Online Lectures

Opened laptops on a desks in a classroom with images of students on each screen 

Lecturing remains one of the most common ways that faculty share course content with students. In one recent study, lecturing occupied over 80% of class time in 55% of class sessions observed (n = 2,008), and occupied the majority of class time in another 27% (Stains et al., 2018). Many faculty members reinforce the audible information delivered in a lecture with some type of visual information, most often by projecting images on a screen or writing on a whiteboard.

While most lecturers will entertain listeners' questions and will respond to their classes' nonverbal cues, a lecture remains mostly one-way communication. As such, lectures are fairly easy to deliver across a variety of media and to transmit online.

Synchronous Online Lectures

Lectures can, of course, be delivered synchronously online. Indeed, hundreds of "webinars" (mostly consisting of synchronous online lectures) occur daily. In an educational context, synchronous online lectures offer several benefits.

  • Online and onsite students can experience synchronous lectures simultaneously. Synchronous online lectures preserve the temporal immediacy of the class without requiring physical colocation. A professor can lecture in front of those students who have gathered in the classroom, while other students watch remotely — or the lecturer could be remote, and the audience widely distributed.
  • Students can provide immediate feedback during a synchronous lecture, while feedback on a recorded lecture must be deferred.
  • Students may feel more personally connected to the professor during a real-time lecture than during a recorded lecture.
  • Synchronous lectures can be recorded and provided to students who could not attend when the lecture was delivered, or who wish to hear the lecture again.

If you choose to lecture on-campus and simultaneously stream the lecture online for remote students, please take the following pedagogical considerations into account.

  • A continuous lecture is significantly less effective than a segmented lecture punctuated by opportunities for students to reflect on, interact with, and apply the lecture material. For specific ways to leverage lecture breaks to support student learning, see chapter 1 of Teaching for learning by Major, Harris, and Zakrajsek (2016).
  • Students watching your synchronous lecture remotely should receive opportunities to interact with you in real time, as nearly equivalent as possible to the opportunities afforded students physically present with you. However, delivering your lecture while concurrently monitoring both the physical room and the Zoom session for verbal and noverbal feedback generates a significant and likely detrimental cognitive load. To lighten that cognitive load, you could:
    • Ask all students, including those onsite, to queue up their questions in the Zoom chat window (or an unsupported third-party tool like Slack or Discord). Then, during a strategically-placed question break, answer the questions in the order they were posted.
    • During question breaks, solicit questions from remote students first, then from onsite students.
    • Ask one onsite student to serve as the "voice of the chat." This student would monitor the Zoom chat stream and articulate remote students' questions and comments at appropriate times. This technique, originally suggested by Derek Bruff of Vanderbilt's Center for Teaching, is particularly useful if you want to accept impromptu questions throughout the lecture rather than limiting questions to scheduled question breaks.

If you choose to lecture on-campus and simultaneously stream the lecture online for remote students, please take the following technological considerations into account.

  • In order to use the classroom's camera and microphone, you must use the computer permanently assigned to the classroom. You can't connect your own laptop or tablet to the classroom's camera and microphone.
  • The classroom's camera has a limited field of view. Despite attempts to position the cameras so that they provide a clear view of projection screens and adjacent whiteboards, the degree of success will vary from room to room. If you intend to share projected visuals (like a slideshow, a webpage, or an app), you can address this limitation by sharing the appropriate window using Zoom's screen sharing feature, and projecting the Zoom window itself onto the in-room screen. Since you'll need to use the classroom's computer (rather than your own laptop or tablet) for these functions, be sure to design any projected visuals with that computer in mind.
  • The classroom's camera is fixed in place and does not track your movements. During the COVID-19 pandemic, your movements within the classroom will also be restricted to mitigate risk of viral transmission. Expect to have access to whiteboard space measuring no more than six feet horizontally, and in some rooms considerably less. As indicated previously, the camera's ability to transmit a good image of the whiteboard will vary from room to room, and the room's lighting may cause an unavoidable glare that obscures parts of the whiteboard from remote viewers. You can address this limitation by using a document camera or digital whiteboard instead of a physical whiteboard.
  • During the COVID-19 pandemic, you will be lecturing through a mask, which will prevent hearing-impaired students from following your lecture via lip-reading. Even with a clear mask, or lecturing to an empty room without a mask, the classroom's camera will not provide a closeup view of your face, making lip-reading difficult for students watching remotely. Both Zoom and Panopto can generate captions via automatic speech recognition; please take the time to review the auto-generated captions and to edit them as necessary. If you lecture from a script or detailed outline, please consider making that script or outline available to all students as well.

Asynchronous Online Lectures

Lectures can easily be recorded and viewed on demand. In an educational context, asynchronous online lectures offer several benefits.

  • Students can watch the lectures at any time, which especially benefits students who would otherwise have to attend synchronous lectures at odd hours due to local time zone differences from Pacific time.
  • Students can review the lectures repeatedly to help solidify their understanding.
  • Faculty who teach multiple sections of the same course need only deliver each lecture once for all students, rather than once per section. Additionally, recorded lectures can be reused in multiple semesters (though faculty should periodically update them to reflect new developments in the discipline).
  • Recorded lectures can be curated from sources like TED, iTunes U (requires an appropriate app), or even the wilds of YouTube rather than created by the professor.

If you're recording yourself lecturing, please take the following pedagogical considerations into account.

  • Keep your videos short, below 15 minutes in length (following the Flipped Learning Global Initiative's recommended maximum of one minute per grade level). If your lecture would normally last longer than 15 minutes, divide it into smaller sections.
  • If you have students watching multiple videos for a single class session equivalent, insert some kind of learning activity between the video segments. This can be as simple as having students briefly derive a potential test question from the video they just watched, post a reaction in your Courses forum, or take a brief quiz in Courses.
  • If you're using Zoom (most users) or Panopto (more advanced users) to record your videos, both services can automatically generate captions for your videos. Please take time to review and edit those captions.

In addition, please take the following technological considerations into account.

  • If you want to deliver a lecture coordinated with a slideshow, you can record your screen and audio with Zoom or Panopto. The most recent versions of Microsoft PowerPoint can export your slides and audio narrations as movie files.
  • If you want students to see your face, your computer probably has an adequate camera and microphone, and you can use Zoom or Panopto to record yourself.
  • If you want to conduct a demonstration and you have access to the appropriate materials, you can record the demonstration and provide it to your students online. Most of us have an iOS or Android phone with an adequate camera and video recording software already built in. Your laptop computer provides a still better, more stable option, but to preserve audio quality, try not to get more than about five feet from your laptop unless you're using a microphone (Bluetooth earbuds like Apple's AirPods are quite helpful here).
  • When you export your video, compress your video and use the MP4 format to ensure broadest compatibility with your students' devices.
  • If you record your own videos with Zoom, you can supply the links to students in Courses. Zoom does not provide support for embedding Zoom videos in the Lessons tool, however. If you need to embed your videos in the Lessons tool or a similar venue, you can host your videos on YouTube, set to "unlisted" (not "private") if you don't want them to be discovered by the general public. You can also host your video on Panopto for additional security. Both Panopto and YouTube allow you to embed your videos in Courses using the Lessons tool. Please do not just upload your videos into a Resources folder inside a Courses site and embed them in the Lessons tool; this overtaxes the system.
  • If you're making your own videos or voiceovers, prepare and use a script if you have time to do so. This will speed the process of correcting captions, and you can even provide the script to students as a transcript they can read instead of watching the video.
  • If your lecture doesn't coordinate with a slideshow or demonstration and you don't want just a "talking head' video, you could also record an audio-only lecture. Your computer or phone should already have an adequate microphone. When you export your audio, use the MP3 format to ensure broadest compatibility with your students' devices.