Is the live lecture dead?

There was an interesting article in The Age newspaper the other day titled Teachers Online eLearning Mocking Fears, which was basically about some tensions being felt at some Australian universities between students who were asking (or demanding) that lectures be recorded and placed online, versus lecturers who were resisting this idea because they feared that students would capture, remix and republish their mistakes using social media.  The lecturers in question did not want their “mistakes” being made public to the world.  You can read the whole article for yourself.

But to me, it begs the following line of reasoning…

the nature of a “lecture” is simply the delivery of information…
the students want to be able to watch a recording of the “lecture” at their leisure…
lecturers are concerned about producing a “perfect”, mistake-free lecture…
why don’t lecturers just create a prerecorded version of the lecture, without mistakes or gaffes, cleanly edited to their satisfaction…
just publish it online for students to watch…
if they can reduce their lectures to a recording…
why have the lecture in the first place?…
all students need is the prerecorded content?…
does this mean lecturers can lecture effectively using prerecorded video?
can learning (at least via a lecture style presentation) be reduced to something as simple as “watching television”?

I learn a lot by watching video, and I think it’s a great way to develop understanding of Just-In-Time key concepts. I’ve no doubt that video podcasts, documentaries, YouTube clips, etc, are a great way to learn.  But you have to ask the question… If a recording of a lecture is as good as going to the lecture, then why have the actual lecture? Are concepts like iTunes U, or TED Talks, or the Kahn Academy, or even YouTube, far more potent than we give them credit for?

Or perhaps it’s a case that any lesson that can be effectively summed up in a recorded video, should be….

CC BY-SA 4.0 Is the live lecture dead? by Chris Betcher is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 4.0 International License.

7 Replies to “Is the live lecture dead?”

  1. That pretty much sums it up. Richard Feynman was famous as a lecturer of physics, but at the end of 20 years of lecturing, even as one of the best lecturers in the world, he basically said that it doesn’t work.

  2. Chris, I do agree that a lecturer who is more interesting on video should not stand up in person – but that is a long way short of the Monash Students’ request. My organisation does record many lectures. I was privileged to interview some students of a popular lecturer last week and noted a few points that fracture your chain of reasoning:1. Recordings don’t motivate (some) lecturers. Lectures are not simply delivery of information. They are social experiences, an induction into a centuries-long discourse. Great lecturers are clearly excited and stimulated by the (largely nonverbal) feedback they get from a good audience.2. Recordings don’t motivate students the same way as lectures. Students find the presence and responsiveness of a great lecturer inspiring. Students enthuse about how fantastic it would have been to be personally present at one of Richard Feynman’s lectures that they have seen on Youtube.3. Recordings are expensive. Creating a cleanly edited, mistake free recording of a lecture is several times more costly (time-consuming) than delivering a lecture live. Creating an _interesting_ recording of a lecture is at least an order of magnitude more costly than delivering the lecture.4. Recordings have limited shelf-life. To foster a research culture, university lecturers are expected to adapt their teaching in the light of their own research every year. This is clearly not crucial for first-year classes, but it definitely is happening in later years. 5. Not all lectures reduce to good recordings. Many lectures draw on non-visual properties of artefacts and special locations and participants.6. Recordings are not used as well by students as they might imagine.  Students who bemoan the lack of particular information admit to skipping provided readings, including recordings, specified for their purpose by lecturers in writing. 7. Ease of access is a hygiene factor: difficulty can inhibit learning but once overcome, it doesn’t affect motivation. We should also consider Bjork’s concept of ‘desirable difficulty’. (

    8. Recordings can be used to compensate for situational disadvantage of certain students, but lecturers express varied feelings about helping cross-faculty, physically impaired, learning disabled, parenting, infectious, working, ESL, remote, or temporary-visa students. This is not just a question of fairness but one of the mission of the university and appropriate matching of the course to the student.

    iTunes U, TED Talks, the Kahn Academy, YouTube, and the local video shop have great resources, and we do direct students to use them. Some students object that this is not what they paid for. 

    A University clearly gives educators the responsibility to continually review the curriculum, the student characteristics and culturally acceptable learning experiences (including lectures and private viewing of video), and design a program of activities which will foster the development of “graduate attributes” over the total course of study. Monash doesn’t aim to produce couch potatoes.

    1.  Ah Russell, I can always count on you for a detailed and thought-out reply. You make a number of good points of course.

      I’m inclined to debate your assertion about lectures being social experiences… apparently I haven’t been to the same lectures as you! But then, it’s been a while since I’ve been to uni so I’ll take your word for it that they are far more stimulating than I recall them being.

      Regarding Feynman, I thought David Wees’ comment was interesting if true. (And I have no reason to doubt David)

      I’m not sure why recording a lecture should be expensive. Sit in front of computer. Press record on webcam. Talk at camera. Post to web. Not hard, not expensive. If the point is delivering the content, it’s just as effective as going the full ridiculous with a live production recording. 

      Regarding shelf life, if we take the “webcam production method” rather than the “full ridiculous” production method, then I can’t see why these recordings can’t be updated at will.

      Students who don’t watch the recordings of the lectures are probably in the same category as students who don’t read the textbooks. Apparently they exist 😉  (I should know, I was one of them)

      I’m not trying to dismiss your points, you make good ones, but I’m just trying to play the devils advocate here and say maybe the answer lies somewhere in the middle.  By all means lets’s keep lectures, but perhaps a simple, easy, cheap and disposable solution to a “cleaned up” version of the content is not that hard to supply as well.  After all, I’m sure the students demanding the videos are just after the content, not the performance of the lecturer.  

      So if you miss a lecture, you can get a recording, even in summary form, of what you missed… sounds like a reasonable plan to me.

  3. I have been to lectures that were incredible and ones that put me to sleep. The ones I enjoyed the most in college were very much like the experience of attending a musical performance. The lecture and interaction with students was practiced, rehearsed, and adapted over the years to be as “attention-grabbing” and informative as possible. If I was one of these lecturers I would be concerned that all of my work and practice could just be bottled up and my value as a performer would go down. Maybe not by much, but if you could just “watch it later” many students might not bother or want to see the live performance.  There is a difference between being there and listening/watching a recording. What I valued the most from my professors that were great at lecturing was their ability to really capture my imagination and to get me interested in something I might not have otherwise cared about.

  4. Recording a lecture is a great idea, however not without its faults.
    1.  There is a lack of accountability to the lecturer. Students could fail to apply themselves and the lecturer would not know.
    2. Lack of motivation to learn.
    3. Attendance cannot be used as part of the assessment mark.
    4. A lecturer is able to judge the repsponses of the students in the lesson and make adjustment to the teaching method where approporiate. 

    We think that dual delivery of content (meaning Presenter AND technology) is more beneficial for the overall learning progress of students.

    Ps: Technology is not always a positive. It was interesting to have you present via skype this morning however the feed was very choppy and we were unable to get all information you conveyed (Which we would have liked to hear properly).
    We do think that you made some great points but are sure we didnt hear all of them.

    Josh. Clare and Johnny.

That's all well and good, but what do YOU think?