While sitting in the auditorium for my last strategy and conflict lecture, I looked around at the handful of other present students. It seemed that the amount of people present at lecture had peaked in the first week of class. I have noticed a trend in every lecture course: the number of students in attendance on a given day dwindles throughout the semester until only a fraction of the original class remains at the final lecture. Even those present seemed to unengaged with what was being taught. In the final lecture, most of my classmates were shopping on Amazon or checking Facebook. I for one was too busy thinking about why nobody cared about lecture to even remember what the professor talked about that day.
Lectures are a mainstay at Harvard and colleges around the world, yet students rarely show up, and when they do, they are often disengaged. Recently, this issue has been confronted by professors who have created policies that regulate students’ usage of electronics in class. These policies range from a total ban of electronics to designating particular sections of a room in which to use laptops and other devices. However, this fails to address the root of the problem: the nature of the lecture itself.
Traditional lectures are ineffective and largely waste the valuable time of college students. In fact, students being taught with traditional lectures are 1.5 times as likely to fail as their counterparts being taught with more active learning models. It is more effective to convey information to students by embracing the technologies of the 21st century than by lecturing at them in traditional formats.
A simple recording of the lecture is better than a traditional lecture due to their effectiveness as well as their increased inclusivity. As more colleges have begun recording lectures and posting them online for students to access at their leisure, there has been increasing resistance to this move by instructors, and many instructors believe that recording lectures depresses classroom attendance.
While these instructors are partially correct, the benefits of having an easily accessible version of the lecture outweigh the marginal decreases in attendance. A 2019 study at the University of Leeds highlighted the minor reduction in attendance that is often seen when lectures are recorded. This study found that unrecorded lecture had an 86.1 percent attendance rate, and recorded lectures had an 84.6 percent attendance rate. While this is a statistically significant difference, other studies have found that there is a similarly small or statistically insignificant change in attendance.
Once this minor decrease in physical attendance is factored against the extra time students spend watching recorded lectures, the net result is that students attend more class — including physically and recorded online — when there is an option to view recorded lectures.
There is also evidence that students who view recorded lectures score higher on exams than their counterparts who do not view recorded lectures. This effect is strongest when the lectures are viewed close to exam dates and demonstrates how the flexibility of recorded lectures allows students to tailor their learning and studying schedules around already busy lives.
Recorded lectures also make courses more accessible. For many students who are handicapped, a traditional format lecture is not conducive to effectively taking notes. Recorded lectures help make course accessible for students with hearing impairments or other disabilities.
Moreover, at a university that has students from 156 different countries, traditional lectures can present an unfair challenge to many students who speak English as a second language. The ability to pause and replay certain portions of lecture allows many who may struggle to understand what the lecturer is saying to hear it a second or third time. Furthermore, since more than half of users who utilize captions on videos are not hearing impaired, captions would benefit both the hearing impaired and as well as ESL students. Recorded lectures allow many ESL students to have the same opportunity to learn the lecture material as their cohorts.
There are numerous benefits to be gained from an increased use of lecture recordings at Harvard. They can raise exam grades, allow for greater flexibility, and increase lecture accessibility. The major fear associated with their broader implementation, that recorded lectures will decrease in-person lecture attendance, is almost entirely unfounded. Whatever minor decrease in lecture attendance that occurs from recording them is greatly offset by the many benefits offered. Harvard has partially embraced recorded lectures, but student experience will be vastly improved if all lectures at Harvard are recorded for online student viewing.
Colton J. Carpenter ’20, a Crimson Editorial editor, is a Government concentrator in Eliot House.