Faculty Guest Post: Prerecorded Lectures To Free Up Classtime

Our guest blogger this week is Jennifer Baker in the Philosophy department.  Jennifer talks about how she has used Echo 360 to pre-record her lectures to free up for of her in-class time.  Please note that as of August 2015, Echo 360 is no longer available to CofC faculty as a campus license. Mediasite Desktop Recorder is the new replacement allowing for media creation and media sharing.

The expectation that we develop research usually involves the requirement of travel to conferences. When you teach every day, as I do, and have over a hundred students, as I did last semester, it can inspire a bit of panic in a nervous-type professor when she has to miss a class. I learned about and practiced Echo360 in the Faculty Technology Institute of 2012. It was one of a few options of designing an online lecture. It offered a few features I thought were great: it allows you to develop a link, so that the lecture can be posted online. Since I use wordpress for my class blogs, this was ideal for me. It also allows you to show students your desktop. I have recorded lectures before, once, and partly for my own amusement, from the hospital room after I had my second child. (I really did do this, holding the new baby, and it wasn’t like I skimped on the details in the reading either. I remember thinking “this lecture is getting a little dry.”) But that was just a blurry webcam video that, honestly, despite it being such a sentimental time, I’d hate to view again. I imagine the sound quality was really poor.

With Echo360, you simply use the mics in your laptop, or I did, and this worked great. You can use a webcam so that students can view your face on half of the screen and your desktop on the other. There are charms to being able to “see” your professor talking- think of the appeal of a podcast versus a youtube video- but in the end, and especially since I was going to be putting this on the web (though my wordpress blogs are not searchable, once wordpress changed their settings and they suddenly were, since fixed but still…) I decided it just isn’t in my interest to put too much video footage of my face talking for an hour. For various reasons.

So I was more comfortable, in the end (after some rehearsal) just leaving the webcam images out of the lecture.
Let me mention the, perhaps obvious, benefits of students being able to see a recording of your desk top. They are extensive. You can pull up and highlight portions of the reading, in just the way you do yourself with a mouse and the highlight function. This is while you are delivering the lecture. It would be great to have this feature in an actual class. You can develop a powerpoint, as I did. I do not usually use or enjoy powerpoint for class, but in a recorded lecture it just seems ideal. You can move from the powerpoint to things you do not want to put in the powerpoint, for example, I could turn to the class blog to explain the assignment represented there. I could move to look at a student reading response on the class blog. You can also very easily add video to your Echo360 lecture by simply playing a video on your desktop. Now, of course, these things require set up. It is panic-inducing to be recorded while you are fumbling around (and it doesn’t look good in play back). You do worry about “wasting” the tape with Echo360, and though they can edit things down, cutting out portions where you mess up, this seems above my own skill set. Experts in IT would have to help me with that, and so I tried to avoid that hassle. No matter how much help you use, however, they cannot splice together video, which was a lesson I learned the hard way (or a lesson that cost me one re-do.)

Finally, due to the FTI’s encouragement I used several of the teaching methods recommended. I used Michael Sandel’s online course on justice in my own course on justice. To me, it worked well as a kind of foil. It was required to view before class, along with the readings being discussed (we used Sandel’s anthology for this part of the course). Students had to comment on Sandel’s lecture on our blog, outline all of his points. He is a dazzling speaker, and students were dazzled by him. He really makes philosophy seem warm and engaging. He seems wise and he impresses students. On the other hand, he, and his students, never made very many points. We would count them up. It was very productive to begin our own class after analyzing another. Not one student complained about watching these videos, even though it was simply required in addition to the normal reading. And they certainly viewed them (I knew that because they had to post comments on them but also from discussion in class.) I am ready to use this method in my classes: I will record lectures in advance, and assign them along with the readings. These lectures will do what I often do in my “first day” on a subject- they will warn students about complex portions of the reading that they might (but should not) miss. They will orient them towards the reading.

This is a way to assist them in doing the reading. Then, in class, we will discuss and analyze the reading in an informed (i.e. they’ve done the reading) way. I don’t actually envision that I will be able to create a “bank” of these videos, for a few reasons. One, I have yet to not change a syllabus each semester. Two, I’d like to make them refer to the projects we have going on in a course. I often offer up “sample” student essays that I then critique for the class. Echo 360 would just be a handy way to do these critiques, because I can let the students view the “sample” and my comments while I talk through them. In general, Echo360 is a great tool. It will save me class time by allowing me to teach more. It allows me to divide up my teaching in these and I am sure in a few not-yet imagined ways. This is bound to impose a type of organization to what I am teaching (in the online lecture, what to get out of the reading; in the in class lecture, how to think about the reading) in a way that simply works well.

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