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What “online lectures” can and should be

The ever-stimulating Jim Groom led me to this great video of a lecture by David Harvey (and Jim, in turn, was led by our own Matt Gold and by Brian Lamb).  It is a terrific lecture and explanation of the financial crisis.  But that’s in terms of content.

I wanted to go beyond that a bit, though, to talk about the form, the medium, and the idea of video lectures.  What has always disappointed me about these (even the great ones at TED) is how often they make such a very poor use of the abilities of the medium.  They lose everything that can be powerful and effective about an in-person lecture (contact and interaction with the speaker, contact and interaction with other audience members, the speaker’s ability to shape his performance in response to that contact and interaction).  A good live lecture can be a great thing, a great way to learn.  But when you take that live lecture and record it, while you might make it more reproducible and repeatable and widely shareable, you also strip away much of what makes it such a great way to learn.

So that’s a sacrifice, and sometimes it’s an acceptable sacrifice, but what troubles me is how often we make that sacrifice while also neglecting to take advantage of what can be added by having a recorded video.  We lose most of the advantages of live performance, and we gain almost none of the advantages of online video.  It’s a tragedy, and it’s the huge flaw at the very heart of the very idea of “lecture capture,” as I’ve blogged about before.

That’s what makes this David Harvey video (and the others produced by RSA) so exciting to me.  This is what can happen when you make a video of a lecture that is not just a “talking head.”  This is what you can get when you really think about the medium of an online lecture as something different, and potentially much more, than just a reproduction (which you can’t ever have)–a “capture”– of the live lecture.

By using what video can do that live lectures can’t do (animation for illustration and amplification and clarification, in this case) you can make the online video of the live lecture into something different–something that can be a better tool for learning.

Yes, a video like this, with the high-quality animation (including lots of thought and understanding and reaction to what Harvey is saying) is resource-intensive.  Yes, it is much harder than just setting up a video camera during the lecture and slapping the resulting video on YouTube or iTunesU.  But what you get is not the impossible (and not very desirable) “lecture capture.”  Instead you get something new, something powerful, and you can actually reach more learners, with more different learning styles.  So instead of an unfortunate sacrifice, a pale imitation or an inferior but acceptable substitute, you’ve got an exciting new creation.

I really hope to see more like this–and I’m very interested to see what we can get by showing this model to students and asking them to respond.  And even more exciting, more potentially powerful, asking them to create their own creations in this vein.


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