20 reasons why Stanford Prof thinks video lectures self-evidently better
“The lecture video delivers me in a way the student has complete control over, making it self-evidently better.” Says Stanford’s Professor of Mathematics Keith Devlin. He’s a MOOC veteran, who delivers Stanford’s ‘Introduction to Mathematical Thinking’ on Coursera. We have to understand is why this is so. What makes a recorded lecture ‘self-evidently better’.
First there are merely the utilitarian advantages of recorded lectures:
1. Sound better than from back of a lecture hall
2. Rewind if your attention drops
3. Rewind if you didn’t understand
4. Rewind if English is your second language
5. Pause if you want to look something up
6. Access to vast online resources on same device
7. Pause to take good notes
8. Fast forward, if known or irrelevant
9. Watch several times for increased retention
10. Watch when in right attentive state for learning
11. Watch if you have been ill
12. Watch for revision as exam approaches
13. Not wasting time travelling to & from lecture
14. Academic can focus on tutoring & feedback
15. Academic can get on with research
16. Data gathered on who, what, when watched
17. Can be subtitled for the deaf
18. Can be translated and subtitled
19. Can be delivered online at almost no cost
20. Can be viewed on many devices
Devlin’s refreshingly honest and revealing article on teaching online goes on to explain that there are deeper pedagogic advantages.
Better than regular classes
Devlin thinks that students “get a version of that close, one-on-one instruction that they absolutely do not get in a regular class of any size”. He notes that many students feel intimidated in speaking back to academics as they have “insufficient confidence” and thinks that “there is good reason to believe that human connection through social media may be enough to have whatever effect is provided by the real thing”. In truth, he thinks that requested feedback could be provided, where necessary, and, in fact “shy students can perform much better in an online environment”.
As Devlin explains, counter-intuitively, “The fact is, a student taking my MOOC can make a closer connection with me than if they were in a class of more than 25 or so students, and certainly more than in a class of 250.” He reminds us of a fact often ignored in the debate, that “in a large class, the student is not going to get my individual attention, so there is no loss there in learning in a MOOC, so a MOOC seems to offer more of me than a student would get in a regular, large class”.
Interestingly, Devlin designed the course and the style of presentation around this sense of intimacy. “I set out to create that same sense of the student sitting alongside me, one-on-one. If you can pull it off, it’s powerful. In particular, if you can create that feeling of intimate human connection, the student will overlook a lot of imperfections and problems.”
Time and time again (not always) I have experienced, and heard from other MOOCers, about the intimacy of the academic teaching in MOOCs. I first came across it in the Thrun AI course and for me it is the hallmark of a good course. Devlin is a reflective teacher, who waited until he had gone through the experience of teaching a MOOC before making these observations. His full article can be found here.