February 25, 2009

Taping Lectures Raises Concerns in Classroom

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From laptops in class to Googleing papers, technological innovations have sparked debates over whether these advancements help students to achieve or foster a new sense of laziness. The newest form of this debate has taken shape in VideoNote, a complementary service provided for students that records lectures for larger classes and posts them on the internet. VideoNote has generated a great deal of controversy, with many professors wondering whether it will enhance understanding of the material or give students a new way to avoid lectures.
The videos, recorded in a higher quality format, allow students to listen to lectures they missed or review difficult concepts. Each lecture is accompanied by a searchable, note-based index, which allows the students to skip around based on content.
“The video allows you to see the chalk boards and watch the dynamic actions of the professors, something that is both vital to understanding the information and difficult to capture in other mediums,” stated Paul George Ph.D ’09, co-founder of VideoNote. George and co-founder Ryan Morris M.Eng ’09 began the service this past September and, with funding from the University, are undertaking a trial run in 10 courses this semester.
Programs like this are not an entirely new undertaking. Extensive recording programs are in place at a number of universities, including the University of California – Berkeley and Duke. MIT, in particular, offers entire series of lectures on their website for public consumption. VideoNote differentiates itself by indexing the video and providing detailed notes to complement the lecture.
“We have had over 500 people viewing the lectures in the past, with an average time on the site of about 30 minutes. This means that, for the most part, people are not watching the entire lecture, but using the index feature to focus on what is giving them trouble,” said Morris.
Many professors have had a rather positive response to the program.
“VideoNote is great for students who enroll in the course late, letting them catch up by actually watching the back lecture, and for students have fallen behind,” said Prof. Gries, associate dean for undergraduate programs in the College of Engineering and one of the instructors for CS 1110, a course using VideoNote. “It also allows me to coordinate with the other person teaching the class, to understand the nuances of our respective teaching styles.”
“It has allowed me to adjust little things within my teaching style and has created a generally positive attitude among students toward the class,” said Prof. Ruina, theoretical and applied mechanics, who teaches two courses on VideoNote, Math 2490 and ENGRD 2030. “In the world of things Cornell spends money on, this program has a positive effect on the academic environment.”
A number of professors, however, have criticized the use of VideoNote is Cornell classrooms.
There was originally a subscription fee for the service, much like Take Note, which drew cries of inequality and preferential treatment for those who could afford it. Now that the service exists in an entirely free format, most of those initial issues have faded away. Currently, the majority of complaints are related to attendance. Professors fear that, by providing lectures online, students will have no reason to attend class.
“If you provide all the video tapes, why should the student bother coming to class? I prefer lecturing to students, rather than two people in a room of empty chairs,” said Prof. Hui, theoretical and applied mechanics, who teaches another section of Math 2940 that is not being taped. “It is only a few steps from a situation where there are no more classes, where professors simply tape the lectures once and the students only watch the tapes on their own time.”
Video also raises privacy issues of students and professors.
“Although it is ultimately the faculty member’s decision, Students may become intimidated by having the camera in the room,” said Susan Murphy Ph.D ‘94, the vice president of student and academic services. “It may inhibit their participation in the class discussion and their ability to interact with the information.”
“I opted out of having my lectures put online because the mistakes you make will be up for the entire world to see,” Hui said. “If you misspeak during a lecture, most people will forget almost instantly, but by putting it online, the mistake becomes permanent.”
With the recent budget cuts, the future of programs like VideoNote is uncertain. The technology used, however, offers us a glimpse into the future of education.