Lecture Capture

I’ve been getting more and more interested in “lecture capture” systems of late. These are systems that record a lecture on video, “chunk” it into sections and stream it to a virtual learning environment such as Blackboard. Clearly, this has the potential to go some way beyond the current practice of posting a set of PowerPoint slides on Blackboard, and leaving it at that. Of course, some colleagues at Lincoln have been experimenting with recording lectures, but the need to install appropriate software, marry audio and slides, secure recording equipment, and find a place to post it, mean that this is unlikely to be sustainable on an institutional scale.

What is interesting about lecture capture systems is that they don’t require a great investment in hardware. Panopto, for example, simply makes use of existing computers, web cams and microphones, and the quality of the end product is apparently quite good. (Although, I have to say the sound quality on their demonstration videos was dreadful on my PC, which didn’t inspire confidence.) This post though, isn’t about the technology or the cost, important though those matters are, but more about the pedagogical implications. I have a feeling that many colleagues will be rather nervous at the idea of recording lectures. Surely, they will ask, if students know that the lecture is recorded, they won’t come at all. Not only that, once the lecture is in the can as it were, why would the University continue to employ them?

Well, I could give a flippant answer, and point out that any teacher who can be replaced by a machine probably should be, but I suspect that would not be helpful. So here’s some evidence from the sector.
At Aberystwyth, as of Winter 2010, there were more than 18 different modules using Panopto… A student survey conducted in December 2009 found that students view Panopto as a great tool for reviewing course material and studying for exams.

At Northampton, the first two departments to trial Panopto were the Business School and the School of Health. Lecturers and tutors got involved and were surprised at how easy Panopto was to use. They also loved the fact that it integrated seamlessly with Blackboard. Di Stoncel, Principal Lecturer in the School of Education, made a recording of a guest speaker, which was then broadcast to students, with great success. She said “I have found it to be very useful and easier to use than I expected…It is unobtrusive and has opened up several opportunities which have enhanced the student experience.

Admittedly, the above examples are taken from Panopto’s own publicity material, but at a recent meeting at Loughborough (which uses a different system, Echo360) several speakers claimed that attendance had gone up at lectures, student satisfaction was increased, and, (probably something of a by product) the sartorial standards of teaching staff had dramatically increased! The main issue was simply ensuring that lecturers stayed within the camera’s viewpoint.

While I haven’t looked at this in any detail, I noticed that both Panoptico and Echo360 seem to have open APIs, which suggests that we might be able to do all sorts of interesting things with the data they generate. By “we” of course, I mean “people who know about this sort of thing”.

So, I don’t think lecture capture is necessarily anything to be afraid of. Clearly, further investigation is needed, something I propose to do. There’s an event in London next month, which I plan to attend, and if I am able to do so, will blog about it. So watch this space.

Lecture capture, and other e-learning issues

ELESIG, or the evaluation of E-learners Experience of Learning Special Interest Group has a Midlands Group, which met at Loughborough University on Friday 17th September, which I attended. The main topic was a discussion of “Lecture Capture” software, which is now being used quite extensively at Loughborough. However, before we got onto that there was a general discussion of the future of the group, and some of the issues that we are concerned with. Firstly, and anyone from Lincoln who is reading this should take note, ELESIG needs more committee members and more people to attend its meetings. They also offer mall grants – up to £500 for literature reviews and case studies for example, and it is well worth putting in a bid for these. The Loughborough meeting was of the regional group, but there is a national group meeting in London on 6th October. If you’re interested you can find out more about the group at

As is often the case there was quite a wide ranging discussion of issues that members were interested in. First we got on to formal methods of evaluation that were being used. This provoked quite a lot of debate including considerable scepticism about what are sometimes called happy sheets, since these usually end up in a drawer, on their short but inevitable journey to the paper recycling bin. Members described interesting projects using video, Twitter, and mobile phones, the informality implicit in small devices in general being thought to be better at engaging students in completing them, and in some ways delivering more impact to staff. Video was thought to very useful for delivering evaluation reports to senior managers

The second issue was around the accessibility and the question of how to change VLEs. What do dyslexic students think about their experience of their learning on Blackboard. http://www.lexdis.org.uk was highlighted as a useful resource. Some colleagues exporte a blackboard course onto a disc, so that partially sighted, or people with low/no speed connection can access it. (needs some software, but a good idea)

There was a brief discussion of a product called Xerte and it’s ability, or not, to produce accessible materials. Loughborough reported problems with running it, that had, eventually led them to abandon it. Camtasia was also discussed, but users had found that there was a need to produce multiple versions to maintain accessibility.

Discussions on LinkedIn about various alternatives to Xerte (e.g. My Udutu) were mentioned, but I haven’t had time to follow these up yet, which was also true of Kineo.com, which apparently contains lots of reviews of tools for creating learning materials, and apparently something called Clive Shepherd’s 60 minute Masters is worth looking at

A slightly left of field idea was that of having standards for Blackboard sites. One institution has bronze, (absolute minimum) silver and gold standards for BB sites (However, they haven’t yet succeeded in getting any sites above Bronze!)

Lecture Capture at Loughborough

Origninally, there was quite a lot of resistance but now it’s fairly mainstream in that most people experimenting with it. They have 10 fixed and 5 mobile installations, the latter being entirely software based. They’re using a product called ECHO 360. It’s expensive at £3,000 p.a. for a single installation (Plus £1750 one off cost for the fixed boxes), but their may be a way to reduce that, which I’ll get to later. There are alternatives. Some open source products were mentioned one called Matterhorn was singled out as being particularly worth a look. Essentially the system shows a thumbnail gallery of the slides with the time each is displayed. Captures are normally ready 5-6 minutes after lecture completed. Lectures are editable – so you can choose where slides are displayed within the lecture, and of course you can paste the URL into the VLE, so it’s easily accessible. Students can click on the slide and go directly to that section of the lecture. An incidental benefit was (apparently) that the system has dramatically improved academic sartorial standards at Loughborough!

It’s not without disadvantages, of course. Installations have to have duct tape on floor to indicate to the lecturer where to stand, although, apparently the space is quite generous. There is still a rather murky understanding of IP and particularly, performer’s rights, which hasn’t been fully resolved. Newcastle apparently has a policy of no reuse except to cohorts other than that to which it was originally delivered. Most of the members thought that was unduly cautious, but it did provoke a question about how long a captured lecture might last.

Initally it was hard to engage staff with it, for fear of students not attending, the argument that it perpetuates an outdated delivery mode and of course, the suspicion that it’s a way of replacing lecturers. Further, you do need to be very careful what you say! One way of dealing with the non-attendance issue was to rebrand it as ReView (emphasis on the first syllable) to stress that it’s not an alternative to attending, rather it’s a revision tool. Loughborough’s evaluations suggest that this has proved very popular with students.

Finally, and related to the rights issue, is the question of what to do with lectures once they’ve been captured. A few universities are signing up with iTunesU. It was suggested that Apple may be persuaded to contribute to the cost of lecture capture systems if people prepared to post content thereon, although, of course that will not cover the cost of the ongoing licenses.

All in all a very useful and interesting meeting, and I’d certainly recommend ELESIG to colleagues.