me wonder how many students are coming to class when they are sick just for those points.
Students who attend every lecture still use the lecture recordings.
Lots of students tell me that they use the lecture recordings to review — either rewatching the whole lecture or reviewing particular portions of it. Sometimes they do this at higher (1.5-2X) speed — one weird part of recording lectures is walking into a room and hearing yourself sounding like a chipmunk! If they are just passively rewatching the lecture, I’m not sure this would be a very effective study strategy, based on what we know about how people learn. But I can see how rewatching parts of it could be very helpful.
Recording lectures helps make your class more inclusive.
Our lectures are 80 minutes long, which is a long time! One student with ADHD told me that she would watch the lecture again later in chunks, which allowed her to get much more out of it — after the first 20 minutes or so of lecture, she isn’t really able to focus well enough. I suspect there are a lot of students like her, given the number of students we have with accommodations. Lecture recordings can also help students who are not native English speakers, for whom reviewing the material or going through it more slowly might help. I try not to move at warp speed, but I’m sure I talk faster than is ideal sometimes. And there are other groups of students who likely particularly benefit, including those with family responsibilities like caring for a child or parent. Overall, while I think a lot of different students benefit from the recordings, I suspect that particular groups of students especially benefit.
The recordings have also been helpful to me!
This is not something I anticipated when making the shift, so it’s been a pleasant surprise. There have been a few times where, after class, I was unsure if I’d been confusing about something or was worried I’d said something that was wrong. The recordings meant that I could review exactly what I said. In one case, I did a quick check just before an exam, because I was worried I’d said something wrong in a review session. I hadn’t. (Phew!) In another case, a student challenged a question on an exam. I reviewed my notes and thought things seemed fine. But then I watched the lecture, and realized how a student could have come away thinking that other answer was correct, so I regraded (for everyone) to accept that second answer. I’m glad I had a way of reviewing what I’d said in both of those cases!
The recordings also help new instructors.
When new people rotate into Intro Bio — or, in my case last semester, begin teaching a new section of it — it’s incredibly helpful to have the recordings. First, this helped me see how other instructors teach the material. I had the great privilege of watching recordings by two excellent instructors and could learn from how they explained challenging concepts. Second, it helped me anticipate what sorts of things students would ask questions about. That was also really helpful. I really strongly encourage students to ask questions, and they do, which is great — but which also can be a little scary when teaching material that I’m less familiar with. (Hello, meiosis!) So, it was great to have the opportunity to review what questions came up in earlier classes and how the instructors responded to them. I’m very grateful that my colleagues were willing to share those recordings!
Intro Bio is a really challenging course to teach, in part because it covers a whole lot of ground. No one knows all of it well before teaching it. Recordings make it easier for new instructors to rotate into the course, which is a really good thing.
Overall, I’m a fan of recording lectures. It hasn’t had a noticeable impact on attendance, it definitely helps students, and, to my surprise, it’s helped me, too. And, especially at a time when we really don’t want sick students to feel compelled to attend class, it’s a public health issue.
(Some folks might also be interested in my recent experiences with recording office hours, which was a bit more logistically complicated.)
I’m curious to hear from other instructors, especially because I realize my experiences are not universal! If you’re an instructor and have recorded classes, what has your experience been like? If you haven’t recorded classes (especially lectures) before, what are your thoughts about lecture recordings?
I’d also love to hear from students about their experiences — have you had classes that were recorded? Do you think it changed how you engaged with course material? If so, how? Are there things that you think would have been an improvement?