Report from the Echo 360 (Replay) – ANZ Community Conference 2014

Echo 360 – ANZ Community Conference 2014

What are the current trends in lecture recording activity across the Australian and New Zealand (ANZ) higher education sectors? What role will lecture recording play in the future mix of TEL services that are offered to students? Are there any transferable lessons from the ANZ experience on lecture capture service management which can be usefully applied to the UK HE sector, helping us to scale up our recording provision effectively?

These were just some of the questions that I was hoping to find answers to, by attending the annual Echo 360 community conference in Melbourne Australia (1st – 3rd December 2014).

Acode logoThe Australian and New Zealand (ANZ) higher education community has been a global leader in lecture recording activity for a number of years now. Not only have ANZ institutions been managing institutional recording services for the longest period of time, establishing their own home-grown solution Lectopia before moving to contemporary solutions such as Echo 360 and Panopto, they also account for the greatest volume of recording activity  in comparison with the UK and  North American higher education sectors.  While UK sector activity is now growing fast – note the recent UCISA data  and case study research which highlight the surge in investment in lecture recording facilities, illustrated by big service rollouts at universities such as Newcastle and Leeds – we are still some way behind the ANZ region.  A recent 2013 Australasian Council on Open, Distance and e-Learning (ACODE) report confirms this picture, summarising the extent of ANZ lecture recording activity and the high investment by institutions in service development. It was therefore with great anticipation and interest that I accepted an invitation to attend the 2014 Echo 360 community conference in beachside St Kilda, a sunny suburb of Melbourne, Australia.

What struck me immediately was the size and scale of recording activity, particularly across Australian institutions. Australian universities tend to be much bigger than their UK counterparts in terms of the numbers of students enrolled on their courses (50,000+ FTE is quite common and Monash has around 70,000 FTE enrolled on its programmes), and are commonly spread across multiple sites and countries. For the bigger institutions such as Monash, between 250 and 500 students may be expected to attend a lecture at one time. Lecture recording has come into its own in enabling this high volume education delivery model to work – by offering flexible access to remote learners without diminishing the quality of the ‘live’ lecture experience. This is achieved by live streaming of these lectures, which enables remote learners to follow the lecture, whilst students in the lecture hall can take advantage of the excellent wifi infrastructure within this space to log in to the live stream, enabling them to see the lecturer whilst at the same time viewing slides or whiteboard clearly on their own devices.

The numbers for institutional lecture recording activity are impressive. Monash records 10,000 hours of lectures a year, Curtin University has 34,000 hours of recordings, with a new weekly peak viewing record of 100,000 views during a recent study week before final exams this year. The number of venues equipped with recording equipment is also striking. Take Queensland University of Technology as an example – it has equipped 250 venues, and this comes with podium recording system, light monitor and voice reinforcement microphones all installed in each venue. The investment in this sort of kit is huge, with Curtin University at the extreme end of things with a whopping budget of Aus$16 million allocated to tracking cameras, pressure mats, ceiling microphones and other gadgetry, enabling dual video and whiteboard footage to be captured in its recordings. And this budget was just to trial new kit, rather than cover the established infrastructure costs!

The big question is why universities are devoting such large sums of money to large-scale lecture recording and what benefits they feel they are accruing from this investment as a result. All the major ANZ institutions have got a mature service in place running at scale, and therefore the provision of recording is less a distinguishing feature between institutions in terms of what they are offering their students than it is in the UK, and more part of the steady-state – the equivalent of investing in an institutional VLE platform to support teaching and learning. Part of the answer relates to the need for flexibility in managing large student numbers. Institutions have also needed to respond to student expectations and the pressure that has built up for recordings to be routinely made available to them. Dr Alan Arnold (Manager Curriculum, Innovation & Business Development) reported that students actively campaigned at Canberra University for lecture recording to be made a mandatory activity for all courses across the university. Macquarie University LogoAlthough Canberra did not go as far as mandating lecture capture, it has introduced an ‘opt out’ policy, where it is assumed that staff will be recorded unless they actively choose not to do so, with recordings automatically scheduled and published.  At Canberra only one academic to date has exercised the right to opt out.  This appears to be the common stance that ANZ institutions have taken, and there can be little doubt over the level of student demand for this service, judging from a recent survey report on student experience and expectations of technologies, run by Macquarie University, Western Sydney (UWS) and University of Technology, Sydney in 2013, which highlighted lecture recording as one of the top preferences for core technology which students identified for their respective institutions.

The educational benefits are harder though to discern. Evidence-based reports on the impact of lecture recording on student performance were not a common talking point at this event.  Looking beyond the popularity of the recordings, Arnold remarked that it is in fact hard to make the case for real pedagogical value through the provision of lecture recordings alone. Short (5-10 minutes) focused videos are much more effective when embedded in an active pedagogical design (e.g. ‘flipped classroom’ – an emerging area of pedagogic practice and critical research as reflected in the 2014 ascilite conference).  JISC Digital Media logoStudent production of their own video resources is also an extremely powerful engagement medium and strategy for supporting peer learning. Consequently institutions such as Canberra are now looking to place greater focus on the active learning agenda, using personal capture recordings to provide ‘snippets’ of lectures to stimulate student thinking before the ‘live’ lecture.  Parallels may be drawn here with the Recording and Augmenting Lectures for Learning (REC:all) project that University College London and partner institutions have been engaged in, exploring the capacity for video technology to be used to support active learning both on and off campus.

Given the eclectic mix of on-campus and remote learners that ANZ institutions are teaching and the large volume of students enrolled on courses, there is a quality issue at stake here in offering these different categories of learners the same quality of learning experience and one that actively engages them in learning, rather than one that treats them as passive consumers of information disseminated by the lecturer. This goes beyond the live web casting of lectures to the provision of engagement channels with the lecturer (e.g. through quizzing and survey tools and backchannels for feedback) that become an accepted of the live lecture experience,  which do not discriminate between remote and in-class students in terms of who is engaging with these tools.  This is the territory that vendors such as Echo 360 are now seeking to occupy in the education market, to offer a solution which supports pre-class and in-class learning, as well as a record of the lecture after it has been delivered. Lecture recording 2.0 solutions as they are being tagged, promise to provide us with support for the pre-recording of video and the building in of quizzing, surveys and feedback channels along with the lecture slides within one platform for students to engage with as a lecture is being delivered and recorded.  Indeed Echo 360’s active learning platform promises a full range of analytics tracking on student note-taking, quiz performance and other metrics, which will help lecturers to build up a clearer picture of the cohorts they are teaching in terms of their capabilities and understanding of the course that they are teaching. The combination of data output from these lecture tools and grade centre metrics from the institutional VLE, if integrated effectively, offers the potential to provide a rich picture of student engagement in learning, as well as an early-warning system for student disengagement. This all assumes that authentic learning and a representative record of a student’s study behaviour is taking place online and can be captured through these metrics.

Summing up the key lessons learned from this event, we may confidently conclude that the future of lecture recording is assured across the ANZ higher education sector, judging from the level of institutional investment in recording infrastructure and demand from students.  Although some institutions are now looking again at their physical estate and the role of large lecture theatres as venues for effective learning over smaller collaborative spaces, it is unlikely that lecture recording will disappear from these venues or those selected for smaller-group teaching and seminars.  If there is a lesson to be learned for the UK sector, it is in the way that recording services are presented to students and teaching staff as a learning tool, rather than as a service that takes place in the background (i.e. unobtrusive, involving little if any involvement from the lecturer beyond the switching on of a microphone).  There is an emerging recognition of the pedagogic craft to embed video recordings effectively in course design and delivery, as stimuli for pre- and in-class learning, as much as for the review of content that has been covered before a summative examination.  The corollary of this is that greater effort may be required by institutions to engage their teaching staff in embracing the active learning agenda – specifically pedagogic design with use of video in mind. This will have implications for staff training and the way in which we support the development of staff digital literacies moving forward.

In closing, I would like to express my thanks to Echo 360 and the ANZ community for the opportunity to attend their annual conference, which was an informative and inspiring event, for their openness and willingness to share their practice with me.

I would also like to draw attention to an event taking place at Loughborough University on 17th December, entitled Lecture Capture: Building the Evidence Base, which will discuss from a UK perspective what we have learned from research studies on the value of lecture capture.

Richard Walker
E-Learning Development Team Manager

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