Talking Teaching

July 1, 2010

reflecting on panopto

Way back at the start of the semester, I started using Panopto software (plus the necessary bits of lecture-room hardware) to record my first-year lectures. It was a bit of a step into the unknown, really, but the technology was there & I could see some of the advantages that could accrue to both teachers & students. Anyway, after a semester of using it, it’s interesting to reflect on how things have turned out.

First up – there wasn’t a drop-off in the number of students coming to lectures :-) This was contrary to the expectations of some of my colleagues & I must say that I was very happy about it. Obviously my students see some value in actually being there. I wonder if part of that is the opportunity to ask questions & also to hear what others are saying – the microphone in the lecture theatre I’m timetabled for picks up my voice very well but not those of students asking questions. This means, incidentally, that you have to be absolutely scrupulously careful to repeat any question or comment that a student makes, so that someone viewing the lecture at some later time knows what’s going on. Without that, it would seem a very one-sided conversation!

It’s been interesting to see how & when the students use the recordings (Panopto gives you the opportunity to review all the statistics around that.) Only a few were looking at each lecture over the few days immediately following the actual performance. Of those only perhaps one or two would look at the whole thing; the others would just view for a minute or a few minutes. And I know that people who were ill or had to be away for some other reason were rapt to have the opportunity to see/hear what had been said in the class(es) they’d missed. So I can see the real potential for these recordings for someone like a STAR student: a secondary school student who’s also enrolled in a uni paper, but who might be doing it somewhere else in the country. It’s got to be better to watch lectures compared to just working through study guide & lecture pdfs from Moodle, even if you can’t actually participate.

The other fun thing to see was how the use statistics shot up before each test & the final exam. Must have been a lot of revision going on there!

And – I know that at least some in the class were downloading lectures to their i-pods. I know this because occasionally you’d see someone in a tutorial scrolling through a lecture as they searched for something to help them answer a question. (I rather like this aspect of the technology. When we had our ‘on-campus’ days for the region’s year 13 biology students, I recorded the talks I gave & put them up as video podcasts onto our external server for teachers & students to access. They’ve been downloaded a few times too, so hopefully people are finding them helpful.)

So it’ll be good to see, when the course appraisals come back, just what the class members think of this new technology. Will they see it as a useful aid to their learning, or just a bit of flashy technology?

What has all this meant for my teaching practice? First up, it’s forced some changes in how I use the classroom. I’ve always been a ‘pacer’ (I’d have made a good lion in an old-fashioned zoo!), but with the fixed cameras that we have in most rooms, that’s constrained, because if you move too far to one side or the other, you move out of the reach of the camera. Maybe the shortened perimeter of my perambulations is better for the students, less distracting? I don’t really know.

I can report that my habit of drawing on slides with the mouse comes across well & is easy to follow in the ‘slide capture’ view. It means that I can annotate slides, maybe do extra drawings, & that’s accessible to the students afterwards. You could argue that I could equally well work on the whiteboard & that’s true, but it wouldn’t be adequately (if at all) captured by the camera in my lecture theatre. If you want an example: it became (alarmingly) clear 10 minutes into a lecture on reproduction that most of the class really had no idea about meiosis, going by their responses to my questions. So there really wasn’t much point in just pushing ahead. Instead, I stopped at a slide on sperm formation & development (spermatogenesis) which happened to have a large margin down one side, & ‘drew’ in that space as I talked about the process & answered questions.  It probably took about 10-15 minutes, but the students seemed much happier with the material at the end of that. Maybe it just helped them remember something that I know they almost certainly encountered at school. Anyway, we were never going to cover everything that I’d originally intended to – but it didn’t matter! We stopped at a ‘good’ place & later on I recorded a voice-over for the bits we didn’t get to & put that on the server for them.

And it’s really useful to see myself as the students see me. I know I use my hands a lot – it’s nice to see that it doesn’t come across as random hand-waving. You can hear what I’m saying: the words are nice & clear & there aren’t a lot of ‘ums’ (thank goodness!). I should probably stop running my hands through my hair when I’m thinking of how best to answer a question. The occasional jokes & asides seem to come across OK. (Actually, I know our Teaching Development folk are using one of my recordings to work with lecturers who want to learn how to peer-review/critique colleagues’ lectures – people are perhaps going to be more open & honest in their criticisms & comments when the person being talked about isn’t actually in the room! I’ve said I would very much like to receive feedback from that group; they’re bound to pick up things that I don’t even notice, so it’s got to be to my benefit & that of my students.)

And I really must stop drinking Coke before the class starts (even if the students do treat it as a bit of a running joke)!

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