I’ve been working with videolectures for four and a half years now, so maybe a bit of reflection is a good thing! Below is a list of the good, the bad and the ugly regarding speakers on screen.
– preparing for exams. Students can refresh their memories by viewing the lectures all over again just before an exam. This would potentially up their grades
– show it to your mum. Students can show their friends and families what they are learning at the university.
– show it to prospective students. By giving new students a taste of what’s to come, they can make informed decisions on what path to choose in their university careers.
– reflection. A lecturer can check these videos and evaluate his or her own performance. By confronting yourself with yourself in such a manner, ticks and errors can more easily be spotted and corrected in the future.
– evaluation. Quality control staff can use recorded lectures to evaluate performance.
– portfolio. A lecturer hunting for a new job can use such videos to show what s/he is all about.
– archive. Think of how awesome it would be to have a video lecture series of Max Weber or Robert Merton. Lectures are restricted to a time and place, and once uttered lost forever. Not so with a videorecording.
– substitution. Sometimes in university life, a student will follow two courses which have two lectures taking place simultaneously. In this case both lectures can still be followed if one is taped.
– bodily harm. Disease, amputated limbs, chronic hospitalization, plague quarantine: it does not necessarily have to destroy your chances at the university. If you are indisposed for whatever reason, a recorded lecture can help you out. This also works whenever a lecturer is malfunctioning: his or her recordings from previous years can be used to fill the gap.
– Wait, what? If you missed the point, or you didn’t hear it right, a recorded lecture will allow you to rewind and recheck some parts.
– on the move. With today’s technology you can watch videos on mobile devices wherever you want. Many students travel by train, and this provides an ideal opportunity to brush up on their knowledge.
– showcase. The university can put videos of their top lecturers on iTunes U and YouTube Edu. This can add to the prestige of the university.
– back into the open. Our lectures are mostly publicly funded. Videolectures enable us to potentially return the favour: release the knowledge produced on the university back to the public. Sharing knowledge for a better world!
– more time. It is possible to use videolectures as homework for students, to free up time during contact hours for other things: in depth discussion, different perspectives, empirical examples and so forth
– international co-operation. Putting videos online means that the same class can be followed in any number of countries. Lectures held at the University of Amsterdam can be used in Sweden, Czech Republic, Colombia, India and so forth, as they have during the IDS Lecture Series course.
– webbased learning. Videolectures can become part of a course fully held online.
– preparing for exams. Students can just skip the lectures entirely and save up all the work until just before an exam. This results in lower class attendance, less facetime, no opportunity for questions and so forth.
– show it to your mum. Students can just show these videos to anyone, out of the lecturer’s control. Who knows where these videos could end up?
– show it to prospective students. Students seeing these lectures might be scared off. Showing them flashy promotional videos filled with promises of excitement might be more motivating.
– reflection. A lecturer watching him or herself might be so horrified by the experience and would refuse to be filmed in the future.
– evaluation. Lecturers may feel that their professionalism is under attack (and their job security at risk)when regulatory bodies start investigating their lectures.
– portfolio. Having a bunch of popular videolectures may lead to better job offers for lecturers, robbing the host university of talent
– archive. Everything you say in the lecture room will be recorded for posterity, including the dodgy, tricky and dubious bits. Maybe a lecturer would prefer to keep their words within the four walls of the lecture hall.
– substitution. Having this option of videolectures as a backup can stimulate sloppy lecture planning.
– bodily harm. A student with a cough or a running nose who would ordinarily visit the lecture might now opt out due to the videolecture option
– Wait, what? The consequences of inattention and mucking about in the lecture hall are now less pronounced, due to the video backup. Students can afford to not take notes and be lazy.
– on the move. In this day and age, everything has to be fast, on demand, and no-one takes their time anymore. Academic education requires careful deliberation and lengthy concentration. Videolectures that are used on the go contribute to this rushed behaviour.
– showcase. By using videolectures as a PR tool we shift the focus from spreading of information to the public to selectively controlling what we believe that the public should and is allowed to see.
– back into the open. Lecturers create their presentations based on their audience, which typically is a group of students. By separating the lecture from its intended viewers, we create the risk that the wrong sort of people will pick up on the content of a lecture, which can create its own problems
– more time. Lectures are a university standard, and by outsourcing them to the digital realm you start tearing down a centuries old tradition. Lectures are meant as a performance, one to many, where the audience shares an experience. Atomizing the students by having them watch lectures isolated in their little rooms is detrimental to their academic development.
– international co-operation. By using lectures from a far away place, you risk destroying a job for a local person. The same lecture could have been given by a native staff member in a native tongue, with a native perspective that might clash with potentially Eurocentric or imperial points of view
– webbased learning. To borrow the concept of alienation from Marx, what learning online does to people is alienating them from the social act of pursuing knowledge. Without interaction with the speaker and fellow students, someone’s intellectual growth can be stunted, incomplete.
It turns out that this post has become rather frivolous, my apologies. Some of the ‘cons’ took me quite some effort to make up. There are some things, however, that are worth mentioning (again):
– Run away! Though this is not something that happens with every course, and it is not always clear whether the cause is the option of video or simply a boring speaker, there is sometimes a tendency for students to stop showing up to the lecture hall. The problem with this is that students will not be able to ask questions to the speaker or socialize with each other during the breaks. It can be argued that university attendance should have a strong collective element, and video does not necessarily contribute to that
– stifled speech. Lecturers have often mentioned to me that they changed their way of lecturing because they are aware of the camera pointed at them. This leads them to sometimes be less candid and more careful about the things they discuss, because they never know who is watching, and whether they might get in trouble for speaking their minds or being careless with anecdotes or personal remarks.
– privacy. Often a lecturer will turn down the recording option because they fear they will lose control over their words. They are afraid that (parts of) their lecture ends up on YouTube, with ridicule or harassment as potential results.
– policy abuse. Department policymakers can, in a cost-cutting frenzy, decide to completely substitute a course for a videolecture. This means that people lose their jobs, or less jobs will be available, not to mention that having a person of flesh and blood instructing a class trumps any non-interactive video series. Videolectures are better used as part of a course, rather than a replacement of a course.