Just as the cinder block classrooms seem to be phasing out teacher-centered lectures by replacing them with student-centered activities—collaborative groups, stations, project-based learning, and gamification, to name a few—improvements in video software and hardware make it easier to record, edit, and share lectures. This is partly why lectures are leaving classrooms: the flipped classroom, sometimes called a blended class, enables students to watch lectures at home and spend class time discussing and applying the content. For the virtual classroom, recorded lectures simulate the direct instruction of a teacher presenting content, opinions, and ideas; but they don’t need to be only that.
First, recorded lectures give visual and auditory learners a chance to see their teacher talk passionately about the content. Educators may have forgotten, in the student-centered hype, that there is a time and place for a good lecture. We need only to look to the popularity of TEDTalks, commencement speeches during May, or political pundits. A strong lecture can entice students into wanting to know more and help them connect emotionally to the content by seeing and hearing how passionate the teacher is. As I said in an earlier post, Professor Friedman’s lectures on the American Revolution not only taught me, but also added intellectual fuel that energized my daily runs on the treadmill. A well-written, rehearsed, performed, and recorded lecture can do that. What this means for the virtual instructor is that this type of direct instruction can be perfected through better recording hardware and editing software.
Yet a recorded lecture does not need to remain a recorded lecture. Virtual instructors should experiment with interrupting their lectures with images of examples and chances for students to pause and reflect. John Cage illustrated the power of silence with his 4’33”, and integrating silence into a powerful lecture through editing software may give students the break they need to reflect and wrestle with some powerful ideas. The teacher may then require students to submit their thoughts on a discussion page. Instructors could also use videos to model strategies or conduct read-alouds. Math students frequently need their teachers to demonstrate how to work example problems, and Language Arts teachers must model reading strategies not only by reading aloud, but also by pausing and articulating thoughts good readers have when they read. Recorded videos give students the opportunity to watch these tutorials multiple times until they absorb the strategy. Then it becomes second nature to them as they practice it on their own.
The availability and accessibility of video recording hardware and software should not turn the virtual classroom into a movie theater nor the teacher into a star performer. With the growing adoption of MOOCs by universities, some critics fear these recorded lectures will push teachers to the margins. Christine Rosen, senior editor of The New Atlantis, worries, “I don’t want our professorate to have to become contestants in a ‘Hot or Not’ contest every time they step up in front of a classroom,” in an episode of Slate’s “Techno Sapiens.” In the same episode, Daphne Koller, founder of Coursera, suggests that this will not be the case; instead, professors will be able to spend class time teaching the kinds of skills that foster creative thinking, problem solving, and debate. Furthermore, she adds that MOOCs and video lectures can “refine the way we teach.” She suggests that professors can sharpen their teaching using feedback from the course, such as the number of times students watch a particular video.
Virtual instructors can learn from this and let videos transform their teaching methods. Teachers can use polls to see which tutorials are the most helpful and modify their classes accordingly. Recorded tutorials could also require students to follow along by telling students to complete a task along with the video. After following along with the video, students could then submit their work or a picture to the class for comment. Tutorials and lectures could also end with lingering questions for students to blog about and discuss.
Recorded lectures may seem like a boring alternative to an interactive game or presentation, but they are, and will continue to be, an invaluable part of the virtual learning classroom. A good lecture can help connect students to their teacher by giving a face with a name, or email address. Careful planning with technology can also help improve teaching strategies and keep students more engaged.