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Continuing with my series of soft questions on teaching practice:

My university uses a system whereby all lectures (given via computer slides or hand-writing on a sort of overhead projector called a visualiser) can be recorded and placed online with zero effort by the lecturer. We just have to tick a box to make it happen.

The question is: for a large first-year Calculus unit (500+ students) taken mostly by students who are intending to major in Engineering, is it academically better for the students to HAVE online access to recorded lectures or to NOT HAVE online access to recorded lectures?

Our department debates this endlessly: the people in the "PRO recording" camp mention that many students have part-time jobs or lecture clashes or live very far from campus and this allows them to participate, while the people in the "ANTI recording" camp say that it encourages absenteeism and "putting off" the work until just before the exam when it is far too late.

So I guess the question is:

  • on average do recordings help more students than they hinder, or vice versa?

Again, all opinions welcomed, though those backed with documented research especially so.

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closed as not constructive by Henning Makholm, Srivatsan, Asaf Karagila, Grigory M, Alex B. Nov 5 '11 at 16:36

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Anything special about the fact that this is a Calculus course? Both the arguments you mention hold for all courses across disciplines... –  Srivatsan Nov 4 '11 at 2:12
This should not be a matter of opinion and debate. It's not too hard to do a controlled experiment to shed light on this question and perhaps even settle it. –  Hans Engler Nov 4 '11 at 2:16
For a very convincing set of arguments in favor of using video, see Salman Khan's ted talk at ted.com/talks/…. But you have to be as good as Salman Khan to pull this off. –  Hans Engler Nov 4 '11 at 2:18
Personal observation suggests that having recorded lectures (or even just class notes) encourages absenteeism to some extent, and more so in large classes (such as the $500+$ students probably taught in a large lecture hall) than in smaller ones where the instructor can get to know all the students by name and face in a very short time. –  Dilip Sarwate Nov 4 '11 at 2:18
Dear Gordon, please try to not continue much more your series of soft questions... The topic of this site is math, and while your questions are certainly interesting, they quite not belong here. –  Mariano Suárez-Alvarez Nov 4 '11 at 12:00

6 Answers 6

I'm a university student, so I'll try to give the perspective from this side (we have this tool in a few of our classes).

First let me say I agree with tards that students should be treated as adults. The level of independence of university life suggests that students are quite capable of making important decisions for themselves, and how they treat academics is a significant part of it. Of course, you can take this how you like since it's a university student saying it.

The main point I want to make is something that I believe applies to many such situations; implementing a change like this will not fundamentally change the way people behave. Students that value education highly will continue to do so, and those that don't will continue as well. I know many students who always go to class, despite there being videos of the lectures; and I know others who often skip class despite the fact that there are no videos of lectures. The more important consideration is that for students who need extra review outside of class, this will help them. For the students that miss class - whether it's because they're sick or have a conflict or simply don't want to go - this will help them too.

In fact, I've witnessed an interesting phenomenon as a result of these video recorded lectures. Some students are not satisfied with the way their professor teaches the material; perhaps he skips over too many things, or doesn't explain clearly, or has too much of an accent. These students, in addition to attending class, watch the video lectures from another section of the same class - taught by a different professor! So they can have two lectures on the material from two different styles of teaching. This may not apply if there is only one professor for any course, but I thought it well worth mentioning as an example of the power of video lectures.

So you can see where my preference lies. Video lectures help students much more than they hurt.

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I like the point you make that it will not fundamentally change the students' behaviour. I haven't "accepted" this as the answer quite yet as I expect more replies as Europe and the US wake up for their day, but you got an upvote. –  Gordon Nov 4 '11 at 4:06
I was going to write an answer, but you've summed up everything I wanted to say :) –  tom Nov 4 '11 at 4:33
I think a short to-the-point summary would help this: (1) videos may hurt students who don't care but (2) they help students who do care, and (3) students who do care shouldn't be punished for the apathy of other students. –  Brendan Long Nov 4 '11 at 17:42
Just a little addition: many uni students do need to work for a living in parallel to working hard for their BSc or MSc. It's unfortunate, but for some this is the only way. They (we) are greatly helped by the existence of video lectures. So please make them if possible :) –  Tamás Szelei Nov 4 '11 at 20:11
I love the point about seeing different lectures from different professors - different viewpoints can help you cement your knowledge and fill in any gaps you didn't know you even had! –  DMan Nov 5 '11 at 1:24

My feelings as a graduate student, having both done some teaching and having done tremendous amounts of class-taking in my day: Recorded lectures help.


  1. As some people have mentioned most of the arguments against recorded lectures boil down to "students are lazy and shiftless". I prefer to treat students like adults. That means respecting their own decision-making ability. And also letting them fail if they so choose. If they want to risk their grade by not showing up to class and relying on the online lectures? So be it.
  2. As above, I'd much rather help someone who missed a lecture for some unforeseen, unavoidable reason than hurt someone blowing off my class. The former could use a hand, the latter will take care of itself in time.
  3. It helps students in class. I can't tell you the number of times I wish I could rewind 30 seconds to hear an offhand remark by a professor that contains some bit of insight, or a parenthetical aside I'm really going to want to know later. Yes, if I'm taking flawless notes, I might capture it, but I much prefer setups that let students pay attention in class, and outsource transcriptionist duties to technology.
  4. They're a tremendous benefit to remote students. Lets say there's someone at a different university who would like to audit your class. Recorded lectures essentially mean they can.

The one place I don't like them is for student presentations. I think students should have room to make bold steps, be wrong occasionally, and not have that uploaded onto iTunes U.

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Unless there is a university/college wide policy about attendance my preference is to treat students as adults and not require students to come to classes. If they can master the material on their own then that should be fine.

However, it should be communicated clearly that you are treating them as adults and that students should take responsibility if they suffer any negative consequences of not attending classes (falling behind on work, failing the class etc).

As long as expectations are set appropriately and requiring students to attend is not a must, it seems to me that recording lectures is the way to go.

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This sounds great, but imagine (if you can...) a lot of the students are irresponsible or unmotivated. So the grades in the course are bad. The dean comes to you and asks what's going on. "I'm treating the students like adults, so the poor grades are only their fault," you say. That's not going to fly! Also, students might complain that the low grades cause many of them to lose scholarships -- but blaming them isn't feasible. As the course instructor, you are, at some level, responsible for how well the students do -- even if they choose to be lazy. –  Dan Drake Nov 4 '11 at 7:40
...that said, I really like the idea of the "inverted classroom" and would love to try it. –  Dan Drake Nov 4 '11 at 7:43
It's not feasible to blame a student for actions taken by them that result in the loss of their scholarship? –  R R Jan 22 '14 at 4:55

I have had some success with the following format. I doubt that it's feasible to use everyday in class with 500+ students, but it would certainly be reasonable if you have an extra recitation day or something of the like.

  1. Prior to a given class day, I post a reading or video on the topic to be discussed that day.
  2. For homework, the student is given a few simple exercises, nearly identical to those covered in the video. This assignment is due at the beginning of the related class period and is never accepted late.
  3. During the class period, I remark on the topic very briefly, just to jog their memories or add something I think the reading/video did not adequately address.
  4. After I've said what I want, the students break into pre-defined groups of four and work on some related, but more involved, problems.
  5. Students are encouraged to help each other within their groups, asking for my help only when a consensus cannot be reached. To give them some incentive to be helpful, students evaluate their group members once in a while. The results of a student's evaluation is part of his/her grade.

With this format, the student makes use of the video to attain some level of mastery (though not complete mastery) before class. They are expected to "more or less get it" before class, and hopefully they have some specific questions already forming.

Since the student has spent some time thinking about the topic, my brief lecture becomes far more effective, and students are prepared to ask more meaningful questions and provide answers in groups. The time during class thus intended to build on the foundation provided by the video and untangle any misconceptions that may still be lingering.

I've heard this referred to as the "flipped classroom model", and so there may be some pertinent research under that name. All I can offer personally is anecdotal evidence that this method generally helps those students that take it seriously and seems to combine the best parts of "watch a video on your own time" and "attend daily lecture".

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@ austin - that's pretty much the way I work as well, or at least try to. It will require some serious modification if you have large lectures. Or perhaps it makes large lectures pointless, which is a good thing. –  Hans Engler Nov 5 '11 at 13:27

I second tards' answer--- I would make the videos available, while also making students explicitly aware of the risks that they run in misusing the video resource.

The main negatives, as you mention, are that some students will use the videos as a replacement for lecture, and that some students will use the psychological comfort that the existence of a video archive gives them to postpone serious study until right before the exams. In this respect, videos are actually no different from printed textbooks. Both of these negatives are perfectly good arguments against using a textbook in a course, but presumably your colleagues all do that.

In my own experience I have found it very difficult to convey caveats to the students who most need to hear them. Some students hear warnings and it goes in one ear and out the other (or they remember it perfectly well, but assume that it applies only to people who aren't them). It is a bit like trying to phrase the language of your syllabus so that students won't misunderstand it: some students will always misunderstand it. Probably, the same habits of mind that are responsible for missing lectures and misunderstanding instructions, are responsible for failing to heed warnings. There is really no way around that. To deny the entire class access to a useful resource, simply because it may cause this subset of students to do even more poorly than they might otherwise have done, seems silly to me.

Having said that, I think it is a matter of opinion, and reasonable people can disagree. I would not want a department to require faculty to make video lectures available.

On the positive side: hardworking students may find that their performance increases with the videos, because the existence of a video record means they can spend less brain time in lecture focusing on copying down what you write and say, and more time actually thinking about it. Also, if you are at a stage in your life where you may need teaching recommendations for future job applications, the existence of a video record of your lectures would really help people who write you letters of recommendation. (Frankly, if you are really good at lecturing and your university allows it, I would consider adding links to these videos on your homepage when you go on the job market.)

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I'm a university student as well. This is my last semester though. So, with that said it really depends on the class on how you should treat your students. I find that videos are helpful because you can always go back and review the lecture in case you forgot something (I'm a bad note taker).

This is where the "how you should treat your students" part comes in. If it's a lower level class, this is the time where students are still adjusting to the college life. I would say you kind of need to force them to come to class because most just don't know any better. So, if you assign small in class assignments or quizzes (This is what one of my professor does in a 100 level class, this class has quite a few people too), then people are still forced to come and even participate.

When you get to the high level classes (300 are junior level and 400 are senior level at my college), then this should basically stop. This is the process in which they need to prepare themselves for the real world and by now they should learn what they need to do to study and get a good grade if they wish. I'm the type of person that can learn through just lecture videos, so I may never show up myself. I can see how this can be offensive, but the work that the professors put in, is not lost. I just happen to go through the lecture at a different time than most people. If it's the student's choice not to come the class, then that's their decision. But like I said, if it's a lower level class then you kind of have to push them to come.

My professors a lot of the times will drop quizzes or assignments in case you do miss a few days of class.

For this class in particular I would personally assign quizzes and assignments since I would consider it a freshman or sophomore class.

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