Enhancement of Lectures with Video Recordings. Physics Pilot Project

Martin Smalley and Matt Cornock discuss a pilot project creating lecture recordings to support student learning


The limitation of lectures

One of the main ways in which we teach our students is through lectures. This seems a classic ‘one size fits all’ approach with maybe over a hundred students, sitting together in a lecture theatre attempting to interpret and distil the lecture content into their own notes. However, students are taking away quite different, individual experiences from the same lecture. Some may have hearing impairments, dyslexia, or physical disabilities that make it difficult to capture hand-written chalkboard notes or assimilate text presented on slides within the lecture environment. Some may have English as a second language, requiring additional time to interpret subject context and new terminology. Without jeopardising the value of lectures as a way to creatively deliver course content and inspire student interest, how do we cater for different students’ learning needs to ensure that all reach their potential?

Enhancement with recordings

One straightforward answer is that we record the lectures. Lecture recordings offer all students the opportunity to supplement their lecture notes, recap misheard or misunderstood concepts, improve their revision practices, and act as supplementary resources for disabled students and students with English as a second language (Newton et al., 2014). Not forgetting that students may miss a lecture through illness, family commitments, competing academic work or even a night at the pub (!) and wish to catch up before the course moves on.

A simple audio recording in conjunction with slides may be sufficient for certain types of lecture, but particularly in physics and mathematics, which still largely employ the ‘chalk-and-talk’ approach, this may not be fit for purpose. The use of chalkboards within these subjects is necessary, for example when delivering a long derivation with many equations, to ensure that the students have time to follow the structured thought processes underpinning the content and are able to take meaningful notes (Pritchard, 2010). If recordings aim to be of use to these students, they should capture what makes a lecture unique.

Physics video pilot project

Bringing this together, the Department of Physics has been involved in a pilot project to create video-based recordings of lectures, supporting the delivery of one of the central modules, Electromagnetism & Optics (20 credits), in Stage 2 of the Physics degree programme and the new Natural Sciences degree programme, and two Stage 4 MPhys modules. In addition, the recordings of the fourth-year modules have enabled students on placement to participate on the module when they would otherwise be unable to attend the lecture sessions. The project, supported by the Replay service team (ELDT and AV Centre), aims to assess the benefits and constraints from a pedagogic and technical perspective in order to support wider deployment in subsequent academic years. However, unlike the automated capture of audio with slides through the Replay service, the pilot recordings are made using a video camera operated by students to follow the chalkboard content and lecturers’ explanations.

Initial findings

For our preliminary report, 70 of 154 students from the Electromagnetism & Optics module responded to a survey on their use of recordings (with consent for this analysis).

Our initial findings suggest that recordings support individual students’ chosen approaches to study and revision, with 100% saying that the recordings assisted their learning and understanding in the module. The motivations for using recordings fell into three broad categories:

  • to gain a deeper understanding of the course content (including preparation for problem classes) (n=43)
  • to compensate for absence (n=29)
  • to support study practices (e.g. controlling the pace of the lecture, note-taking) (n=26).

These reasons emerged from term-time use and do not reflect the anticipated benefit during revision. With this module, the fast pace (three lectures each week) requires students to keep up with the content, and this may have been a driving factor in their use.

Number of recordings watched by students

Approaches to watching recordings

The majority of students (61%) tended to watch the whole lecture again. For the third of students who were more targeted in their approach, proportionally they were more likely to use recordings in preparation for problem classes and improving their understanding, and substantially less likely to cite attendance as a reason for use of the recordings. Of particular importance also is the way that the recordings have been regularly used: 67% of respondents reported they watched more than half of the recordings available.

Somewhat surprisingly, when asked how useful video captures would be to supporting learning compared to the provision of complete lecture notes, 66% of students (n=46) indicated recordings would be more useful. Yet, the strongest view comes from comparing video recordings to audio only capture or audio with slides: 96% of respondents indicated video recordings would be more useful to support their learning.

Recordings for all?

Students’ perceived value of video recordings over complete notes or audio-only recordings reiterates the importance of visual explanations and the contribution they make to students’ understanding of mathematical concepts. This pilot has highlighted how recordings have been used to support students’ understanding of the module content, overcome barriers to note-taking and contributed to further study for problem classes. Yet without the infrastructure and recognition of the value of video-based recordings to student learning, such a pilot may be difficult to replicate at a greater scale.

Join us for our presentation at the Learning & Teaching Conference as we explore further the impact of this pilot as an approach to inclusive practice benefiting a wide range of students.


  1. Newton, G., Tucker, T., Dawson, J. and Currie, E. (2014) ‘Use of Lecture Capture in Higher Education – Lessons from the Trenches’, TechTrends, 58(2), 32-45.
  2. Pritchard, D. (2010) ‘Where learning starts? A framework for thinking about lectures in university mathematics’, International Journal of Mathematical Education in Science and Technology, 41(5), 609-623.

Martin SA7_Smalley_biomalley is a Teaching Fellow in the Department of Physic. Martin has had a diverse career, with spells at the Universities of Erlangen-Nürnberg, Oxford, Kyoto and London (UCL), as well as two years on an ERATO project in Japan in the mid-1990s.

Matt A7_Cornock-bio-picCornock is the Lecture Recording Coordinator and an E-learning Adviser within the Academic Support Office, offering advice and support to staff in using and evaluating the Replay service and other learning technologies. Matt is currently undertaking research exploring how Replay is being used by students as an integrated part of their study approach: http://bit.ly/replay-res-dec

4 thoughts on “Enhancement of Lectures with Video Recordings. Physics Pilot Project

  1. Very interesting Matt – thanks for sharing this.
    Were the videos captioned? I am thinking about the usage pattern. If there were captions/a transcript and this could be used to search the video for a particular point, then I’d expect to see more people dipping in and out (and possibly more hits over all). If not, then perhaps students just played the whole thing until they got to the bit they needed.

    Malcolm 🙂


  2. Hello Malcolm,
    The videos were not captioned and as they had no slides either, there was no searchable text or automated thumbnails. However, for this module students are provided with complete lecture notes on the VLE, so dipping may have been possible still. I haven’t done a thorough analysis yet, but following up on the graph above and looking at a couple of examples there is still a mix of viewing patterns – some watching long periods, others only watching 10 minute chunks. However, the usage of these recordings may be different to what I’ve seen elsewhere in that for this module, missing one lecture could substantially put a student behind. They had three lectures a week which built upon one another sequentially – not necessarily the case for other modules in other Departments. The students who ‘dip’ are probably the students who attended the lecture in person. The students who watched from the start-end are more likely to be the ones who missed it. As there was a high proportion using these recordings to compensate for absence, that would also need to be factored in to analysis of the viewing figures.


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