How scandalized should folks be if I re-use my prerecorded lectures?

Scandals are on the horizon. Many of us poured effort into recorded lectures during the year of the pandemic, and as those courses reappear in our teaching rotations, we’ll be tempted to just upload the same lectures over again. Horrifying, right?  Well, maybe not. I’m not (yet) sure.

I’ll face this dilemma soon for my Fall 2021 courses. Since we have great hope but not yet certainty that the pandemic will be behind us, some courses at my university will still be online. I’ve indicated that mine would be good choices to be online – after all, they worked pretty well last year. I’ve come to realize that there many advantages to online mostly-asynchronous formats, and that many – perhaps most – of the pronouncements of the Death Of Postsecondary Education As We Know ItTM are just self-fulfilling prophecies from people who have a hard time with change.*

So, when my online Entomology course rolls around again, do I just upload my old lectures again, or should I re-record them all? I know that if I do the former, I’ll be accused of phoning it in. Those accusations might come from my students, although I think they’re more likely to come from my students’ parents, from the media if someone phones in a hot tip, and quite possibly from some of my colleagues.  (If it weren’t for the fact that I’ll have synchronous sessions as well, perhaps my students would wonder if I’m dead.) But if I re-record instead, I’ll have a hard time escaping the conclusion that I’m doing a whole enormous pile of work for little, if any, benefit.

Here’s the thing that online teaching has made clear: a lecture** is two things. It’s content (the information presented), and it’s presentation (the delivery of the lecture, including the exact words and graphics used to convey the content). Reusing content is uncontroversial: nobody thinks that a course needs to be (or should be) reinvented from the ground up every year. (That’s not to endorse a course that never changes, of course; let’s hope everyone here is capable of the nuanced thinking involved in recognizing the difference.)  Does reusing the performance seem lazy and unprofessional? Yeah, I can’t help thinking that too.  But here are a few reasons why my intuitive reaction is probably mistaken.

  • Of the two, surely course content is where the intellectual substance lies. That’s not to suggest that performance is unimportant – we’ve all suffered through awful lectures by instructors who didn’t care about that part of it. But it’s bizarre that we should worry more about recycled performance than about recycled content.
  • Nobody objects to re-using a textbook. In fact, when a textbook publisher updates performance without much change to content – by publishing a new but barely-different edition, intended only to squash the used-copy market – we get very upset. (This would be a good place to remind you that that’s NOT what the 2nd edition of The Scientist’s Guide to Writing is for!) What makes a (recorded) lecture different?
  • If recorded lectures can be reused, we can make them a lot better. Teaching effort is a limited commodity, and if each recorded lecture is disposable, to be used once and replaced at the next course offering, an instructor can’t afford to do the best possible job. Imagine instead that I could spend four times as long making each performance exquisite, with the tradeoff of refreshing each only every four years. Surely this would be a pedagogical gain?
  • We don’t object to reusing performances in other media. I’m listening to recorded music as I write this, and the fact that I’ve listened to Taylor Swift’s Evermore before doesn’t make me think I should ask her to re-record it for me this time. I’ve watched every episode of M*A*S*H repeatedly, as I have Forgetting Sarah Marshall, and as I’m likely to with Schitt’s Creek. Sure, live music and live theatre are rewarding – but they’re a minor fraction of the way most of us consume that kind of content, in part because recorded performances can be of extremely high quality.

There’s one more reason to believe my intuition is wrong. While most of us were launched suddenly and involuntarily into online teaching as the pandemic spread, a year ago, we all have colleagues who are expert, professional online educators. You may or may not know a lot about their courses – a lot of folks don’t – but I can tell you that many of their online courses are superb. And those experts don’t rerecord all their content for each new offering.

I could go on. I can make arguments for reposting my old lecture recordings (sorry, performances) that absolutely convince the rational part of my brain. Problem is, the rational part of my brain isn’t alone in my skull. The (shall we say) less rational part of my brain insists it would be lazy and unprofessional, and while that part of my brain may not be rational, it’s pretty loud.

What do you think? If you’re in the same situation, what do you plan to do? If you’re a student, or a student’s parent, just how scandalized would you be?

© Stephen Heard  April 20, 2021

Image: a still from my Entomology lecture on the Order Odonata (dragonflies and damselflies).


*^Lest that sound too accusatory, I should point out that I am one of those people who has a hard time with change. Which is why it took a pandemic to push me into doing some things in my teaching that I should have done long ago.

**^I’ll use the term loosely. Much of what’s done in a good lecture isn’t lecturing; and lecturing done well is a form of active learning, not its opposite

 

18 thoughts on “How scandalized should folks be if I re-use my prerecorded lectures?

  1. Elizabeth Moon

    As neither a student not a typical student’s parent* I think reusing a good recorded lecture is a fine idea, for the reasons you suggest. I listen to my favorite recordings of music over and over and over again–I re-read books until they fall apart and then (often enough) buy another copy of the same book.

    *We do have a student in the household: adult, autistic, and capable of only one course at a time. He has done well this past year with online instruction as there’s no classroom noise to distract him in Zoom classes.

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    1. ScientistSeesSquirrel Post author

      Thanks, Elizabeth, glad to have your perspective here. Your point about your adult student is an excellent one. We’ve seen this year that different modes of delivery (not just for teaching, thinking conferences too) suit different people, for many reasons. A decision to go back entirely to our pre-pandemic approaches is an implicit decision to favour those for whom that worked well, while disfavouring those who are served better by alternative modes of delivery!

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  2. André Sá

    I think there are good and bad reasons for reusing recorded classes. During synchronous classes or meetings with students on the previous year, if you find several students had a misconception of a topic, it probably makes you want to rerecord a particular class cause some information there was misleading or it could have been better explained now that you know what students are struggling in understanding. In this way, a good professor would rerecord this classroom cause they know this next semester yo will find students stumbling on the same misconception. Another good reason to rerecord a class would be some current advancements that professor feels the need to discuss (I guess depending on the course you might be more prone to update classes every single year).

    Also a bad teacher will give the same classes year after year, in spite of students feedback, either online or offline.

    In a way, professor also have the opportunity to, instead of rerecording the whole 1hour class to update/improve a single 5min topic, he or she can also simply add an extra 5min new recording to the course correcting or further discussing the particular topic.

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  3. polmng

    Nice post Steve, some interesting food for thought.

    IMHO, we care less about the reuse of content – because our fields (generally) move slowly, and the accumulation and transformation of knowledge is incremental. The way a course is delivered, should be dynamic and responsive to the learners (and that response isn’t just based on the content – but rather on relationships and rapport). In my experience, the qualities of the class (e.g. size, # of reliable speaker-uppers, proportion of EAL students, presence of a particularly keen student) have enormous implications for how a course is presented/delivered.

    If I were in the position to be teaching an online course year over year, my approach would be:
    1. Re-record 25% of the lectures each year (spread the work), keep things rejuvenated.
    2. Ensure that any “on camera” time would be up-to-date… I would liken this to showing up to an internet date, and finding out someone used an old photograph. This could be done with a short 1-3 minute video uploaded to the LMS that would play before the lecture.

    I think this also shows the importance of multiple shorter videos, rather than fewer longer ones. It somehow seems much less daunting to re-record a bunch of short smaller ones.

    Thanks for sharing your thoughts on this.
    P

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  4. Pavel Dodonov

    I personally can’t think of any good reason not to reuse recorded lectures if they are good enough. In other words, I can’t think of any good reason to rerecord lectures if the recorded ones are already good enough. This year I’m fully reusing lectures I recorded last semester.

    But I think it depends on what you had in mind when first recording it. If you recorded the lecture thinking specifically of last semester, it might be good the re-record it because it might not be fully adequate to the new circumstances. I recorded my lectures thinking of making out of them a full videocourse in biostatistics, freely available for all interested, and put a lot of effort into making them the best I could. Including custom-drawn unicorns and a lot of editing – for instance, today I spent about three hours working on a twenty-minutes tutorial. It’s highly unlikeliy I would improve their quality by rerecording them, so there would be no point in doing this.

    I also think that lectures are not the most important part of teaching. I’m using problem-based learning and providing lectures, written material, ted talks and activities for people to work on and it’s been working pretty well, I think.

    So, summarizing, I’m actually surprised to know that people might be against reusing recorded lectures 🙂

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  5. Jeff Hines

    As a student, I am not a fan of recorded lectures. I think that the discussion of whether it is okay to re-use them highlights the reason why.

    Using recorded lectures, and then taking it a step further and re-using those recorded lectures, removes a lot of the dynamic nature of a university program. The quality of the discussions (between students, between student and prof, during class, after class) goes down as the ideas are not fresh in everybody’s minds. I am more likely to have an impromptu discussion about a topic that interests, excites, or challenges me when I know that the other party just talked about the same idea.

    It also makes it more challenging to be engaged during the learning time. Using your Taylor Swift example, put in order of engagement: listening to a CD, watching a live stream, and going to a concert. Professors complain about student engagement, but then seem keen to put their own lectures at the same value as something that can be listened to in the background while doing something else.

    Do each of the above give the same value for the tuition?

    I view lecturers, instructors, and professors differently (more highly) than I do content creators. A university program should not move towards a Youtube channel delivery model.

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    1. Juan Antonio CARRETERO

      Indeed, as an instructor, I expect my students to be engaged. It follows logically that my students should expect me to be engaging and engaged in the whole process. On that, I fully agree with you.

      This past year I had two models. In one course, I pre-recorded what I feel are high-quality lectures (over 50 small bits on average 15 min long that each took about 3 hours to produce, mostly because the contents had to be massaged to fit in bit-size bits) that students had to watch (one or two at the time) before each synchronous session. In these synchronous/live sessions we had the chance to do more examples than I have even done in any other course before. These live sessions were recorded as well in case students had to go back to review the material. In the other course, I had something that replicated more closely what a ‘traditional’ course would look like with synchronous lectures and tutorial sessions as scheduled by the registrar given the standard course description (in my case 3 hours of lecture every week and 3 hours of tutorial every other week). Although the results from the final exams for the second course are still to come, I can most certainly say that I felt a much higher level of engagement from the students in the first course where I had more frequent tutorials rather than the second as there was just not enough time to do both things in the regular sessions (deliver new material and solve loads of problems) so by the time the tutorial session comes most people have forgotten what we dealt with almost two weeks prior.

      Therefore, I think something may be missing in your interpretation of Steve’s piece is that the delivery of the course is not just based on the pre-recorded high-quality lectures but rather on them plus, equally (and in some cases much more) important is the synchronous tutorials/discussion/reflection sessions.

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  6. davidhunt4734

    As someone who has also gone through this involuntary transition to online delivery (albeit from the TA side, but hopes to make a career of teaching), I see this as an opportunity to take the best of both worlds.

    Many courses could do with a flipped classroom approach. While this has usually meant readings ahead of time, with Q+A or other interactive elements during the face-to-face time, we could use our new found expertise to go beyond readings, and do pre-recorded lectures (or readings, or both) as the work ahead of time, and then use the face-to-face time for interactive elements.

    Obviously, this will vary for classes. An intro lecture at a large university where most of the Q+A is being done by TAs anyway can probably have the prof focus on updating and polishing the “performance”, since that will benefit the most students. In a smaller courses (upper year or smaller schools) where interaction with the prof is more normal, the interactive time can focus on things that can’t be delivered passively, with pre-recorded lectures freeing this valuable time up. You can then also cover the bases for people with different learning styles, and have textbook readings supplement the recordings for people who prefer to read content, or maybe those who just need it explained multiple ways before it sticks.

    Certain aspects of in-person teaching can never be replaced online, but we would be stupid to throw away all the lessons and skills we have learned teaching online.

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  7. Susan Lingle

    The value of posting a re-recorded lecture – in my view – is that you can focus on the synchronous portion of the class. It may enable a prof to successfully ‘flip’ the class. That is where the great interaction will happen. So it is a win win, albeit we’ll have to find ways to modify content as time goes by. In reality, does it work? Do students review the pre-recorded lectures so that you can focus on discussions or other exercises during the synchronous sessions?

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    1. Juan Antonio CARRETERO

      What I did in the fall was to have a low-stakes test at the beginning of every single lecture (5 to 10 min). The test could be about the contents of the assigned readings or videos or, if you are feeling a bit whimsical, an Easter egg in your pre-recorded lecture. Although this may be a burden to you or your TAs, it forces the student to watch the material ahead of the lectures. Also, that problem is the first one we would solve together as part of the live session for that day.

      I must admit, at the end of the term I did a review of this with the students and a good number of them said one test per day was too much. They stated that once per week may have been enough. However, they admitted that it forced them to watch the videos ahead of the lectures. You can draw your own conclusions from that.

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  8. Jeremy Fox

    As you say, we often assign the same textbook readings from one year to the next. And we often reuse old exam questions. And we often reuse old lecture prep even when we’re giving the lecture in person. So when I think about the pros and cons of reusing my prerecorded video lectures, and more broadly about how to structure a course (e.g., should it be a flipped course), the question “Is it somehow lazy of me to reuse my prerecorded video lectures?” doesn’t really come up for me. Just as the question “Is it somehow lazy of me to assign textbook readings?” doesn’t come up.

    I’d even go a step further: I don’t think it’s lazy of an instructor to use *other people’s* prerecorded lectures (assuming that you have appropriate permission to do so, of course). I mean, how is that different from assigning students to read a textbook or paper you didn’t write?

    As a prof, I think a big part of your job is to be a good “tour guide” to the subject. Or even a “DJ” of the subject. A big part of your job is (and has long been) filtering, curating, discussing, and remixing context that’s been produced by others. And I do think profs have a lot of value to add here, even in the age of YouTube, Wikipedia, and Google.

    For instance, I teach intro biostats. Wikipedia stats articles are a very mixed bag. The top hit YouTube videos on many statistical topics often are pretty bad, in my view. And the top Google search results on most any intro-level statistical topic are *very* superficial. A big part of my role as an intro biostats instructor is to point students towards *good* intro biostats content (by me, and others). Where what’s “good” for me and my students might differ somewhat from what’s “good” for some other instructor and that other instructor’s students. Rather like how two tour guides can both be good even if they don’t show you all the same sights and provide you with all the same information. And how two DJs can both be good even if they don’t remix the same songs.

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  9. Jeremy Fox

    Another thought: we don’t ordinarily mark students on the effort they put into the course–how many hours they spent studying or whatever. At most, only a small portion of the mark might depend on some putative correlate of effort (e.g., a small portion of the mark depends on attendance). Rather, we mark students on whether they’ve mastered the material. We mark them on outputs, not inputs.

    So why would we evaluate profs on the basis of inputs, not outputs? On how much work they put into prepping the course, rather than on how effective the course was at achieving its goals? Not a rhetorical question. Maybe there’s a good answer I haven’t thought of?

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    1. ScientistSeesSquirrel Post author

      Totally agree with this – but in a way it’s maybe irrelevant. Because the scandalized reactions I’m imagining will come in part, at least, from students and parents, who do not evaluate profs or have much awareness of the pedagogy of evaluation!

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      1. Jeremy Fox

        To which my response is, students and their parents are not good judges of pedagogical effectiveness, at least at the university level. My understanding is that, in experimental and quasi-experimental studies, there is zero (or even a slightly negative) correlation on average between student opinion of the quality of instruction, and student mastery of the material. So as an instructor, if my pedagogical choices upset a few students or their parents, well, tough. As an instructor, it’s not my job to make you, or your parents, happy (or unhappy). It’s my job to teach you intro biostats (or whatever I’m teaching).

        (I recognize that not all instructors may be in a position to take this stance, due to precarcity of employment, but that’s a different conversation.)

        Another thought: just how common are these hypothetical students and parents, who are upset that their lazy profs are forcing them to “teach themselves” the course material from reused video lectures? Are there survey data on this?

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        1. Juan Antonio CARRETERO

          I completely agree with you, Jeremy. I consider myself a fairly decent instructor (at the very least, I care about my delivery and how it is received), but I have had the reputation that I make my students work hard. However, when I poll them on how much time they actually spend on the lectures (pre-COVID data), I get that they spend a (small) fraction of one hour for every hour of lecture, on average. They seem to spend more time watching videos on solving puzzles or obtaining the next trophy in their latest videogame than reading material for the previous or last lecture. So, even when one makes them uncomfortable as they need to work more than they do with other subjects, I respond to that… well, “tough” but I have done my job (or part of it, that is).
          Incidentally, and for the same reason, even though I seem to get an excellent rapport with my students and I get them to engage in class, I know I will never get the best professor of the year as I have been told repeated times that student grades have a lot to do with that when they vote. This used to torment me… it no longer bothers me (or maybe just enough that I have to put it here 😉 ).

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  10. ccerebrations

    I’m a grad student so I’m both a student and someone who lectures. I see no issue with reusing recorded lectures from the past year. But I don’t think they should necessarily be reused year after year for a decade. Could use this opportunity to flip the classroom – could you have some synchronous video discussions? Can you continuing improving or adding to the course in other ways now that the time you would have done to record lectures has been freed up? Like to me reusing lectures seems like a way to buy time to trial and error with other online classroom techniques. Can you make your current lectures more universally accessible – transcripts, captions, etc? Because foremost that is something a lot of classes are lacking but that would also be a strong argument for the reuse as well.

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    1. ScientistSeesSquirrel Post author

      Yes, these are all good points. And one of the reasons I’d like to keep lectures is that I’ve invested the effort in captioning, etc. My students love that, but it’s a HUGE effort and if I had to redo it every year, the rest of the course prep would necessarily suffer!

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