Digital recording of lectures in a first year Classics course

I was recently awarded a Digitally Ready grant to experiment with digital audio recording of lectures in Classics. This is a topic of some interest within the University as a whole, with thought being given to audio and video capture, the use of media files on Blackboard, the ‘flipped classroom’ and so on. A small project experimenting with a relatively cheap and simple (and low-data) implementation seemed like a good idea, so I requested funds to buy three digital audio recorders, and to put them to use recording and posting on Blackboard the audio for our spring term CL1CB Augustan Rome ancient history module. These lectures form an important part of the course, but are only one element alongside seminar work and, of course, students’ own private study. I hoped to gauge student and lecturer opinions on the use of this technology and gather some practical experience of using the technology to add to what we can offer our students.

The recorders were easy to use. They have not yet exhausted the first set of batteries I put into them in January, they connected directly to my computer via USB, and they created crisp, clear audio recordings via the supplied lapel microphone which were small enough in size that they could easily be uploaded to Blackboard once the lecture was over – the whole process was very simple.

Student feedback on the availability of audio recordings, gathered via our Staff-Student Liaison Committee, was positive; students felt that the audio recordings offered a useful chance to catch up and clarify their notes, and that they would be useful for revision. I was concerned that first-year students’ current over-reliance on lecture notes for revision would be accentuated by providing audio recordings of the lectures but, having recently moderated the exams for this cohort, I am not sure that I have seen any greater tendency to do this. The Blackboard data analysis for lecture downloads shows, as expected, a large spike around revision time, but this did not seem to translate into more lecture-based exam answers. Of course I warned students against leaning too heavily on the lecture recordings in the revision session I gave them this year, and perhaps this message went home.

The module on which I used these audio recorders was circus-taught by myself and two colleagues. I have no qualms about recording myself speaking, but my two colleagues were quite reluctant (though entirely cooperative) – they prefer, as I do, a natural ‘conversational’ lecture delivery, from notes and slides rather than reading from a script, but felt that what works well in a one-time lecture-room ‘performance’ (in terms of ad lib elaboration of points, answers to questions, etc) might stand up less well to repeated listening at home; they also do not like the sound of their own recorded voices, and felt that attendance suffered as the term went on and students increasingly came to rely on listening to the lecture recordings rather than attending in person. This is hard to quantity, since we can’t take attendance registers for these very large lectures, and always experience some late-term drop-off in attendance – but it would bear further investigation. It will be important to take account of lecturers’ experience and preferences as this sort of technology becomes more widespread, and to balance student expectation against what can works well in different contexts.

Overall this experiment was a success. We intend to carry on using the digital audio recorders for Part 1 lectures next year, and have already started to find other uses for them like recording dissertation viva exams. These inexpensive and accessible bits of kit allowed us to make a start with lecture capture in a quick and easy way, and I would recommend their use to colleagues.



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