When professors adopt educational technologies like coursecasting (video or audio recording of lectures as podcasts), the response from their peers is often some version of “I suspect students won’t come to class.” For example, at The University of Minnesota, where many professors are podcasting their lectures on iTunesU, there is some concern from non-participating lecturers “that lecture recordings will cause their class attendance to decrease.” Delivering course content online and outside the classroom timetable has long been resisted because of possible disincentive effects—and surely sometimes that does happen. But for the most part, coursecasting doesn’t actually play out that way.
Instead, “it’s kind of like the entrée is the lecture and the side dish is using the technology to do a podcast,” as one UMN professor described lecture capture for iPod or YouTube playback. Having an alternative digital mode to consume lecture content, in the comfort and privacy of our personal screens, and on-demand, might be exactly right for students who are overcommitted, ill, or in the case of those studying in harsh winter climates, loathe to set foot outdoors for a frozen trek to class.
But unless we’re talking about a distance elearning course, there are many reasons why even a technoteacher would want their students to meet him or her in a face-to-face meeting in the lecture hall—as redundant as that may seem, considering the coursecast recording. Some professors run impromptu discussions and Q&A in the lecture, some do not capture and deliver their entire lesson digitally, and others strongly believe in the powerful and unique effects of synonymous connectivity for class community building.
So for the professors on podcasts among us, how do we get students to attend class rather than relying only on the lecture videos, slides, notes or other digital learning objects we distribute? One answer is partitioning, a method for turning the lecture into event programming, as it were. I’ll review two examples here, using videos and clickers.
Screening video clips in the lectures, as mnemonic devices, will infuse the classroom with multimedia energy and provide varied materials for visual learners. If those videos are not reproduced and distributed by the professor online, students will learn that in order to see the videos, they must have “bums in seats.”
For the YouTube generation, watching videos is at once pleasurable and intrinsically interesting. This kind of value-added “appointment exhibition” of visual materials makes the in-person lecture more significant. If there are no exam questions on the video content, and they are shown instead as extra illustrative examples of the material, there is no pressing need to redistribute them to students who did not attend. Of course with the ever-expanding video archives on YouTube, there are many educational videos a professor might show clips from, which are available online anyway.
Using clickers for live in-class polling is another way to encourage students to attend class. Clicker polls effectively personalize, customize, and socialize the class. Students know that poll results depend on who is in class that day and it is exactly that indeterminacy that lends energy and anticipation to the lecture.
Moreover, if the students see that their polling feedback is valued by the professor, and is connected to assessment, they too will value the activity of in-class participation as worthwhile. The result is that face-to-face lectures become higher priority events. Less “skippable.” Profs can mix clicker opinion polls with sample exam review questions, none of which are reproduced on the coursecast—all of which are available to those in attendance. This gives students an extra positive incentive to come to class.
By partitioning the lecture into one part public speaking, some two-way conversation, screening of multimedia visuals, and live in-class polling—we create a variety of pedagogical modalities and tempos. The cumulative effect is a lecture that resembles what television producers might call event programming. Unlike an award show or sports broadcast, however, this “event” is interactive (though to be fair, sports spectatorship is also highly participatory, if yelling and throwing things count). By comparison, the audio or video enhanced coursecast reflects a segment of the full lecture experience—valuable certainly as a learning tool, but not a stand-in for the main event.
For some, the televisual metaphors I’m using here are too distracting and may inspire visions of students as remote-wielding couch potatoes—but as a Film and Media professor I’m televisually-minded. Alternatively we can think about dividing the lecture into multimodal and multimedia “coursels” as Tom Kuhlmann describes them. Bite-sized chunks of information and learning. Through designing partitioned lessons with eventness, digital delivery, and electronic interactivity in mind, we will encourage students to engage while in the lecture and, in the process, create a varied learning experience.