Replay: the student perspective

Student feedback on the benefits of lecture capture (Replay), and when and how they use the recordings. Text originally posted in Academic IT News.

In August 2016 the University launched its lecture capture (Replay) service, to which departments and faculties are signing up in increasing numbers. Given that the service was developed substantially in response to requests from students, it was natural to seek their early feedback on the benefits, and to find out when and how they use the recordings. So, during the pilot of the service in the academic year 2015-16, the project team made a survey available in WebLearn to students who had the opportunity to view recorded lectures.

In all, we received 96 responses to the survey. This post summarises the findings under three main themes:

  • students’ perceptions of the overall benefits of lecture capture;
  • what use they make of the recordings; and
  • a comparison between the recording and ‘live’ presentation

Additional data were made available to the project team from evaluations which three individual departments had run themselves; some of the qualitative data from these surveys are included here.

Students' perceptions of the overall benefits

We started by asking students what they considered to be the overall benefits of lecture capture. Figure 1 shows their responses to a survey question which gave them a number of answer choices:

Watching a recorded lecture can support my learning

Responses to the question: 'Listening to or watching a recorded lecture can support my learning in the following ways.' (Respondents could tick more than one answer choice.)

The opportunity to revisit problematic segments of the lecture and to use the recording as a resource for revision stand out clearly.

Students listed a number of other benefits, both in their supplementary responses to this question, and in answer to other questions in the survey. These include:

  • Catching up if they have missed live lecture because of illness or a timetable clash
  • Going through the lecture at their own pace, especially if the lecturer speaks very fast,
  • Supplementing their notes, since ‘you can never write everything down in a live lecture’
  • Going deeper into the subject:

having the option to pause the recorded lecture and think about, justify, clarify and question what is being said and written has been the biggest benefit to my learning. I cannot stress how much this has helped my intuition and freed up time to look deeper into the content...

  • Obviating difficulties in concentrating:

I struggle to concentrate during live lectures and often get confused early on – and because I can’t pause the live lecture to think something over I get behind on the whole lecture and feel like I don't take much from it.

From an institutional perspective, disabled students are the primary beneficiaries of lecture capture. Only two survey respondents stated that they had a disability; they expressed their appreciation of lecture capture thus:

I find it difficult to make it to many lectures and struggle sitting through a full lecture due to pain. Recorded lectures and materials ensure that I can access everything in the most comfortable way so I don't miss out.

I am dyspraxic and find it very helpful to go over sections of my notes from live lecture that I cannot read.

The opportunity to listen to lectures from other departments is another potential benefit, with 66% of respondents answering 'yes' to a question probing their interest. Qualitative data suggest that students want to find out about subjects related to their area of study, perhaps to explore interdisciplinary overlaps.

Time and place

Figure 2 summarises responses to a question which asked when students would find the recordings most useful:

When would you find recorded lectures most useful?

Responses to the question 'When would you find recorded lectures most useful?' (Respondents could tick more than one answer choice.)

Leaving aside the 'all year round' figures, the two other periods - as soon as possible after the lecture and before exam time - reflect the two principal benefits reported in the previous section.

Another question asked students whether they would access the previous year’s recordings - if these were available - before attending the current year’s lectures. Just under half said they would.

An example of how students actually access the recordings is the lecture series on condensed matter given by Professor Steve Simon to 1st-year physics undergraduates in Hilary Term 2014. The data in Figure 3 appear to show the students accessing the lectures for revision purposes.

Viewing data for Prof Simon's lecture series on condensed matter

Viewing data for Prof Simon's lecture series on condensed matter

A second burst of activity is discernible early in Michaelmas Term, by which time the lectures were 'last year's'. So, what was going on? There were two possibilities: new students were preparing for the year ahead by watching the previous year's lectures and/or 2nd-year students were brushing up their knowledge after the summer break. In addition, we can identify a third peak in viewings during Hilary Term 2015. This suggests that students were watching recordings of 2014 lectures in order to prepare for the lectures that Steve would be giving them.

With the growth in 'learning on the move' over recent years, the Replay team wanted to find out whether might access recorded lectures on their mobile devices. A fraction under half of respondents (49%) said that they might.

Live vs recorded lectures: the power of 'being there'

In their 'free-text' responses students considered live lectures superior to recordings in a number of respects:

  • Immediacy: 'a certain atmosphere and performance'
  • Self-discipline: 'makes me do it at a set time ...can't get behind ...so easily'
  • Concentration: 'fewer distractions ...focus more'
  • Opportunity for interaction:
    • 'good use of time and can ask questions'
    • 'lecturer responds to the feedback of the audience in ...pace and depth'
    • 'increase contact time with tutors and foster a sense of [scholarly] community'

In terms of content, students who expressed an opinion generally considered that the recordings should have exactly the same content as the live presnentation. One student felt that, if one has had to miss a lecture, it is 'annoying' if live and recorded versions have different content. Another said that, if the content is different, 'it's frustrating if you have been to a lecture to have to listen to a recording as well to get the full information.'

At least one person suggested that providing an abridged form of the lecture as a means to promote attendance at the live lecture may penalise students who have missed the live event for bona fide reasons. However, this may present a conundrum, as one student said in the survey that they choose not to go to the live lecture because the content is the same as in the recording.

Some students also voiced opinions about the video element of the recordings - or the lack of it. They felt video is needed where the lecturer makes extensive use of a whiteboard, and/or the lecturer points to specific areas of a slide that can't be identified from the audio recording alone.

If the content is to be different in the recorded versions, it was suggested that a basic overview could be provided on a recorded series, and in the live session the lecture format could be replaced with a detailed discussion and debate on certain areas or essay questions. A converse proposal was for 'additional recordings [to the live lecture] that go over some extra stuff.'

In conclusion

The survey data suggest that a substantial proportion of the students are aware of their learning needs and recognise, and realise, the benefits to their studies. For them, viewing the recording of a lecture is a supplementary learning activity, not a replacement activity, except where they have missed a lecture for bona fide reasons. Indeed, the suggestion that the mere availability of a recording could be an inducement to skip the live session is made (or hinted at) in only three of the 172 supplementary comments and responses to open-ended questions.

That said, we know from our research into the student digital experience at Oxford (the DIGE and DIGE 2 projects) that other students struggle to manage their learning. There is a risk that such students will fail to make effective use of lecture capture in their learning or will believe that a recording will suffice. To forestall these tendencies, we suggested in the Replay evaluation report that advice and support on maximising the benefits of lecture recordings should be provided in study skills training.

If it turns out that attendance at live lectures does drop, we should look for other reasons. For example, our research suggests a number of reasons why students may choose not to attend live lectures. For example, they may pick and choose the lectures that are likely to interest them. Or, they may choose to forgo lectures on complex topics that can be avoided in the exam. Mismatches in timetabling between tutorials and lectures can be another factor. In other words, access to recorded lectures may reinforce existing tendencies within the student body, not necessarily create new ones.

Finally, support for disabled students appears to be a key for departments to introduce lecture capture. Whether this is the extent of provision is, of course, a matter of choice. However, the data reported in this post suggest that, to quote from an early paper on recording lectures presented to the Education Committee in 2014, 'good teaching and learning environments ensure that all students can benefit.'


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