A new survey, sponsored by the University of Wisconsin-Madison’s E-Business Institute, reveals students’ preference for “lecture capture,” the technology that records, streams and stores what happens in the classroom for later viewing.   There’s more about the study here, with a focus on the financial costs to universities for doing this.  I’m skeptical about “lecture capture” technology as a workable solution for delivering useful content in a way that’s financially profitable.   Personally, I’m more interested in the bottom-up, DIY-side of what this means in terms of pedagogy and technology. 

First, in terms of the pedagogy, I see this trend converging with the shift in the use of PowerPoint that Jon was just pointing out here recently.   There’s an excellent piece in the current issue of Theory, Culture & Society by David Stark and Verena Paravel that makes a compelling argument for the visually-based (rather than text-based) use of “digital demonstration technologies” such as PowerPoint.  While Edward Tufte has been famously critical of PowerPoint as evil for the cognitive style that bullet points promote, Stark and Paravel argue that Tufte’s is not the last word.  They contend that demonstration and digital technology are interwoven with politics now in complex ways.  (And, as an aside,  I think it will be interesting to see how this trend transforms job talks and conference presentations in the future.)    What this means in the classroom, is that the really memorable lectures are no longer the “chalk and talk” (if they ever were), but the multimedia and image-driven lectures with minimal text.

And, there’s a growing body of evidence that text-plus-images is a powerful and effective.   For example, in his book, The Cambridge Handbook of Multimedia Learning, (Cambridge University Press, 2005, ISBN 0521838738), Richard E. Mayer reports on a decade of his research demonstrating that multimedia are effective in both learning and retention.   Mayer concludes graphics help text and that text plus animation is better than just text alone.

Someone who’s leading the way in this is Howard Rheingold, futurist and honorary sociologist.  Howard’s teaching now at Stanford and UC-Berkeley, and he’s sharing some of what goes on his classes over at his vlog.   He creates short “lectures” as video podcasts, and these are also available as download through iTunes.   Howard, who is a friend, has talked about what a thrill it’s been for him to get these videos on his iPhone.   It’s one of my goals (for the year, if not this semester) is to get at least one of my lectures into a downloadable video format.  Getting there is something else and that leads me to the second part that I find fascinating here, and that’s the tech-side.

How can sociologists, professors and interested academics DIY?  That is, how can the rest of us transform lectures into downloadable videos if they don’t have access to the kind of “lecture capture” technology asked about in the survey?  One way to do this is through iMovie or Final Cut Pro (FCP), both Apple software products for video editing.  For most sociologists and other academics without a strong background in media, putting a lecture on video and then editing it down can seem like a daunting task (FCP has a notoriously steep learning curve).    Another way is to take a visually-driven PowerPoint, import it into GarageBand (Apple’s audio recording program), and add audio on top of it.   It’s actually very simple to do, as a colleague explains in this piece.

In my view, the transformation in digital technologies and what Stark and Paravel call the “new morphology of demonstration,” is going to compel all of us to change what we do in front of the classroom and in front of academic audiences.