You have been running your lectures online and recording them. Some students are choosing to watch the recordings afterwards, instead of attending the ‘live’ lecture. Perhaps those same students are passively watching your lecture recordings, skipping important points, misinterpreting ideas out of context, or worse, just not viewing the recordings at all.
The classes you run on campus depend on students attentively watching your lectures, perhaps completing activities before they attend class. Unfortunately, some students are not coming to those classes on campus and are missing the important, often unique, learning opportunities that class interaction affords. What might usually happen in a dynamic way in your physical classroom in and around your lectures, is now fractured.
Before we explore ways to address this slippery challenge, let’s first widen our lens.
The social and physical landscape for learning
There are good reasons for students to attend classes on campus, where social interaction is at its best for relationship-rich classrooms. Students are likely to prefer to be in a classroom as a vibrant place for learning. Post-graduate students also benefit from in-person classes, but may have a preference for the flexibility of attending online in their busy schedules. Whatever the student preference, hybrid classes are likely to be part of the mix on a flexible student-centred campus.
The learning spaces at UTS were developed to leverage the known benefits of learning in a place together, formally in classrooms and informally on a ‘sticky campus’. Relationships, community and connectedness are the conduits for learning on a vibrant campus, where the “pipe is more important than the content within the pipe“.
These physical spaces on campus also support the tenets of embodied learning where learning is anchored in place, space and sociality. Learning is not just cognitive or theoretical, but involves the emotional, practical, aesthetic dimensions of learner interaction.
Whether you are able to be on campus with all of your students, or are obliged to teach your classes in a hybrid mode, it is important to find ways to connect with your students, while also connecting those students to the ideas in your lecture material. One job as a teacher is to make the classroom an interesting place with relevant and authentic learning experiences.
Lectures are better together
A Watch Party Lecture is a way to enhance pre-recorded lectures, where you watch your lecture with students in an active and collaborative way. You can do this in a classroom or over Zoom. You contribute to the sense-making of your own material by being all at once an active participant, commentator, facilitator and guide. In a Watch Party Lecture, you orchestrate an active learning experience with students using your own pre-recorded lecture presentation.
Finding ways to merge teacher generated video and lectures is not a new idea. Teaching and assessment practices that aim to leverage the conveniences and multimodality of video have continually evolved. Watch Party Lectures are a recent invention, born out of the challenges of keeping students engaged during a global pandemic.
If you want to try hosting a Watch Party Lecture, here are a few tips. Allow plenty of ‘buffer’ time for questions, activities and interruptions. If your live lecture normally requires 60 mins, your recorded version might be only 40min long if played continuously without stopping. You may wish to cut your lecture recording into distinct thematic segments of 5-10min each, giving you natural break points between topics for questions and activities. Don’t worry if you have to drop a segment or two in your Watch Party, these can be easily shared online in followup with asynchronous activities.
Benefits and opportunities
With your mind off the process of delivering your lecture, you are free to focus on the interactions and activities that you can weave in and around your lecture. While there are simple things you can do in advance to improve engagement with your pre-recorded lecture, it is equally important to engage students in your Watch Party Lecture. Take the time to respond to uncertainties raised in the class and any conceptual challenges before moving on. Respond generously to unplanned ‘teachable moments’, made more effective and salient through the immediacy of the Watch Party.
You might just simply pause your video lecture at key moments for questions and discussion. Maintain clear and constant communication so everyone in class, on Zoom or in Teams can stay focused. Go further by running Mentimeter polls and establish parallel Backchannels. Consider live shared annotation or group activities on the Zoom or Microsoft whiteboards. Perhaps you can also gamify some elements of your class.
Important products of hosting a Watch Party Lecture include the teacher presence, allowing for a sense of belonging and inclusivity that a shared activity like this generates. When students experience the richer social learning and the rapid feedback loops afforded by engaging in your Watch Party Lecture, attendance might not be such a problem.
The point is, by engaging with the students in your own video lecture, you are able to give and receive immediate and contextual feedback in a similar way to your live interactive on campus classes. Evidence of participation in activities is a good measure of ‘attendance’. The quality or depth of participation helps indicate engagement.
Canvas provides a way to get insights into online activities you wrap around your video lecture. There are also tools to gauge how students are interacting with your recorded video lectures. You can always ask students for direct feedback on how your video lectures are working for them and adjust your approach accordingly.
Lecture watch parties can also be initiated by the students themselves in study groups, without the teacher. They are a great way for students to revise, discuss, annotate, analyse and reflect on recorded lecture content together.
Facilitate and participate
It doesn’t matter if you have all your students together with you in a room on campus, or your class is split in hybrid mode, or you are Zooming remotely into the physical classroom yourself. There are techniques you can employ to keep your students involved in your Watch Party Lecture and that help address equity in participation.
Fairly assessing class participation in live discussions involves making sure you’re offering equal speaking opportunities for all students, including the more reserved or introverted students. This means you need to be present and able to ‘read the room’ mindfully and empathically.
Some simple techniques include a combination of ‘warm’ and ‘cold’ calling approaches, repeating and relaying questions and instructions (vocally and in chat) and directing questions strategically. While you are at it, brush up on how to facilitate discussions with strategic prompts by asking effective questions that stimulate critical thinking.
In a well-crafted Watch Party Lecture, your role is not fixed. You are the lecturer, commentator, MC, talk and game show host, news reader, story teller, tour guide, companion and collaborator. In this approach to video lectures, you can be a student too.
Feature image by Brooke Cagle