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Lecture capture: end-user feedback

Richard Doughty speaks to end-users within universities and colleges to find out how they started using lecture capture and voting technology, the different ways in which these tools are used, and their plans for the future.

The ability of universities and colleges to record, stream and archive lectures for their students has rapidly increased over the past three or four years. Breakthroughs in lecture capture and voting technologies have made the systems easier to use and seen large increases in student and staff take-up.

One of the UK’s leading higher education institutions in lecture capture is Essex University, an early adopter of the technology. A key reason for this is its long-standing commitment to equal opportunities and support for students with learning difficulties.

Up until 2010, Essex was still relying on banks of analogue audio cassette recorders hardwired to around 15 lecture theatres, which captured the audio from lectures – until cassettes became obsolete and students were no longer familiar with them.

Yet the demand for lecture capture was growing and in 2011 Essex called on one of its computer science postgrad students to handcraft a digital system, which captured audio and delivered to students as an MP3 file. Though this was only a stopgap solution, the approach had worked well. Infectious student enthusiasm now turned into expectation of audio and screen capture, although lecturers initially feared lecture capture would affect attendance.

In fact, evidence shows recordings appear to make little difference to student attendance. And to emphasise that, says Tessa Rogowski, assistant director of IT services, “We call it ‘listen again’ rather than ‘lecture capture’.”

The challenge was clear: Essex had to meet student demand and get staff onside. After a six-month period trialling three different products, commercial software from US-based Panopto was chosen – and remains the solution today. Panopto supplies numerous other UK and European mainland universities, such as Birmingham, St Mark and St John, and Denmark’s Copenhagen Business School. Interest in the product is now growing across mainland Europe, following initial uptake in the US and UK, according to EMEA general manager Peter Ingle.

At Essex, more than 200 teaching spaces provide audio recordings of all lectures on the hour, every hour, from 06:00 to 21:00 and capture video, slides and computer clips used as support materials.

A professor will walk into a room and deliver a lecture in the normal way,” says Rogowski. “Each learning space or room has a PC in the background scheduled to record from when the lecture begins to when it’s due to end. We then insert that lecture into a student’s online learning material. They have it so good!”

Driven by academics

Lecture capture at Newcastle University, another early adopter, follows the same principles as Essex, although its main drivers have been academics, not students.

“We wanted to offer our students more so we ran a pilot in our medical school in 2008,” says Susan Barfield, customer media support officer. “And it just took off. We started using it in the main lecture theatres, and by 2013 we were hosting around 200 venues and now our students are wanting more and more. Students love it. When we do a feedback call, they just want to ensure all their lectures are covered.”

Newcastle does not stream lectures but does stream events and occasional public lectures. Says Barfield: “The idea of lecture capture is not to replace lectures but to be an effective learning tool. We want students to be able to interact with academics.”

Newcastle sees lecture capture supporting its many students, especially those with English as a second language or with learning difficulties. Students can access recordings via the university’s Blackboard virtual learning environment, which is fully integrated with Panopto capturing software. Lecturers, meanwhile, need do nothing, as lecture recording is scheduled to start at five minutes past the hour. If, however, they don’t want to record a session or a group discussion, they can program that manually from the lectern.

At Bath University, making lecture capture technology more accessible was the number one issue for the students’ union (SU) for two or three years. “It was what they wanted to do more than anything else,” says service manager Rob Hyde. ”And we’ve implemented it since then. We actually started lecture capture at Bath more than nine years ago but over the last few years the SU wanted to get in much more technology and make wider use of it.”

Growth has since been exponential, with usage up 50% each year over the past three years.

One of the problems for integrators is clear direction about what a university actually wants its lecture capture technology to do. Stuart Dockerill, an account manager for AVMI in Scotland, says: “The challenge is helping the client make their mind up. There is a lot of equipment out there but it’s nailing down what is the best approach. Many of our clients go down the Echo 360 route.”

He also says a current trend for major customers is to try developing their own apps for lecture capture and voting systems.

Voting technology

Voting technology, which checks that learning has happened and encourages interaction between students and lecturers, runs parallel with lecture capture programmes.

Essex University uses a separate system of voting, currently handing out battery-driven handsets before a lecture. (Keeping these charged is an issue, says the university’s Tessa Rogowski.) Lecturers can stop in mid-PowerPoint session and get instant feedback on whether students have understood, while students themselves may realise from the response shown on screen that they are struggling and need to listen again or do more study.

New technology increasingly encourages students to use their own mobile devices to vote. “You can ask any questions you want such as flicking up a picture of a torso and asking, say, which annotated position on the picture locates the appendix.”

Newcastle uses the Turning Point student response system, dishing out dongles to each student when needed in all of its 200 teaching spaces. It’s more about students using their own devices, with people showing up with an iPhone or iPad, for instance.

“We’ve had Turning Point probably longer than lecture capture,” says Barfield. “Bring your own device (BYOD) is a growing trend – most students have their own devices so it makes sense to use them.”

From October this year, Newcastle is rolling out the Ombea voting technology system that allows students to vote with their own device, be it smartphone, tablet or laptop. Ombea software also integrates with PowerPoint.

Academics at the university are also seeking to introduce more dynamic questions: for instance, they are trialling ‘flipped classrooms’ by making recordings prior to a lecture for students to work through in private before they attend the actual lecture. That way, the students can bring extra knowledge to the lecture, and discuss and expand on it.

In one Newcastle project an academic used lecture capture software to help students prepare presentations; they recorded practice versions and then carried out peer assessment. There was a notable increase in the standard of their work after students had seen their own behaviours and how they presented.

Meanwhile, Coventry University has bought into a response system from Canada-based Top Hat “because it uses students’ own devices – you don’t need sophisticated kit,” says Coventry’s e-learning developer, Amanda Hardy. ”Students can use it to vote in live sessions. And lecturers can use it asynchronously, assigning questions as tasks to be answered on a student’s phone or other device before the next lecture.”

Lecturers can load up Top Hat with a PowerPoint presentation and then present it in another session, while students using their phone app can view the presentation from their phone as well as on a room screen. “It’s more fully featured than just a voting system and is really where things are going,” says Hardy.

Besides carrying prepared numeric, sorting and matching questions, the software allows lecturers to create a hotspot on an uploaded image and invite students to click on the image before displaying a heat map showing where they have clicked. Other useful features include an ongoing Twitter feed specifically set up for that lecture group to encourage peer-to-peer discussion.