"Bear in mind that the wonderful things you learn in your schools are the work of many generations, produced by enthusiastic effort and infinite labor in every country of the world. All this is put into your hands as your inheritance in order that you may receive it, honor it, add to it, and one day faithfully hand it to your children. Thus do we mortals achieve immortality in the permanent things which we create in common." - Albert Einstein

Wednesday, August 21, 2013

How Students Use Online Materials: Recorded Lectures, Slides and Notes

Working in a classroom for decades teaches a teacher a lot. Every class is different but throughout the years there are indeed characteristics that seem to hold true most of the time. There are certainly variations among different levels of education. There are issues that apply strictly only on graduate courses and research. Obviously, a kindergarten class is vastly different from that of a senior high school. I remember one of my teachers describing students as growing horns as they advance from one level to the next. Characteristics that seem to withstand the test of time seem to be of human nature. Take, for instance, what is referred in the Philippines as "ningas kugon" (flaming cogon grass). This refers to a cultural trait of being so eager at the beginning of a task, but then quickly losing enthusiasm soon after. Another example is procrastination. We do tend to delay things up to the very last minute. In the classrooms, waning enthusiasm and cramming are characteristics seen in students year over year. Perseverance and working distributively over time are important skills for learning. Yet, the discipline required to attain these skills remains a challenge. It is quite amazing that online learning likewise faces this challenge. A report that compiles and reviews recent research on lecture capture technology (Student Use of Recorded Lectures) arrives at the following generalizations:

  • Students tend to access lecture recordings more actively at the start of the academic semester (i.e access the recording within one week of posting), with reducing activity as the semester progresses (Phillips et al. 2010). However, students start to increase access to lecture recordings again to prepare for assessments and exams.
  • Students tend to view specific sections of recordings to reinforce their understanding of concepts, instead of viewing lecture recordings in their entirety.
  • However, students with lower academic achievement tend to access recorded lectures more frequently and are more likely to view the lecture in its entirety. 
It is quite surprising to see the last item in the above list. I have seen students who have highlighted almost every word in a textbook, yet do not perform well in exams. It is amazing how this likewise transfers to online material. There is indeed that desire among some students to capture everything. Unfortunately, it amounts to learning almost nothing. This is basically a failure to focus. Giving review sessions, sample exams, lecture notes seem to satiate some students' desire to have every resource available. The following figure from the same paper, "Student Use of Recorded Lectures", shows just how much most students prefer "blended learning":

Above figure copied from Student Use of Recorded Lectures

What about procastination? The following graph shows how often students access recorded lectures:

Above figure copied from Student Use of Recorded Lectures
Obviously, the above report only looks at technology playing a supporting role. In these studies, there is still a traditional live classroom (which the report also states students find most valuable). With online learning alone, the problems of waning enthusiasm, procastination, and inability to focus are more likely to be worse.

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