Clickers, Lecture Capture, and Event Programming

Over on the new Active Class blog, Sidneyeve Matrix recently discussed the idea of turning the college lecture into something like what the television industry calls “event programming.”  She did so in the context of encouraging students to come to class when the lecture is captured for later listening or watching by students.  She suggested instructors who are capturing their lectures incorporate a couple of elements to the in-class experience that aren’t replicated in the lecture capture: the use of video clips that help students remember and make sense of course content and the use of clickers for content and opinion questions.

Sidneyeve makes some great points about how the use of clickers can give students a sense of ownership over the in-class learning experience:

Clicker polls effectively personalize, customize, and socialize the class. Students know that poll results depend on who is in class that day and it is that indeterminacy that lends energy and anticipation to the lecture. Moreover, if the students see that their polling feedback is valued by the professor, and is connected to assessment, they too will value the activity of in-class participation as worthwhile.

Sidneyeve has hit upon a subtle, but important point about one of the roles that clickers (and more general classroom response systems, like backchannel tools) play in the classroom.  Using clickers turns students into co-creators, along with the instructor, of the in-class learning experience.  When the results of a clicker question are shown on-screen, something happens that would not have happened were those particular students not in the room participating that day.  Many instructors who use clickers practice what I call “agile teaching,” using the results of clicker questions to directly inform how they lead discussion or how they spend their class time.  Even when instructors don’t practice agile teaching, the results of a clicker question are still unique to the particular collection of students in the room at that time, and those results have at least some small impact on the students who view them.

Imagine the opposite, what some call “ballistic teaching,” a lesson plan that, once launched, cannot be altered by feedback from students in the room.  A video capture of this kind of lecture would be almost, if not more, valuable for students as attending this lecture in person.  Instructors considering lecture capture are often worried, as Sidneyeve points out, that students won’t come to class if lectures are placed online.  But if there’s virtually no difference between watching a lecture online and watching it from a seat in the classroom, why should students come to class?  What’s the point?

As Sidneyeve points out, including clicker questions in a lecture means that there is necessarily a difference between watching a lecture online and participating in the “live” version.  At the very least, watching a clicker question on video after the fact means that the student’s vote isn’t included in the results of the clicker question.  And if the clicker question is used to facilitate small-group or classwide discussion, then there’s even more difference–and more reason for the student to come to class and participate live!

I would like to take the television metaphor of “event programming” that Sidneyeve uses, and push it one step further.  A colleague of mine shared with me a recent Time essay by James Poniewozik titled “Twitter and TV: How Social Media Is Helping Old Media.”  In the essay, Poniewozik points out that many television viewers DVR their favorite shows to watch them later and skip the commercials.  This latter point is of particular interest to the television industry, since their revenue depends largely on advertisers.  Poniewozik argues, however, that social media like Facebook and Twitter can make certain television shows into “events” that viewers want to watch live.  He points to the live discussions that occurred online during the recent Winter Olympics and Academy Awards.  Participating in these live discussions was an incentive for people to watch these programs live.  I’ll attest to that–one of the reasons I watch Lost live as it airs each Tuesday night is so I can participate in online discussions about the show during and immediately after it!

Where am I going with this?  Well, to continue with the metaphor, a lecture that includes no interactive component and is captured for later viewing by students is like a television show that you DVR and watch when you get around to it.  A lecture that includes interactive components like the use of clickers and backchannel discussion (which is very much like the kind of online discussions Poniewozik describes) is more like an “event” television show that you just have to watch live as it airs.  Wouldn’t it be great if students refused to skip class (and watch the lecture video or borrow a friend’s notes instead) because they’ll miss their best opportunity for learning?

Image: “Empty” by Flickr user Shaylor / Creative Commons licensed

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