Do Recorded Lectures Benefit Students?

Pro: Ray Perry

One of the main advantages of recorded lectures is the flexibility: they can be viewed from anywhere, at any time. This opens up more space in your schedule and makes it easier to catch up if you’re feeling sick. It’s also easy to go back and review information; you can rewind if something is confusing, or pause and Google unfamiliar terms. There are also captions if you need them (which I often do.) 

In-person lectures do have some benefits — particularly if they’re on the small side. In some Psych 101 classes, the lecturers will take advantage of students being there in person, having them discuss questions with fellow students or even doing short psychological tests on the class. The lectures are interactive in a way that video lectures would not be. However, part of this is due to the class size — it’s easier to do this in a 96-student lecture than it would be in Hum 110 with the entire first-year class. Additionally, the smaller size makes it easier to ask questions, which can be intimidating in a larger lecture hall. 

However, larger lecture halls lack the benefits of smaller ones, while retaining many of the drawbacks. In a Hum 110 class — whether it’s video or in-person — posing a question in a group of 400 students can be intimidating, and there often isn’t time for questions anyway. 

Additionally, the lecture environment in Hum 110 can be difficult to learn in. This isn’t a fault of the class, this is a fault of large lecture halls as a whole. There aren’t enough seats for all the first-years, so it’s incredibly crowded, and a few people always get stuck sitting on the floor. 

And if you end up in the back of the room, it can be difficult to see and hear what’s going on. In contrast, you can watch video lectures from any environment, and you’re always able to see the slides and hear the speaker — and even turn on captions. 

Yes, some students might not watch the lecture at all or put it on 2x speed and barely understand it. However, this isn’t an issue of recorded versus in-person — it’s an issue of how seriously that student is taking their learning. There are plenty of ways to slack off when attending an in-person lecture, too. Yes, in-person lectures can generate a sense of community. However, that sense of community can be found in conferences, in other classes, or even via watching lectures with other people.

Video lectures offer greater flexibility, are easier to learn from, and are more convenient. Especially in large lecture halls, where the interactive benefits of lectures are often diminished, video lectures provide a more accessible alternative to traditional ones.

Con: Adrian Keller Feld

The pandemic has left many lasting impacts on higher education, and the world at large, one of the most notable being a shift towards virtual spaces, such as recorded lectures. Present Reed students are well acquainted with clicking through an online syllabus or Moodle page for the week’s lectures and watching them asynchronously– but there was a time before, a time some would like to return to. Pre-pandemic, lectures for Hum 110 and Hum 220 were conducted in real life, with conferences taking place in the hours following. One member of the faculty who has been a part of both classes, but for the past few years has been teaching in Hum 220, is the Chair of the English Department Maureen Harkin. Of the in-person Hum 220 lectures, Harkin reminisces about the physical space, saying, “I have happy memories because we used to have this very nice room. It’s in Eliot, an old lecture hall, wooden paneled that holds up to maybe 80-90 people, very comfortable for 50-60 people. And sun would be streaming through the windows, it’s a very pleasant space.” This is lost with recorded lectures, where students instead watch most likely at home. 

Additionally, the lectures, especially for big classes like Hum 220 and especially Hum 110, were a great community space. Harkin says, “What we’re missing, I used to like going to lecture, it’s the one time when the whole ensemble of students come together, and students see each other and there’s a little bit more of a performance. I hate to call it a social occasion, but there’s a sense of commonality. So, we’ve lost that. Some faculty feel that that is a shame because that’s the only time the course manifests itself as a big group thing.” This sense of community is lost when lectures go virtual, because while people can watch lectures with others, the onus is on them to coordinate them. Despite her fond memories of in-person lectures, however, Harkin admits that if it went to a vote, the convenience of recorded lectures would win her over. While this opinion is quite popular, there are merits to an in-person lecture. For example, as Junior Arianne Lin says, she finds smaller classes, “more conducive to in-person lectures, in that it allows for more questions in the moment.” The ability to engage with the material as it happens can be very beneficial, versus writing questions out for later, or having to email a professor. 

An argument for recorded lectures is that attendance would be greater, since there isn’t a physical class, often in the morning, students have to go to. However, according to Harkin that has not been as significant a change as she expected: “You can track how many people watch recorded lectures, I was interested to see what the impact was and I could see the same phenomenon. Just because they’re recorded doesn’t mean everyone is watching them. You could see like, we had this huge group, you know like ‘450 people watched week 1 and 2’ and then it dropped down to literally the 200s, so I will say that just because things are recorded and more easily accessible, doesn’t mean attendance will be much better.” A return to in-person lectures would mean an increase in the class community, especially between conferences in larger Humanities classes, and allow for the performance aspect of lectures to resume, with time for questions. However, now that everyone has been exposed to the ease of recorded lectures, no one seems to see a clear path back.

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