Video vs Face-to-Face in Classroom Lectures

What Video Can and Can’t Do for Collaboration: A Case Study, by Ellen Isaacs and John Tang., details a case study with a goal to better understand how to make effective use of video in remote collaborative systems to support users’ rich set of existing interaction skills, rather than requiring people to adapt to arbitrary constraints of technology-driven designs. Isaacs and Tang compare a small team’s interactions through a desktop video conferencing prototype with face-to-face interactions and phone conversations. The researchers found that adding a video channel, when compared to audio only, improves the ability to show understanding, forecast responses, give non-verbal information, enhance verbal descriptions, manage pauses and express attitudes. However, video conferencing was still found to be inferior to face-to-face interaction, in which it is difficult in video interaction to notice peripheral cues, control the floor, have side conversations, point to things or manipulate real-world objects.

But how does video compare to face-to-face when real-time interaction is unnecessary (for example, in a class room lecture setting)?

The concept of pre-recorded video lectures has definitely been around for a while. The physics class I took in high-school, back in 2005, made heavy use of pre-recorded lectures from Professor Paul G. Hewitt from the University of Hawaii. Many universities, including our own, offer distance learning programs. Recently, there has been a push to offer university level courses for free online through the use of educational videos. Recent notable examples include Kahn AcademyMIT’s OpenCourseWare,  UdacityCoursera, and edX.

One of the key advantages to offering lectures through the use of pre-recorded video is that students can learn at their own pace. I’ve found that my mind will sometimes wander in the class room, and I am left with insufficient context to resume the rest of the lecture. Pre-recorded video lectures solve this problem by allowing students to repeat or rewind the lecture back to where students began to lose focus. Another advantage is that pre-recorded videos can teach at a faster pace. Often, I can comprehend a courses’ lecture material at 1.5 times the speed of the video was recorded at (allowing me to finish a 1 hour lecture in only 40 minutes). Of course, the tradeoff here is that student’s are unable to ask questions to the professor in real time – and instead, may have to rely on class forums or discussion groups to answer potential questions.

From my personal experiences, I believe that video lectures offer many further potential untapped benefits to educators. One example is that online video players can offer educators feedback where a lecture may warrant improvement. Educators may find that students will often rewind or repeat a section of video that is particularly hard to understand, or may need further elaboration. Educators may also find that students will speed up or skip past sections of video that may be considered unnecessary fluff (such as when a lecturer wanders off topic).