Doing Lecture Capture Right

Lecture capture has been receiving a lot of attention in the news this year, as colleges attempt to expand online and blended course offerings or make instruction to more students in remote locations. The impact on student learning of removing the 'face-to-face' dynamic remains a continuing concern for educators. A few institutions have recently made quite costly investments to compensate for this; Madison Area Technical College, for example, is provided synchronous lecture capture to students in remote classrooms by installing large, high definition screens in both classrooms -- effectively providing a life-size, two-way videoconference, visually fusing the two classrooms.

Most institutions, however, are taking a much less intensive approach to video capture, and a recent study by a professor of education and social policy at Northwestern University indicates that although video capture does not lag far behind live instruction, there is still a gap in student learning, particularly for Hispanic, male, and low-achieving students.

It's a Question of Quality

Not all approaches to lecture capture are equal. The key takeaway from the Northwestern University study is that it's critical to invest very thoughtfully in the quality of your video lectures. Providing high quality lecture capture is not as simple as just recording a professor's talk from the back of the room. You need to make smart investments in:

  • The videography
  • The right space
  • Instructional design

For guidelines on how to do lecture capture effectively, we turned to William Riffee, dean of the University of Florida's College of Pharmacy, who has established three distance education-based campuses in Florida and two successful non-traditional programs with over 1,000 students enrolled across the US and overseas.

Invest in Videography

"We don't do automated lecture capture. Having a human being panning and tilting the camera and handling microphone gain and sound levels means excellent quality."
William Riffee, U of Florida

"If you do an automated, timed recording and an automated capture of a wide shot of a person and a blackboard," Riffee warns, "this doesn't work nearly as well as when you have the human factor involved."

Riffee defines a tiered approach to quality. Institutions who try to do lecture capture "on the cheap" may begin with standard, web-based videoconferencing, which Riffee calls "the worst method in the world for teaching." One tier up, institutions may try buying a box and placing it in the back of the room -- but this means providing students with a very static, wide angle shot, and missing out on all the opportunities that video technology provides. This is analogous to providing your students with a website that just has text-only resources; the automated approach means taking a highly versatile technology and using it in the most limited way.

Your students are accustomed to video technology. Why shouldn't your videos be engaging and high-quality? Riffee suggests:

  • Use multiple camera inputs -- for example, have a camera at the front of the room to capture student questions on video
  • Have a wireless mike ready that can be passed to the student, to capture questions on audio
  • Have a live videographer present to switch the capture from one camera to another

"You need someone who knows how to capture the right shot." Riffee advises outsourcing lecture capture and investing in bringing in professional expertise in videographer, rather than delegating the effort to internal faculty or staff.

"In-house, your faculty don't wake up in the morning thinking about capturing video for your institution. They wake up thinking about what slides they need for their course, or the grant they need to write. I want someone on the job who wakes up in the morning thinking about capturing video and providing quality for my classes and my students."
William Riffee, U of Florida

"You also need someone present who knows what to do if the audio doesn't work," Riffee notes, suggesting that it is a better investment to bring in a professional to manage the audio than to train dozens of faculty to adjust gain and volume, check connections, and manage audio quality while also teaching their class.

Invest in the Right Space

Second, Riffee cites the importance of thinking through the space investment. Where will your control room be -- where can you set up and secure the equipment? Unless you are designing a new facility and you have the opportunity to design video capture control rooms in the back of your classrooms, you probably have few ideal options available. "You need a secure room," Riffee advises, "and finding it may take some ingenuity." What you do not want to do is set up and tear down equipment within the classroom on a temporary basis. That is an intrusive activity; it takes time and can interfere with the instruction.

When faced with limited options, converting a storage closet in that building into a video control room is preferable to a daily setup and tear down in the back of the classroom.

Invest in Instructional Design

The secret to quality instruction by video, Riffee suggests, is simply offering quality instruction. You need to make sure your instructors are adequately prepared to adapt to the needs of learners in an online or blended environment, and you need to provide instructional design resources to help them develop sessions that will be successful by video. Once learning is no longer face-to-face, investments in instructional design become all the more critical.

"Most instructors are not trained educators. They have never taken an education course. They have never been taught formally how to teach or how to help someone learn."
William Riffee, U of Florida

Riffee suggests that there are a number of ways that institutions damage their ability to provide effective instructional design support for their faculty. For example, they might hire too hastily, or allow their instructional designer's efforts to get lost in a growing list of transactional, instructional technology tasks; they might introduce the instructional designer too late into the course design process and fail to secure faculty buy-in. To avoid these pitfalls, Riffee suggests these initial steps:

  • Hire wisely -- consider an instructional designer based on their portfolio, rather than mere credentials
  • Make sure that instructional design is a key aspect of how this staff member is evaluated, and a focus of that staff member's time; don't allow your instructional designer to become dragged into day-to-day instructional technology tasks and activities
  • Begin integrating instructional design into the faculty culture by showcasing examples (for example, have an instructional designer show examples of what he or she has done at a faculty retreat, to invite their interest)