• September 1, 2015

Mass Video Courses May Free Up Professors for More Personalized Teaching

New York University plans to join the growing movement to publish academic material online as free, open courseware. But in addition to giving away content—something other colleges have done—NYU plans a more ambitious experiment. The university wants to explore ways to reprogram the roles of professors in large undergraduate classes, using technology to free them up for more personal instruction.

This fall NYU will start publishing free online videos for every lecture in as many as 10 courses. They include classes on New York City history, the biology of the human body, introductory sociology, and statistics.

Previous open-courseware projects tended to be text-based, with content like syllabi and lecture notes. NYU's site would expand the online library of academic videos available to the general public.

What's more unusual, though, is the vision to build souped-up versions of the material for NYU students only. Freed from the copyright restrictions of publishing on the open Web, these video courses would have live links to sources discussed by professors in passing, as well as pop-up definitions and interactive quizzes.

All of the content would be embedded in an academic social-networking platform, according to a concept paper provided to The Chronicle by Dalton Conley, dean of social sciences, who is leading the online project.

Most striking of all is what this plan could mean for professors. "The real payoff is in the additional faculty time it frees up for one-on-one instruction," Mr. Conley writes in the paper. "Rather than have to pay our research faculty to stand in front of a room and teach the same classes over and over (after all, when's the last time Calculus I really changed?), with one fewer course to teach, they can now take on the role of faculty curators."

Mr. Conley compares such curators to Oxford and Cambridge dons of the past, albeit "minus the sherry wine." They would serve as intellectual guides, meeting with students in person and online, requiring them to attend events like departmental seminars, and involving the best ones in their own research.

For NYU's steep tuition—about $39,000—students would get an experience that feels more like graduate school, Mr. Conley says.

"We're faced with the question of how do we justify the existence of a Research I institution that's tuition-driven," he says. "I think that integrating the students into the research life of the university is the answer to that."

Globe-Hopping Studies

But unlike those who studied with dons of yesteryear, these students will be located around the world.

Mr. Conley will be part of a small group of professors testing this online model in an international pilot project expected to begin in 2011. He plans to teach introductory sociology classes at two or three places around the world, an itinerary that could include Abu Dhabi or Florence, Italy.

The course sections will run simultaneously. Core material will come from the already-created online content, with local facilitators running the discussions in each country. Mr. Conley will travel to all the sites for intensive workshops.

Stephen E. Carson, president of the OpenCourseWare Consortium, says he has not heard of any other efforts like NYU's. Some professors have taken similar steps informally, he notes. At the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, home of OpenCourseWare, the granddaddy of these online projects, some professors let students study Web-based materials at night. The goal is to devote more class time to working on problems rather than lecturing, says Mr. Carson, who is also director of external relations at the MIT courseware project.

Professors who assign some sophisticated online material produced by the Open Learning Initiative at Carnegie Mellon University have reported similar changes in classroom focus.

But if students are paying so much money for an elite education, would they really consider fewer face-to-face lectures more valuable? Wouldn't they want live lectures by rock-star professors—professors like, say, Princeton's Cornel West?

"Maybe this doesn't work for a superstar, overenrolled person like Cornel West," Mr. Conley says. "It would work for me, because I don't think the students are coming to NYU to see me in person. "

He acknowledges that there could be negative consequences for student learning: "Is it more of a sink or swim? Or could someone skate though with minimal interaction? Probably.

"But hopefully students who would be attracted to this kind of thing would be self-selected because they want to engage."


NYU Opens Up Online

These are the first courses that New York University plans to put online as part of its free open-courseware project.

American Literature I (Instructor: Cyrus Patell)
Calculus I (Instructor: Kiryl Tsishchanka)
Genomes and Diversity (Instructor: Mark Siegal)
Introduction to Sociology (Instructor: Harvey Molotch)
The Body: How It Works (Instructor: Burt Goldberg)
Human Genetics (Instructor: Justin Blau)
New York City: Social History (Instructor: Daniel Walkowitz)
Statistics for the Behavioral Sciences (Instructor: Elizabeth Bauer)
World Cultures: Ancient Israel (Instructor: Daniel Fleming)

Source: New York University


1. 11272784 - August 10, 2010 at 05:56 pm

This is a great idea. Keep the lectures online and preserve the in-class time for discussing case studies, answering questions, providing demonstrations, dealing with related issues and otherwise adding value that you never have time for when you use up all the class time delivering content.

2. milophd - August 10, 2010 at 10:17 pm

This may also free faculty up to get more research done, no?

3. jasmine - August 11, 2010 at 07:32 am

Assuming that the freed time actually were devoted to tutorials and not research, surely the number of them would be small and available only to a select elite group of star pupils. Is NYU really committed to broad undergraduate education?

4. bghansel - August 11, 2010 at 08:36 am

Well, it's certainly nice for the general public. I'm ready to continue my education by watching these videos.

5. millerdb - August 11, 2010 at 09:17 am

Based on my own, albeit limited, experience, this means of instruction can be quite successful. I did this sort of thing last Fall (and am doing it again this coming Fall) with a large (130 students) upper-division course at a Research Extensive university. It's only a third of the size of my other freshman course, but I thought it would be best to pilot this concept with more experienced students. 90% of the content was available as streaming video on password-protected servers and not available to the public due to copyright issues. The students and I met once weekly in a large lecture hall for additional content, discussion, questions & answers, etc. An additional hour discussion section was used for Honors students wishing to obtain Honors credit in the course. The outcome, in terms of student learning and engagement in course material, was outstanding. Almost half the class earned A's (I do not curve grades), and for the first time that I can recall, nobody failed the course. The student comments attested to their engagement in the course content, their ability to pause the videos to take better notes (one student bragged of taking 140 pages of typed notes), and the ability to rewatch portions of the videos they did not fully understand upon initial viewing. For such a project to be successful, I do caution that production values need to be high, as well as careful editing in post-production and narratives that invite engagement rather than boredom. (Reading a script is usually going to result in boring content, unless you are a "David Attenborough" type.) I invested 400 hours in producing 90 videos of varying lengths for this course. It was worthwhile, and I hope that NYU's project turns out to be a great success.

6. murleenray - August 11, 2010 at 10:00 am

As a novice instructor who is seriously interested in online instruction, I would love to know how millerdb recorded and edited the course videos. I am currently working with other instructors who have similar interests in online content and, together, we are always seeking the means and methods for delivering engaging online content to our students. I am starting my second semester in a pilot program that is designed with students who, due to their schedules, cannot attend f2f class sessions. As of now, this course work is largely text based. I would like to provide a more personal presence for the students. Any suggestions from any readers would be appreciated.

7. klblk - August 11, 2010 at 10:02 am

You mean like Oxbridge dons still do -- not the high-tech part, but the small group tutorials (generally one-on-two up to one-on-four).

I will be giving one lecture series on [Basketweaving] in the autumn term, and students will be have tutorials in [Basketweaving] during either autumn, winter or spring terms.

I could see videoing lectures so that students could watch (or rewatch) them at other times, although in my subject lectures need to be refreshed yearly.

Having experienced this way of intensive undergraduate teaching, I'd never go back to the US system, even if it means marking 30 or more essays for 12 hour turnaround every week.

8. msatlow - August 11, 2010 at 10:14 am

I am trying a similar experiment next semester on a much more modest scale. I teach a class on early Jewish/Christian history with enrollment that never tops 20. Over the last year I developed a podcast series ("From Israelite to Jew") that is posted on iTunes and is publicly accessible. Each episode is about 30 minutes, and it follows the syllabus. This next semester I will be assigning episodes along with the readings. I plan to devote class-time to very little "frontal" presentation and a lot of discussion. In my opinion, it is in large measure the give and take of the classroom that adds value to education and that justifies the price-tag, not the faculty presentation.

I don't know if this model would work for larger classes, but I suspect that something like it could. I do know that it is far more cost effective than the classes described here.

9. parrymarc - August 11, 2010 at 10:31 am

@millerdb & @msatlow

I'd like to hear more about your experiments. Could you please contact me via email? I'm at marc.parry@chronicle.com. Also, if others have tried similar strategies, please let me know. We might be able to follow up this story with a post on our Wired Campus blog.


Marc Parry

10. millerdb - August 11, 2010 at 10:48 am

Marc (and others):

Not sure what your email address is, Marc. But, I'll be glad to contact you. For murleenray and others, I'm a Mac person and use Mac-only software: Specifically, I create the "lectures" with Apple Keynote (part of iWork '09), but one can also use PowerPoint. I then use Mac-only ScreenFlow (http://telestream.net). One can also use Camtasia (for PC or Mac), but I prefer ScreenFlow. I then export to QuickTime, and our IT people create streaming versions of my QT videos that then become accessible on our WebCT site for students enrolled in the course.

11. parrymarc - August 11, 2010 at 11:00 am

I included my email in my previous comment, but here it is again:

12. literacyman - August 11, 2010 at 11:51 am

This is real progress on many fronts. It could be more and contribute more if professors joined the effort to more clearly define the pedagogical science that would optimize teaching/learning. Schools of Education need to take leadership here, but they have been disinclined to do so. Your request for assistance could have wonderfully wide implications. Below is a look at some sites where we are trying to build support for identifying and promulgating Best Instructional Practices. The difference between weak teaching and pwoerful teaching can be analogous to the difference between a lightening bug and lightening.
1. http://bestmethodsofinstruction.com/

3. https://bestpracticesteachers.groupsite.com/blog
4. Old Fashion Book: Manzo/Manzo/Thomas (2009) Content Area Literacy (Wiley, 5th Edition)
Anthony V. Manzo, Ph.D./ Professor Emeritus/ avmanzo@aol.com

13. optimysticynic - August 11, 2010 at 07:07 pm

Mark Bauerlein (2008). The Dumbest Generation. How the Digital Age Stupifies Young Americans and Jeopardizes Our Future. New York: Penguin Books.

All fun and interesting, but what do the data say (when we bother to examine them). Note bene: "data" is here defined as evidence that learning is occurring, not student or faculty opinion. Grades in classes don't count either (too much non-blind "experimeter bias effect"). Nonpartial, outside evaluation of learning under various techno-models is what is necessary. We expect rigorous, blind, controlled studies from our medical colleagues. We expect performance-based, publically executed competition to test the quality of our college atheletic teams. Why do we accept so little when it comes to evaluating educational policy and pedagogical strategies?

14. drj50 - August 11, 2010 at 09:55 pm

I remember thinking during my own graduate professional education that I had sat through far too many lectures and be forced to grapple on my own (under guidance) with far too few seminal works in my field. I graduated knowing "all the answers," but not having nearly enough practice in the skills of evaluating the next generation of questions and challenges.

It's time to stop publishing course content by dictation (i.e., lecture) and time to leverage technology (whether printing press or video capture) in more effective ways to enhance learning. (And let's not have a chorus of "I learned a lot from sitting through lectures, my students can too." I also learned from sitting through lectures, but that doesn't it was the best way to learn.)

15. jwr12 - August 12, 2010 at 09:59 am

I have to say I'm very skeptical of this. First of all, the "souped up" resources (embedding video in pop up definitions, creating social networking platforms) sound expensive and underwhelming. Is it definitions and opportunities to chat on line that students are either paying for or lacking? I also wonder about the supposed promise of more individual instruction. I teach a course of 100 students. Suppose I force them to watch an our long lecture capture of me (which, by the way, crowds the time they have to read). Quite likely this format would force me into a more traditional lecture than I might otherwise give -- in a real classroom, I'm always setting things out for discussion, call and response, anyway. So I give a stiff "traditional" lecture online--the kind of lecture I wouldn't give -- and then summon the students to the room to discuss it. Will they remember it? Will they have done it instead of their reading? (Likely). Suppose I then use the time freed up by using canned lectures -- NB: this takes some years to acquire this efficiency, since writing and videoing canned lectures just right takes time -- to meet with students individually. 15 minutes per student per week is 25 hours a week of individual meetings. So to fulfill the promise of this model, I have to spend over half a 40 hour week just on this aspect of one course. Now suppose I don't meet with the students: time gained, but the interactivity of the lecture is lost, and replaced with bad TV. And at that point, why not replace all of us with more bad TV free from far away? This is a very slippery slope.

I just yesterday met with a media / IT professional at our school, and he rolled his eyes at this lecture capture stuff. His opinion is that it is mostly about centralizing and monetizing, and less about releasing the true potential of media technologies, which lie in the realm of STUDENT expression.

16. richardtaborgreene - August 12, 2010 at 10:34 am

1) I commend people who do complicated experiments even if outcome data is not rigorously collected

2) the weave of face to face nesses with web nesses is not optimized yet by anyone so we have to experiment to find what works

3) what is learning? anyone know? I think it is whatever parents do not protest to congress when they get it in return for rip off levels of tuition

4) FINALLY someone kills off, in principle, the Lecture---about 500 years too late (after the Chinese invented moveable type printing we did not need lectures (which are publishing venues not teaching).

5) I paid huge tuition (not at today's proportions of income) for famous men lecturing---I sat in back and read books, the books were a LOT better than the lectures for understanding things, especially when I got 2 or 3 books all on the same topic.

6) Nice to see something complex rather than simplistic being done. Give the guy a raise for trying.

17. dboyles - August 12, 2010 at 04:37 pm

Lecture? Do we yet need to read textbooks to educated people who are too lazy to read them for themselves?

18. physicsprof - August 13, 2010 at 12:41 am

dboyles obviously has neither read a physics texbook nor attended a physics lecture.

19. optimysticynic - August 13, 2010 at 01:13 pm

Old Guayanese saying:

"An adult kneeling sees more than a child in a tree".

It is not the "lecture" that is ill-conceived, but rather thinking that everyone who stands in front of a class is a "lecturer". Basic logical fallacy here.

We acknowledge expertise, wisdom, and competence in our athletes, musicians, actors, etc. We acknowledge (and value) the irreplacable value of a wise, senior pitching coach. Why are we so reluctant to do so in the academy?

20. professor01 - August 14, 2010 at 12:33 pm

Like so many things in life, there's almost always a "side B," which in this case might involve who owns the video presentations. If NYU captures instructors' presentations, what's to prevent NYU from having grad/teaching assistants provide the 1:1 contact and cut out (as in lay off) the instructors? As more instruction goes to the Internet (e.g., LMS courses), discussion about intellectual property rights (as in who owns the courses)will increase. Hope NYU faculty have a solid legal agreement saying they own their courses before allowing their courses to be captured and stored online. Anyone else have experience in this arena?

21. emmadw - August 16, 2010 at 06:30 am

I've got one unit that I've got a substantial proportion of resources on line (mostly text/audio, rather than video based). The students then have a shorter time in class, and are expected to have done much more preparation.

Does it work - hard to tell; I've never taught that particular unit any other way (I inherited it).
Does it save time - again - hard to tell, the resources were developed by the time I inherited the course - but I have to update them. That's going to take a lot of time & it's something I'm putting off doing, though the start of term is now getting closer ...

Creating resources isn't easy - and takes time. Few academics have the necessary skill to create the resources -and fewer still have the time, as far as I can tell.

As others have said, if classes aren't too large, then it's often easier to have much more interactive sessions than "lectures" anyway.

22. eggdawg - August 18, 2010 at 07:29 am

Bravo. Good to teach the way people live and learn in life so they become better thinkers and doers in life...where there is no text book and no person standing at the front of the room saying "attend to this" and "consider that".

Many of my friends are teachers and professors and administrators on all kinds of campuses. I feel your pain. So do many others who benefited, as I did, from great teachers who went beyond the formal lecture setting to inspire or gently nudge a student at just the right moment. We're working to increase public support and legislative support and funding support for STEAM (arts plus STEM) and effective use of tech and video. Not gimmicky tech and video that replaces thinking, but effective tech that's an instrument that makes key experiences shareable and thus enhances applied thinking. We will continue to help pave the way for adaptive professors and campuses.

Great lectures are vital. So is great one-to-one coaching where students think and do (including lab-style thought experiments) and teachers observe and provide fine-tuned feedback. This is a departure from the relatively recent thin slice of human history: highly professionalized education known as university. But doing-coaching has a storied history as the way civilizations and villages have captured and spread knowledge. Apprenticeships, Outward Bound, studio learning in the arts and performance arts and in sports: these are all light on lectures and long on doing.

Video done well is lifelike and personal, like a front row seat. Good lectures are shot close up so facial expressions come across; it's the antidote for the cheap seat small view experience that many students encounter daily in lecture halls.

As for naysayers:

Many IT people do not understand video; they believe in surveillance-cam as a style of shooting lectures because that's what they know.

Many video people do not understand IT.

Many students understand both.

In today's world, students can be assets in multiple ways in a classroom or lecture hall when invited to participate productively and to their fullest ability...unless they are forced to live with the limitations of the professor who is unwilling to learn new forms of productive communication. Publish or perish is a pro game and a fame game, not a teaching game that benefits students directly. Indirectly perhaps, and even that strategy of publish-and-attract-research-dollars is falling apart.

Adaptation is not optional...unless one thinks that the product of higher ed is working fine in the real world. Is anyone impressed with the rate of applied critical thinking and problem solving in journalism or Detroit or DC or in real estate or health care or banking...or in education or on campus, for that matter, where the rate of inflation threatens the institution and the middle class student's ability to tap into it?

Can we honestly say that universities use resources resourcefully?

How about all the classrooms that stay empty but heated or air conditioned most of each day? How about locked off wireless Internet that visitors have trouble logging into? How about bizarre addressing and labeling and mapping systems for buildings and halls and rooms? (Can you say MIT?) How about the destructive time games that professors play with grad students...and grad students play with the "consumer", the paying undergrads...all so the professors are freed up to do their research and grad students are freed up to do theirs: thus they issue busy work homework instead of creating live coaching-counseling time. At times it resembles a plantation model where few get to stay in the house.

Why in this day and age is it considered okay to ask students to sit on their hands and pay respect to the person in the front of the room who is frankly not always a great presenter and frankly not always up to date? (Perhaps by using video, some professors will realize this and step up their game. Video is great as a teaching tool for informal performance review. Ask folks in athletics and the arts and anywhere that productivity and team concept is vital.)

Is college a stage for professors to show how smart they are and feel good about themselves...or is it a place for them to help students to be at their best in real time and give them little moments that hook them for life? Who is college for?

The fact is the world of tech and video has created a high speed world. The fact is today's students are growing up in a networked world and not a linear-controlled-top-down world. Great professors will adapt and try things and work to overcome their own fear of public failure. Because in a networked world where students come first, professors who share approaches and outcomes with each other and with their students...those professors are realists. The rest are in denial or trying to escape safely to retirement without facing the challenge of learning something new. The irony is rich. And our nation is poorer for it.

We are dropping worldwide in all kinds of rankings, not just one or two. This is systems failure. We can work on metrics or we can problem solve like demons before Titanic sinks under us and we all go down.

Universities must create a spirit of inquiry and exploration and lead-follow-or-get-out-of-the-wayism. Universities must accept responsibility without shame and get to work. Universities must recognize and honor the many forms of talent (however young or old or unexpected) and empower them. Not just for America's sake, but for the sake of the universities themselves and their continued existence. Departments that don't now speak must form coalitions to get things done efficiently. Stovepipe funding models will soon die off and give way to systemic funding that requires converged multi-department effort and cross-disciplinary research and experimentation and production of promising solutions, liberal arts style, around major issues. Like health care. Like education in this new world. Like finance in this 24/7 world. Like leadership.

Look at the cutbacks at colleges where programs and departments are being eliminated. Ignoring it and denying change is called for is a losing strategy. It's neither success nor survival: It's intellectualized and rationalized lemmingism. The public sees that. In this day and age, who wants to go into six-figure debt so the kid can get four+ years of education and graduate and then take an unsatisfying job at a failing corporation or firm or center or institute that pays peanuts? The admissions offices and recruiters have their spin but the public isn't swallowing the story the way it used to. Nor is the public deferring to campuses as centers of excellence: higher ed looks too much like a rust belt industry going down.

The world is going through a tech induced paradigm shift. It will never go back, it will never slow down. So professors must adapt or get left behind.

Polaroid invented instant photography and stubbornly clung to instant CHEMICAL photography even as young employees and researchers spoke of instant DIGITAL photography. The company founders may have viewed digital with disdain; it was inferior at first and they, after all, had been grad students in chemistry and not computer science. But this chemical attitude led them to throw the young people out of the room who could have helped Polaroid reimagine and retinker strategically and adapt and reinvent itself and migrate from one leadership position to another. In fact, Polaroid's stubbornness turned it into a penny stock, a fact that left thousands of loyal former employees with nothing in their retirement accounts.

Think this cannot happen to universities and colleges and community colleges? It will if, like Polaroid, campus leaders cling to their siege and fortress and ivory tower mentality of defensiveness rather than embrace life and adventure and expeditionary learning in a world that has changed around them and under their feet. Okay, it's true: it's not fair to have jumped through hoops and now have to jump through more hoops and retool. Welcome to the human race!

23. joy123 - August 18, 2010 at 09:17 am


24. joekim_mcmaster - August 18, 2010 at 08:05 pm

Thought I would give a little summary of my own experience:

Over the last 3 years, I have been working to implement a blended learning model similar to David Miller's course structure but applied to a very large introductory psychology course with an enrolment of 3000+ students. As in Miller's model, the major shift is that all the primary course material is available online for self-paced learning through "web lectures" (you can see a sample at www.intropsych.net). This redefines how actual in-class time is used. Students meet for a weekly small group tutorial (25 students) lead by a Teaching Assistant to discuss and lead activities, and a weekly Live Lecture in which I can focus on context, applications, and connections with the real world.

It may seem obvious, but the key to success in using a blended learning model is that *both* online and face-to-face instruction elements must be well executed! The web lectures have high production values and feature several interactive features, tutorials are lead by Teaching Assistants who enroll in a separate course called Applied Educational Psychology with me, and Live Lectures are designed more as "colloquia" than lectures.

25. pkamm - August 19, 2010 at 11:32 am

It's difficult to get administration and faculty to embrace the potential of video because they mostly see it as a resource and time hog. There may be some that are hesitant to realize that video is a new (not so new) and necessary literacy for faculty, but most seem to back away because of perceived costs.

I've been banging my head against this for a few years.

So I've taken another approach. I'm developing a "Lightweight" Video Production series for our faculty. My first project is an introduction series of 3 short video that simply introduce the Tools, the Process, and some of the Techniques. It's very brief, and meant only to whet the appetite and maybe demostrate that effective video can be done without prohibitive costs or time.

I'm hoping this may strike a chord with some of our faculty...

26. professor01 - September 02, 2010 at 09:52 am

Who owns such video courses? What's to prevent institution from having low paid adjuncts take over the teaching and cut out the course creators?

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