This morning I found the most recent edition of “New Directions …” hiding in the post room and nabbed it for a browse whilst I sat in Ian Williams’ lecture. For those of you who are unfamiliar with New Directions, it seems to be the place to publish for pesky interfering Teacher Fellows when they want to tell the world what they’ve been up to. As it happens, part of the reason I’ve been sitting in with Ian is to support some of the changes he’s been kind enough to allow me to make to the way he delivers his lectures, one of which is trying out lecture capture.

A quarter of the communications1-3 in this year’s New Directions are on Lecture Capture and it’s interesting to see some of the methods being tried and the associated difficulties experienced. The University of Bath deployed cross-campus coverage for Panopto Coursecast from the start of this academic year which is a self-contained lecture capture platform. We’re a few weeks into term now so it seems an appropriate time to report on how things are going.

Reports in this year’s New Directions have looked at recording …

  • just the audio from a lecture1
  • slides and video of the lecturer together2
  • notes taken on a tablet PC and then released as a coursecast3

… all of which have their disadvantages compared to the new system being used at Bath.

The panopto setup delivers feeds of anything that is on the main screen (computer, visualiser, DVD etc.) as well as an audio-visual feed from the lecture theatre delivered from a robotic-mount camera at the back of the room which can be controlled from the front. The broadcast is released via the site but it integrates fully with moodle meaning that only those students enrolled on your course can access your material should you wish that to be the case. It cannot be downloaded by students.

I grabbed a photo this morning with my phone of the lecturer’s console. Everything in the room is accessed via the easy to use touchscreen display on the right (I believe this part of a separate system). When you walk in to the room, the press of one button will dim the lights at the front, lower the screen, turn on the projector, switch the computer onto the screen, activate the camera and move it to its default position. In the view shown above, the console can control the camera setup which appears in the middle screen while you’re operating the camera to help you zoom and pan in order to frame your shot suitably. You can see the embedded mic but the excellent AV team here supply a lapel mic (creeping into shot from below where it was left by the lecturer who had just finished) so you can wander around as freely as you’d like. This has the added benefit of making it easier for the lecturer to speak at a comfortable but audible level as the room has a PA system set up. On the far right of shot you can see the edge of the visualiser.

The experience has so far been as painless as you could possibly ask for. First we set up a block in our moodle course which registers that moodle course to coursecast (takes less than a minute to do this and you never have to repeat). Then we email the AV team once to let them know the lectures we want recorded, their times and the course code so they can make the connection the other end. They make this whole process a dream! In the first lecture, a member of the team was on hand to help with any issues at the start – fantastic! Then you just deliver the lecture and leave at the end (but don’t power down the unit in the middle of recording as that complicates things).

The camera and main screen feed is automatically recorded in the times you requested, edited together into a combined feed with automatically generated navigation and is uploaded immediately to the coursecast site after which the moodle block updates itself with the correct link. Magic!

I include a screen shot of the result. Notice the camera is set wide here but it can equally zoom right in if that’s the look you want – all controleld from the front.

So to summarise the benefits over those methods discussed so far …

  • full AV combined feed
  • no need for students to operate the camera
  • no editing
  • automatic chapters
  • full control over broadcast rights
  • nothing is required of the lecturer except to turn on the mic and go for it

However there’s one last hidden gem and that’s in the panopto’s stats package. You don’t just get views …. you get views, views per user, time watched per user and in total .. the works! It automatically generates graphs for you and you can even see what parts of the lecture were being watched the most so you can see if there were areas a lot of people struggled with. At the moment, these spikes are isolated at the start of the lecture as people are logging in to see how it all works and you can track the predicatable fall off as people stop watching to do other things (hopefully with the intention of coming back!)

Here’s the display from this morning’s lecture. We have 5 unique visitors with some going for multiple plays.

Notice the (admittedly small) spike in views at 5:01 to 6:42. You may not be surprised to find that that was the end of the slide in which the only maths of any note appeared in the lecture.

Notice that this is all A-level material but has been presented in a slightly more empirical way than the students might have seen before. A reflective lecturer might look back through their lecture stats and consider what students were finding difficult and if they feel a modified approach might be appropriate in future if they found a massive spike in reviews.

I suppose the one big drawback is the investment in infrastructure, staff and software needed to make this work – that’s something I can’t comment on as I wasn’t involved.

It’s early days yet but it looks like the lecture capture here is going to catch on in a big way. I’m glad because, as I expected I’ve fallen flat on my face with twitter. More on that another time though!

Thanks to the AV Team and Nitin Parmar for putting up with my never-ending stream of emails – they’re the ones doing all the hard work to make this happen!

1. Wightman G., (2010) Recording of Lectures, New Directions in the Teaching of Physical Sciences, 6, 34-40
2. Read D. et al., (2010) Lecture capture: Early lessons learned and experiences shared, New Directions in the Teaching of Physical Sciences, 6, 56-60
3. O’Malley P., (2010) Combining a Tablet personal computer and screencasting for chemistry teaching, New Directions in the Teaching of Physical Sciences, 6, 56-60