Val Brooks, Institute of Education, University of Warwick
In 2002, the University was developing its capacity to produce e-lectures. E-lectures enable students to view lectures on a computer monitor at a time and place of their own choosing. They offer facilities such as the ability to revisit a section of a lecture or to pause it, to print a transcript of the lecture or to follow hyperlinks to related online materials. A team from the Institute of Education was invited to contribute one of two lectures that were recorded during the pilot phase of this project. We were invited to take part in this initiative because we had recently introduced a new course of Flexible Initial Teacher Training (FITT) that uses distance learning materials in lieu of a taught course. FITT is a variant of the one-year, full-time PGCE course which has been designed for completion on a part-time basis. Students following the course complete extra reading and written work to compensate for the absence of a taught programme of lectures and seminars provided by the PGCE. Colleagues in IT Services felt that FITT may be ideally suited to the development of e-lectures because the existing course was reliant on paper-based materials.
The FITT team welcomed this invitation for a number of reasons. First, we were attracted by the opportunity to extend the range of teaching and learning opportunities being offered to students following this course. We recognised that enhancing our modes of delivery and varying the range of learning experiences provided had the potential to enrich students' total course experience. By augmenting our written courseware with audio visual material, we hoped to achieve the following aims:
- To offer face-to-face experiences to students who undertake much of their study independently (Research has suggested that the 'talking head' helps to offset some of the feelings of isolation that can be experienced by distance learners thereby providing an important psychological fillip.)
- To take advantage of various features of the human voice that can be used to clarify meaning e.g. stress, volume, pace and pause.
- To facilitate student learning. (Learning can be a challenging experience for those who work independently and do not have ready access to their tutors and peers for questions or clarification of those aspects of the course they find difficult. An electronic teaching medium is equipped with certain features which can offset some of these difficulties and enhance learning. For instance, it is possible to replay sections of a lecture if a student feels that s/he would benefit from hearing it again. The 'pause' facility can be used to create the space for reflection. It is possible to print a transcript of a lecture for future reference and to use hyperlinks to explore aspects of a topic further.)
- To broaden the range of teaching and learning experiences provided thereby catering for a range of learning styles and preferences including those who prefer auditory and visual learning. (Some research suggests that 34% of learners have an auditory preference - i.e. they prefer to learn by listening to speech and patterns of sound - whilst 29% have a visual preference, learning best by seeing visual representations. There was little provision for these learning styles in our existing courseware which was heavily reliant on text-based activities: reading and writing.)
- To enable lecturers to model good practice in teaching for those who are themselves preparing to teach.
A second attraction was that the e-lecture complements the ethos of flexible provision. The FITT programme is a variant of the full-time PGCE course. It was devised by the Teacher Training Agency to: 'allow training to be better matched to the needs and circumstances of all those with the potential to gain QTS (qualified teacher status), attracting a wider range of applicants' (Teacher Training Agency, 2000). The target group includes mature career changers who are not able to give up their jobs to undertake full-time training and those with family and other care responsibilities. Flexibility is the keynote of this programme and the ability to study when and where they choose is very important to these students. Thus, e-lectures articulated with the spirit of the programme allowing students to view lectures at their own convenience.
Recording an e-lecture was an interesting experience because it raised considerations that are simply not pertinent to a live lecture on a taught course. Many of these relate to the fact that an e-lecture takes something that is ephemeral and provides a lasting record of it. This had implications for many aspects of the lecture, but especially for its content. As successive governments have wrestled to raise educational standards, education has been subjected to wave after wave of new initiatives. The FITT team were anxious to protect the 'shelf life' of our e-lecture and therefore it seemed sensible to avoid content that could be rendered obsolete by the next change in national policy. Consequently, we agreed that whatever topic was eventually chosen for the lecture, content should focus on fundamental educational principles the relevance of which was likely to withstand any subsequent shifts in policy. Formative assessment was the topic finally chosen for the lecture. Assessment is an aspect of their training that student teachers find particularly challenging. Both internal evaluations of our own courses and national surveys conducted by OFSTED have highlighted assessment as a weakness in initial teacher training. This, then, was an area where we hoped that FITT students might derive particular benefit from having access to an e-lecture. I oversee elements of training that deal with assessment. Thus, it was that in 2002-2003 I found myself preparing to record an e-lecture.
Knowing that a lasting record of my words was to be created also affected me personally. Choosing my words with care, making sure that explanations were clear, that illustrations were apposite and that the sequencing of material would support learning achieved a heightened significance. I even found myself being exercised by matters that occur spontaneously in live lectures such as how to greet an audience! It might have seemed natural for me to hail my audience with 'Good morning' if the recording was made during a morning but such a greeting would jar with students who viewed the lecture at different times of the day so a more neutral opening was needed. Thus, I found myself pondering an array of considerations that simply don't arise when delivering conventional lectures.
Obtaining feedback from students was an important part of this initiative. We needed to know whether the opportunity to 'attend' a virtual lecture really had enhanced the quality of learning in an area that students find conceptually challenging. As choice and flexibility are the hallmarks of this course, students were offered several ways of providing feedback. An evaluation form was made available as:
- a paper copy for those who preferred to complete the form manually and submit by post;
- an online version to allow students to go straight from the end of the lecture, via a hyperlink, to the evaluation form which could be completed and submitted there and then;
- an electronic version in FirstClass (the Institute of Education's electronic conferencing system) for those who preferred to complete and submit the evaluation as an e-mail attachment.
All three modes of response were utilised.
Only a small number of the potential respondents supplied us with feedback which was disappointing. Nevertheless, that which was received was overwhelmingly positive in tone. Features of the e-lecture which students highlighted as particularly helpful were:
- the opportunity to pause the lecture as required
- the opportunity to replay sections of the lecture
- the ability to view the lecture at their own convenience
- the ability to print a transcript
- the opportunity to revisit the lecture at a later stage in their training.
Below is a sample of some of their written comments.
"Ability to replay and pause and re-read parts of the lecture notes was helpful. Really complemented the work I have done on Module 4a. 6"
"Helpful features = being able to go back and watch the lecture again at my leisure. I gained much more from it because of this feature. I was able to watch it at a time that suited me... I found the lecture extremely useful and would very much like to see many more of the taught course lectures presented in this format. WELL DONE!!!"
"It made learning the unit more accessible and convenient than the current alternative. It is visually interesting, succinctly written and dynamic... The structure of having the bullet points and the highlighted lecture was effective."
"The layout of the screen was helpful. It was useful to have the written form next to the speaker and I liked the notepad device."
"I liked getting the CD on assessment as it felt a bit more interactive."
The positive response of students to this initiative inspired the FITT team to want to extend this aspect of our provision. Thus, in 2003 we made a successful application to the Teaching Development Fund for funding to support the development of a suite of five e-lectures to add to the one we already had. These additional e-lectures are enabling us to provide lecture coverage for almost all of the core teaching skills covered by the PGCE Core lecture programme in the Autumn term (planning, differentiation, managing initial encounters with pupils, communication and questioning). For PGCE students, attendance at these lectures is compulsory because they cover essential competences that all new teachers must address before they embark on their first teaching placement. The suite of e-lectures is enabling us to make parallel but equivalent provision for FITT students in this key part of the course.
Because these lectures deal with generic teaching skills required by all new teachers, their potential value extends beyond the group of students for whom they were originally recorded. Therefore, all colleagues in the Institute of Education were alerted when the lecture on assessment was put on the university's intranet and it has since been used by various programmes including the PGCE (Secondary), the Graduate Teacher Programme, the B.A (Hons) degree plus option students from a range of departments in all faculties of the university taking the Module 'Education and Learning'. Take-up of our original e-lecture suggests that the potential audiences for this kind of e-learning may be far greater than the group for whom the lecture was originally commissioned. Where the subject matter of an e-lecture has wider appeal, placing it on the intranet opens access to departments and centres across the university.
So what are the implications of this development for lecture programmes on conventional taught courses? When the idea of using e-lectures was first mooted, misgivings were voiced by colleagues who feared that once e-lectures became available pressure to make all lectures available in this form would mount amongst PGCE students who would be attracted by the obvious convenience of the format. Although we have used e-lectures on several occasions with groups from the PGCE cohort, it has not resulted in demands for all lectures to be made available in this way. This suggests that those who have elected to follow a full-time, taught course continue to value and enjoy the communal experience of a live lecture. But for those following the FITT course, who are unable to attend the lecture programme, available feedback suggests that this alternative has added considerable value to their total learning experience.
Chris Coe of IT Services is leading this project
For further information:
Email: Chris.Coe@warwick.ac.uk .
The lecture recorded during the pilot phase of the project is available on the intranet at www.video.warwick.ac.uk/assessment