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3.2 Online materials

Posting materials, such as lecture notes and copies of PowerPoint slides, has become commonplace. These could be within a virtual learning environment (VLE), such as Blackboard or Moodle, or on the course web-site, intranet or shared drive. If learning in lectures is to be an active experience for students, you will need to have a clear strategy for the use of these materials. If they are too detailed and follow the lecture very closely, they could be seen as a substitute for the lecture by the student. You may well want them to be so, thereby giving students greater flexibility in their modes of study. In this case, however, you will need to address the issue of students merely downloading the materials and not actually using them, but being lulled into a false sense of security that they can use them ‘later’.

Online materials can support student learning more effectively if they are integrated with the seminar programme and related to assessment. If your course is in a VLE, you can use its features to organise the materials within the scheduled programme and, if you choose, make them available for only a specific period of time. This can provide an incentive for students to access the materials shortly after the lecture.

More creative use of online materials as a follow-up to lectures would include interactive ‘study guide’ questions. For example, if you were covering a particular model in the lecture, you could set a series of questions online for students to test, consolidate and deepen their understanding of the model. These questions could be multiple choice, problems or manipulating graphs. You could choose whether to make the answers available online. Question sets are readily available, whether through the Economics Network question bank, the Economics Network links to resources section or from textbook publishers’ sites or electronic resources.

If you are using online study guides, you will need to decide what incentives there will be for students to use them. How closely will you link them to assessment? Will you encourage students to work in small groups and what are the incentive mechanisms for encouraging them to do so?

Lecture capture

Many lecture theatres nowadays are equipped with the facility for recording the lecture. The simplest form is a recording where the audio is what you say and the visual is whatever is presented on the screen, perhaps just from the lectern or your laptop computer, but perhaps also from a visualiser or interactive whiteboard. Another form is similar to this but with the addition of a ‘talking head’ of you, which appears in a small panel on the screen when the students play it back. When no PowerPoint or other image is displayed on the screen it can be set up so that just the image of you appears in full screen.

Students can access the recording through the module VLE or intranet and play it back in their own time. Normally you can choose when to make the recording available. You might make it permanently available – at least until the end of any resits – or you might prefer to make it available for just a short time after the lecture to encourage students not to get behind.

The advantage of lecture capture is that students can revisit the lecture as many times as they like until they feel they have fully understood it and/or have a comprehensive set of notes. It is also a safety net for students who have missed the lecture, say for reasons of illness. What is more, it allows students to concentrate on understanding during the lecture and not to worry too much about noting everything down.

A possible disadvantage is that lecture attendance will fall as students know that they can always access the lecture online. Where lecture capture has been used, however, most lecturers report that attendance has not fallen, but rather that students see the live lecture and the recording as complements, not substitutes.

The handbook chapter, Creative uses of in-class technology, looks at lecture capture in more detail.

Flipping the lecture

The practice of ‘flipping the classroom’ has developed in many universities and colleges, especially in the USA. In the context of lectures, the flipped classroom is where the lecture is recorded in a studio or empty classroom, or in the lecturer’s office or home, and the students access it and watch it in their own time. Alternatively, the lecturer may select online material for the students to watch or read, which may be in the form of podcasts of lectures in the public domain. Or it could be a mix of the two.

Having watched the material, students then come to class – which might be in the full-sized lecture group – and have an interactive session. This can involve exercises, problem solving, case study work, role playing, etc. The session may be in the form of a workshop (see case study 2) where students work individually or in pairs; this is more suited to a traditional fixed-seating lecturer theatre. Alternatively, it could involve small-group work if the room has loose chairs and the students can move around.

Flipping has proved particularly suitable for many US courses, where often there are solely large classes rather than separate lectures and seminars. This allows work done in class to be more interactive and for deeper learning to take place. In the UK system, however, it is less relevant, given that interactive learning can take place in seminars/workshops – if appropriately designed (see the handbook chapter on Seminars), especially if the lectures themselves also contain interactive elements.

Nevertheless, the advent of facilities to record lectures and to integrate external materials within them does give universities greater flexibility in allocating both staff time and rooms. One way in which flipping could take place would be for all the lecture materials to be pre-recorded and for the ‘lecture’ sessions to be used solely for workshops on more technical issues and for the seminars to concentrate more on debate and policy issues.

Recording of lectures in the studio/office/empty classroom, which could be of varying lengths to suit the material, is particularly suitable for courses which use problem-based learning. This is examined in the handbook chapter on Problem-Based Learning.