In the past two decades, the generations of online education have progressively advanced to include online course support websites offering digital learning resources, synchronous or asynchronous audio or video of class presentations, virtual learning environments, social media enhanced interaction, and hybrid or blended variants that attempt to deploy the best of each. Until recent improvements in broadly accessible high-quality video cameras, editing, and hosting resources, well-produced instructional video was only the product of large-budget professional operations. Coupling the desire for effective teaching by faculty and the need for high quality, effective learning resources by students, instructor-level production of digital video with the high information density that is a characteristic of a classroom presentation is now possible. While the learning curve of any new presentation technology can be steep for some, faculty should be encouraged by advances in production technology that worldwide have enabled hours of new video to be uploaded to the web every second. Social media and mobile learning are increasingly a part of student lives as well, and this presents a next-generation opportunity to deploy a learning platform that is entertaining, informative, and cutting-edge in assisting students in their achievement of academic goals.
For faculty, using new tools that pace the advancements of instructional technology is a recognized responsibility in their profession. Although skill sets and quality outcomes using any presentation technology are highly variable, video is a long-standing, recognized, and effective tool in instructional support. Many faculty are advanced practitioners of video use in a learning environment. By the nature of their profession, teachers are expected to be effective presenters and this is often preceded by adaptation to and adoption of new instructional technology.
SURMOUNTING THE LIVE CLASS TO ONLINE 2-D CHALLENGE WITH NEW MEDIA AND COGNITIVE NEUROSCIENCE
Teachers at all levels of instruction use “prompts” for their classroom presentations. These prompts routinely take the form of notes, bullets on PowerPoint slides, overheads, or other outlines or techniques that support an organized, effective delivery. As well, a live presentation enables a presenter to survey and interact with the class by scanning students for eye contact, attentiveness, and facial cues that feedback to the teacher that pace and delivery are appropriate for the complexity of the topic. The richness of a live classroom presentation is enabled by the human social connection and classroom community we can understand as “education with a pulse.” In the digital world of online pedagogy, education with a pulse has proven to be one of its greatest challenges.
Working on camera for an online course, “live classroom” prompts and feedbacks can fail for many presenters who are not exceptionally talented, charismatic, and experienced in the medium. The innate coldness and isolation of the medium and its distributed delivery thus can be magnified for students. The umms and ahhhs, pregnant pauses, and vocal tics—often repeated “comfort” words or phrases, of extemporaneous oral presentation—even for skilled classroom teachers—can be magnified to point of listener tedium and eventual attention loss and disengagement. For presentations recorded for web delivery only, direct use of live classroom techniques can yield ineffective and poor quality outcomes in student satisfaction and learning. In this case, the delivery distracts from the learning destination. Even the celebrated online TED lectures limit their presentations to six to eighteen minutes in recognition of this challenge.
Prompting using a camera-mounted teleprompter is a decades-old proven technique to engage an audience during broadcast presentation. The presenter-to-audience eye contact afforded by the technique simulates that found in live presentations, effectively establishing the human connection we feel “in real world”. While trained actors can memorize short bursts of dialogue, on-camera professional presenters doing long and often-complex oral presentations have found success in cue cards and teleprompters, and faculty doing camera work in teaching should take their “cue” from these professionals who know their medium well. Teachers trained and practiced in this technique can magnify their communication effectiveness when producing academic content for online access.
Doculectures use background music to aid in generating and maintaining student interest and attention during “high cognitive load” information intensive presentations. Kiger (1989) studied the effects of music load on reading-comprehension tasks and found that slow, soft, repetitive music with a low information load aided learning. Music’s impact on learning is confounded by numerous variables such a task complexity, an individual’s psychosocial characteristics, and the music itself (Doyle and Furnham, 2012). In film, musical soundtracks “can influence the interpretation, emotional impact, and remembering of film information” (Boltz, 2004). Cognition and emotion are critically linked, and mood induction by music can enhance empathy (Gilet, 2008). Our understanding of the role of emotion in “higher” cognition is an area of active study (Perlovsky, 2012). As well, using background cognition challenges can increase attention and add interest variation to learning challenges, for example straining to read an unfamiliar font or trying to have a conversation in a noisy environment. Research shows that this “disfluency—the subjective experience of difficulty associated with cognitive operations—leads to deeper processing” (Diemand-Yauman, Oppenheimer, and Vaughan, 2011).
Translation of existing course content to the doculecture format is direct and like any educational resource, updating will require effort. Retaining the video editing project file allows for facile insertion of updated content into a NLE project containing video, data and image files. Periodic updating of the lecture script and redelivery on camera makes a new lecture track that can be edited into the open project file, preserving all of the audio-visual elements in the previous production thus minimizing the overall effort.
EVIDENCE OF STUDENT SATISFACTION AND QUALITY OF DOCULECTURE PEDAGOGY
The doculecture pedagogy has been fully deployed in the difficult and demanding upper division and graduate level conjoint OER course, Principles of Sustainability. The course has been formally delivered for two semesters to over seventy students in the 2011-12 academic year at the University of Idaho and Washington State University, in the Pacific Northwestern United States. The course has fifty segments containing about thirty hours of doculectures, and requires students to read over six hundred pages of textbook and scholarly readings, answer over two hundred review questions, participate in reflective discussion responding to segment prompts, write two or three analytical papers of twelve to twenty five pages, and complete a comprehensive final exam. Anonymous enrolled student course evaluations have been highly positive. Illustrative examples of student feedback when surveyed about the course include the following: "World class course.” “This class is amazingly well developed.” “Excellent combination of hard and soft sciences.” “Great use of the humanities to engage students.” “Made learning a lot of information engaging and easy.” “Preferred this course over my live courses.” “I retained much more than usual, and I believe this is because the delivery appeals to multiple learning styles.” “This instructor will leave a legacy of transforming education and expanding hard core distance learning to pop culture.” “I really like the real world relationships to the course materials.” “The relevant footage and information is outstanding.” “I'm not just saying this, but Principles of Sustainability is by FAR the best online course I've ever taken.” “The quality of the doculecture productions are impressive, and often make me feel like I'm watching a more academic version of a PBS show instead of a course lecture.” “I love this new way of learning.” “It's like being in the classroom only better.” “I feel connected, a part of the learning process.” “I cannot believe the quality of this University produced material - it looks like PBS or Discovery Channel.” “Amazing course.” “I am learning so much.” “The lectures are amazing.” and “It is like having a real class...”
Since its premiere in 2011, the Principles of Sustainability course and its doculectures have received two prestigious film industry awards. Students in the course are now invited partners in the PBS/Detroit Public Television “Corps of Discovery” research project, a joint venture in education and broadcasting designed to promote the central idea of worldwide sustainability and presenting a “case study for a new media singularity for sustainability—crossing institutional domains—where unbiased digital data and resources are rapidly researched and reviewed, supporting a broadcast outreach for national and international public engagement.” In addition, the Principles of Sustainability course website is already Google search rank number one for “sustainability course” and for “principles of sustainability,” a disciplinary significant term. Over 100 filmmakers and scholars across the globe, and numerous students, contributed to this course. Available on computers, smartphones, video game consoles, streaming media players, and IPTV (internet protocol TV), the Creative Commons 3.0 licensed doculectures are loaded almost 2000 times per week in 80+ countries by formal and informal learners.
Students are the direct beneficiary of better approaches to instruction. The rigorous quantitative assessment of a universal “better” in an arena of rapidly changing technology, and site or situation specific implementation differentials, is challenged—and makes global findings difficult to produce and re-produce. The rapid development and deployment of online education has led to a concomitant and now continual “culture shock” that is potentially disruptive of many of the proven models of effective pedagogy. One universal pedagogical truth is that “education with a pulse,” the close human interaction that binds the learning ecology of student and teacher—is as important in online education as it is in live instruction. As millennia of history in education have taught human civilization, teachers and institutions who recognize and understand this human dynamic will succeed, and those that do not will fail. Our successes will be manifest in the creative inspiration and learning success of our students, while our failure will waste the human potential and capacity of those who we presume to teach. We are called to succeed in this great work.