Will “rock star” academics’ video lectures replace live professors?

Distance learning begs the question of whether technology will lead to a great consolidation of the academic ranks as recorded lectures of “rock star” academics displace your local in-person lecturer. My little experiment leads me to think that there is no replacing an in-person lecture. If students’ learning is a priority, make them come to class and don’t assume a video lecture is a substitute.

Class cancellations in the spring 2018 term due to an ice storm meant that one more lecture of my international finance class was cancelled in section 2 versus section 1. This meant that I could record the section 1 lecture on Thursday and post a recording of it before the next Tuesday’s class in section 2. My university allows up to 49% of lectures in non-distance learning classes to be virtual. Up until this time, I had conducted 100% of my lectures as live with no video recording at the University of Louisiana at Lafayette.

I told my section 2 class that they were required to view the video all the way through and take notes from a link that I posted on the class-management, Moodle page only accessible to students. The video was made unlisted so that it did not show up in search and suggested features in YouTube. That link was clicked 31 times out of a class of 35 students. Some students likely clicked the link multiple times, and several did not bother to click it at all. The average watch time on the 75 minute video was 10 minutes or about 13%. Compare that to a typical lecture leading up to the virtual where 31 out of 35 students attend and are in their seats for over 95% of the lecture. Obviously, the in-person lecture is going to lead to better learning outcomes.

It did seem to on the test. I curved the video lecture’s test based on their lower scores so the curved results in the video lecture section and the regular lecture sections curved scores are similar. The raw, uncurved average in the video lecture section was 66% and was 74%. The raw medians in the video and in-person lecture section was 69% and 75% respectively. There were 5 lectures covering the test in question. For the video section, 4-out-of-5 lectures were in-person lectures. For the other section, 5-out-of-5 lectures were in-person. There is every indication that, if I held more video lectures, the video section’s scores would have been abysmal. I do give different test questions in each section and some of the variation in test scores could reflect the different questions, but the question topics were almost identical. The question topics should be entirely predictable to a student taking notes in the lectures.

I used 3 cameras and edited the video with screen shots of the lecture slides at various points in addition to my working out examples on the board. Nevertheless, I did not edit our the normal pauses mid-lecture that an in-person student would have sat through. For fun, I have an entertainment oriented channel with over 4,000 subscribers on YouTube. Its typically, 15 minute videos with a very focused niche audience only average 50% audience retention. Longer videos typically have lower percentages viewed.

50% audience retention will lead to failing grades in education. That is why in-person lectures and in-person education will dominate video lectures. Since academic “rock stars” can record videos but cannot appear in-person to thousands of sections across thousands of universities, the local professor or lecturer will be much more effective in educating students than on-demand, video education.

Social pressure keeps most students from walking out mid-lecture. There is no such social pressure when it comes to watching a video. Other parts of the live experience may also facilitate learning in ways we don’t understand. There is no way that every lecture can be as entertaining multi-million dollar budget Hollywood blockbuster. That is why video education will fail, and in-person education is here to stay.


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