Monday, 2 June 2014

Persistent Learning: Learning about Lecture Capture at the Echo360 Conference

Last week (May 21st 2014) I was fortunate enough to attend the 2014 Echo360 conference (#emea14) in London. It was a well-supported event with many of the US team in attendance as well as participants from all over the UK, Europe and the Middle East. Recent years have seen a lively debate about the usefulness of lectures in Higher Education (see 'Ten reasons we should ditch university lectures' (Guardian Higher Ed, Th 15th May 2014)), but this conference helped to show how the lecture does have a place in contemporary education. 

Seamless automation: Our first talk was from Martin Hill from Curtin University in Australia. The University has invested a huge amount in lecture capture, using Echo360 rebranded as iLecture. They are now undertaking 200-300 recordings per day. 150 venues have Safe Capture HighDefinition (SCHD) recording boxes and they have had more than 2 million viewings of recorded material in the last year. The highlights of this set-up were:
  • Lecture capture is automated in many places. It ties in with the timetable, so that no one has to press any buttons. The capture begins at the start of the time and finishes at the end and the final capture is uploaded into the educator’s Blackboard course within 1.5hours of the end of the lecture.
  • They have worked hard to get the best quality video they can and some cameras are capable of tracking the lecturer, so if he/she moves about, it is all captured. This can be enhanced with pressure pads which also track the movement of the speaker. They are experimenting with a camera which can also watch the audience, so that if an activity takes focus away from the lecturer, the participants can be recorded and one of the cameras can even zoom in on a speaker. (Polycom Eagle Eye Director). 
  • They use wearable microphones that are chargeable for up to 8-hours of recording without tethering through wires to a computer. (See Revolabs wearable microphone).
  • Many of the lecture theatres have a light (Delcom USB light) which will indicate that a recording is taking place. The recording can be paused, simply by pressing the light, which changes colour. The light can also give a visual, flashing indication that the recording is about to finish, helping the lecturer stick to time.
  • Whilst many of the processes are automated, you can also book sessions or alter existing sessions through a simple form, which is also handled automatically.
  • Students can also make recordings using the personal capture software.
  • The University has set up some specialist recording spaces, with a particular focus on 'clinical' or 'professional' spaces, for courses such as nursing, social work and pharmacy. These spaces allow students to role play interactions which can then be reviewed and critiqued. 
For me, the key word that came through from this was ‘simplicity’ – it has to be simple for the end user (not necessarily for the behind-the-scenes folk) and this set-up would seem to achieve that. The statistics given in the session spoke very clearly about how useful the students find the service and it is a ‘value-added’, which so many students now seek in the UK.

Persistent Learning:

The title of this blog was taken from a session delivered by Bill Holding, Executive Vice President of Echo360, which outlined their development plans and a new product, due to be launched during the summer. This is based on their previous ‘Lecture Tools’ software and will be called ALP – Active Learning Platform. It aims to give a ‘before, during and after’ lecture service for all students and academic staff, covering:
  • Capture and Remote Learning 
  • Student engagement
  • Instructional content management (CMS) 
  • Learning analytics and dashboard
The capture and remote learning is already something that we have available at The University of Sheffield.

The student engagement element features ways that staff can ask questions and students can respond. There is a facility for students to take notes into an Echo360 notepad that tags the time the note is taken. This makes it very easy for the student to go back and re-watch the video at the exact point where they took a note. Students can also ask questions through the system, so they would type their question into their laptop/tablet and it would appear for the tutor. They also have an ‘I’m confused’ button to indicate points at which they are finding it hard to follow and there are bookmarks so they can remind themselves of parts to watch again. There was some concern raised from the floor about bandwidth demands of such a system if every student were to be using a device during a lecture.

Staff can obtain a wealth of data – which videos are watched? Who is watching them? Which parts of the videos are the most watched? Which students are interacting with the questions asked? A combination of factors (which can be defined by the lecturer) will combine to give an ‘engagement score’ for each student. See the next section for information about how one lecturer is using his student data.

Overall, the system will definitely be of value and takes the traditional lecture to the next level. The availability of lectures online is something that students are almost beginning to expect. The option to ‘live webcast’ means that you can deliver a lecture to a lecture hall and to a distance audience at the same time. Students no longer have to be in the lecture theatre and, for a variety of reasons, the anywhere learning solution will suit some students.
The University will be finding out more about this system, but we would love to hear your views on how useful it would be to your department. Contact us on

How learner analytics are improving retention: The final session was a lively, entertaining and informative session by Dr Perry Samson, Head of Teaching Innovation at Echo360 and a Professor of Meteorology at the University of Michigan. He explained that in the past he would not know until an exam whether a student had a problem with a course. Now, using lecture tools, he has been able to identify much sooner when a student is struggling.
His courses can be delivered in three ways: 
  • Attendance at a lecture 
  • Attendance at a lecture remotely via live streaming  
  • Watching a recording after the lecture
Dr Samson wanted to know what impact these modes of attendance and the way in which students participated was having on their final grades. There are some surprising findings:
  • Most students do not believe that the presence of laptops in class provide a distraction. 
  • The outcomes are not related to attendance – it does not matter where or when the student watched the lecture.
  • Most students feel that their learning is enhanced by having a computer in class. 
  • Student outcomes are related to their level of participation in a lecture (as assessed by their responses to questions asked)
  • Student outcomes are related to the number of correct answers they get in class. That is, students who do not get correct responses in class also do poorly in the exam.
  • Students’ physical and emotional well-being affects how well they are doing. The chart below was generated by students placing a cross on a chart using their own mobile devices. The findings are no surprise to me and relates strongly to Maslow’s Hierarchy of needs). Dr Samson said that was good to be able to identify these students but hard to know how to support them. 
  • The tutor can see how many notes are taken in class. The more slides that a student has where they take notes, the higher the grades were.
Whilst these findings only represent a group of students on one course in Michigan, it is worth noting that the trend towards using student analytics is one that is growing. It has long been a feature of school education ( and the question one needs to ask here is how much should an HEI monitor the performance / engagement of adult learners? That is a big question with many reasons to do it and some reasons against. However, if it is deemed to be desirable, then the Echo360 system is a good one to consider.
The big question about the usefulness of lectures will long be debated, but the evidence from today is that a recorded lecture is far more useful to most students than an unrecorded one. 

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