Playing catch up

And so the Olympics arrived. And with it the promise of massive disruption on public transport, streets teeming with visiting tourists and struggles through crowds to get to work. So we were all told to avoid work. Work from home said TFL. Plan alternative routes. Take the summer off and enjoy the British weather was another optimistic suggestion. The reality of course has been, and it pains me to say thanks to an incredible effort by the train operating companies, that none of this doom and gloom has really hit.

But we weren’t to know this and so plans were made by many London based organisations to minimise the impact of the games on staff and customers alike.

Of course when you work for a training organisation, when most of the staff are lecturers and the customers are students who want to attend classroom based courses, the option of telling everyone to stay at home carries little weight. So it was business as usual for us all. But what to do about the poor student who missed class having spent an hour queuing for a tube, another 30 minutes queuing to get OUT of the station and then had to trudge halfway across London due to road closures and diversions (this was the prophecy rather than the reality). ‘Let’s record the lectures as we deliver them’ was the solution of one tech savvy tutor. And so we did.

A few minor adjustments had to be made when delivering these lectures. I had to remember to turn the recording software on for each segment of the lecture. More importantly, particularly when having a more informal discussion with students over break, I had to remember to turn the recording off… I also hovered around the front of the room a bit more in order to maximise the sound quality. And there was the odd moment when I self-edited the odd, potentially controversial comment. Throwaway comments are fine. Not so throwaway when they are recorded for all to hear…Forever.

So I started the first lecture with this group of ‘guinea pigs’. We had a bit of a general whinge about the disruption the Olympics was going to cause and the fact that most of us had not managed to get tickets (and some of us – me – have still not managed it). I explained to them that they were still expected to attend class where possible but that we understand this would sometimes be difficult and so we were going to record the lectures. The general response seemed to be a very positive ‘What a great idea’.

So I duly pressed record. And pause. And record and stop. We split the day into four sessions, creating a new recorded session after each break.

So the technology worked. I am pleased with myself. The students are happy that they have this opportunity. All good. A success right?

Fast forward 10 days. I receive an email from another part of the business asking me to attend a web based seminar. Its on a day when I am teaching all day so I will not be able to attend ‘live’ but that’s fine as I will have access to a recording of the seminar – its only 80 minutes long. About the same length as each of the recorded lectures I have created. And here’s the thing. I never watched it. Who has a spare 80 minutes in the day? To be fair I have a 90 minute commute each way. But if I watched it on the way in when would I clear my inbox and reply to all of the previous days less urgent emails? And the way home? Well I have to read the paper at some point – it’s important to be up to date for my job. During my lunch hour? Who has a lunch hour these days? Let alone a lunch 80 minutes.

So what is the solution here? We could restructure our teaching days into more than four sessions. Chunking of content in this way is definitely something that interests me but this is not a quick solution and would require a lot of reworking of teaching programmes. I could press record and pause a bit more often. This would create shorter chunks of recorded content but they would seem a bit disjointed unless they had been planned out in advance.

I asked my class if any of them had watched the recordings. Admittedly this wasn’t a perfect sample as I was asking the students who were actually IN class. However one of them had missed a lecture and had used the recordings to catch up. I asked her what she thought and she was very positive. Grateful is probably the best way to describe her response. Grateful at the chance to catch up without the need to read a book. She insists she watched two 90 minute sessions, back to back, and took in every word. Maybe I have misjudged the students’ motivation to pass their exams. This is their final exam after all. Although I sometimes think we overestimate the role our students desire to pass their exams plays in their motivation to work hard. Technology’s role in student motivation…? Now that is something to ponder.

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1 Comment

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One response to “Playing catch up

  1. Stuart Pedley-Smith

    Helen there is an interesting debate by students on http://www.thestudentroom.co.uk/showthread.php?t=2051332
    There comments seem to suggest 2 hours is too long, 45 minutes okay. Khan academy lectures are only 10 minutes and TED no more than 20 minutes. Given concentration levels are between 10 and 20 I think this is probably best.

    All subjects can be chunked down into smaller sections. However it is better to prepare a 20 minute lecture then another 20 minute etc rather than record a 40 minute one. It focuses the tutor on what is important and delivers a natural break.

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