Monday, December 12, 2011

Advice about using Audio Files of Lectures

This last semester my students voluntarily recorded my lectures in my Modern course. They had a peer overseas who was diligent and who wanted to listen along. I reluctantly agreed and had a few stipulations: 1) I would have to do no work in recording, uploading, disseminating, etc. 2) no no one other than the people in the course (and the student auditing-from-afar) woud have access to the audio files , 3) all files would be erased by all at the end of the course. All of this was easy to do because my course is managed using various Google platforms that encourage sharing and cooperative learning (if anyone wants another post on that, let me know and I'll do one).

I detail my reasons for my stipulations below. For now, I've run into something and I'd love your advice. I'm teaching Philosophy of Language next semester, with many of the same students, and though no one is auditing-from-afar, they want to record the lectures and use them during the semester. They say that they found them helpful in many ways: in not having to transcribe notes, and thus to be able to pay more attention in class, in having group sessions where they would listen to the lectures and study together for papers, blue book essays exams, etc.

I should say that these are students who come to every class, are diligent, committed, excited. These students are not asking for the audio files because they want an excuse not to come to class. What is my worry, then?

My worry is the same worry I have that justifies my not posting my lecture notes: I worry that it is pedagogically bad. I worry that they will adopt parroting rather than conceptual competency. The fact that this is philosophy of language makes this doubly troubling. Philosophy of language is very jargon-rich. As such, it would be very useful for them to have the audio files so that they don't feel they have to transcribe in order to get the jargon. On the other hand, being jargon-rich tends to lead to parroting. I am not worried about whether I can tell on their exams, papers, etc, whether they are parroting. Of course I can (this is always a big mistake students make - they think we can't tell when they are faking it). My worry is that I will encourage parroting and thus impede their learning. What do you think?

My stipulations: teaching is an intimate and organic process that is always developing over semesters, years, etc. I just don't want a stable file of anything I do in the classroom existing for longer than the semester in which I am doing it. In short: I am doing philosophy when I teach. If I want my philosophy to be stable, I publish. The other stipulations are obvious. I really don't want folks sharing the audio files absent contexts that would make them make more sense. I say all kinds of things that taken out of context could be taken in all the wrong ways.


  1. Over the last year, I've been learning to play the harmonica. My friends have been very indulgent, listening to me play the harmonica at parties and so on. I've sought out every possible opportunity to display my virtuosity.

    Recently, I recorded myself on video, so I could let my parents see and hear my progress. But when I see myself on video, I don't want to share it with as many people as possible. I see my errors recorded for all eternity and I feel myself exposed.

    I've had more practice and training in teaching philosophy than I have in playing the harmonica. But still, the knowledge that my performance is being recorded for posterity would raise my level of stress. It is easier to be relaxed in front of a small group you know well than it is to relax in front of a large unseen audience. For that reason, I would be concerned about having my classes recorded, and would want to impose restrictions of the type indicated.

  2. I wonder if students really would listen to these and get much educational value out of them, compared to, say, taking notes. I'd advise against it, unless you have really good reasons to think these recordings have a unique value.

  3. Becko: Since I see all of my teaching as permanent in the sense that its impact on students is permanent, I'm not made so anxious by having a "permanent record" of what I've done in the classroom. But here are a couple of more constructive thoughts:

    First, if you're concerned about dissemination, permanence, etc., you could ask students to post the files on your LMS. Blackboard can certainly handle large audio files. That would put them behind a registration wall.

    Second, you're concerned about the impact on student learning, specifically that students will parrot what you say and learn only at a superficial level. Why not test this? Make the audio files available to half your students and then compare the performance of that group to the rest, using exams, papers, whatever. You might also design a survey asking those students who used the audio files how they used them to study, etc. I think that would be a brilliant SoTL project.

  4. I've got a question that is tangentially related to this.

    I currently teach an Intro level course and for years I've insisted on having the students read primary texts (excerpts). But, predictably, the students struggle through the reading and we end up spending a good amount of class with me, ultimately, explaining the material to them in a way that is more accessible to them. Sometimes before I take over, I've had them try to work things out in small groups. But, just about always, I end up explaining it to them.

    For next semester, I decided that instead of using class time to explain things to them, I'm going to write it all out so they can read it. And, I've come to realize that what I'm really doing is writing a textbook. A textbook I feel good about because it's walking students through the arguments and not just handing them conclusions, but it's a textbook.

    So, my question is, is it important for students (particularly in an intro level) to be reading original works (Kant, Hume, Aristotle, etc.) and if so, why is it important? I used to think it was important for students to wrestle with difficult texts but I'm finally coming to realize that the struggle isn't one that's gaining them anything but frustration.

    Any thoughts?

  5. jmc, perhaps we could do an entirely separate post on this issue, but one point that I think is worth clarifying: You have in mind primary *historical* texts. There are of course primary *contemporary* texts. I can't imagine teaching practical ethics without "A defense of abortion," "Famine, affluence, and morality," etc. So I think the real question is how important is it for students to read historical texts.

    My take: an introductory philosophy class should introduce students to central philosophical concerns and arguments. Of course, historical texts can serve that function, but in my experience, they do not serve it well, for many of the same reasons you mention. That said, there's a lot to be said for the intellectual exercise of reading a primary historical text. My tendency is to read one such text in an introductory course, a not terribly difficult one (Mill or Plato are good here), but rely on contemporary work or secondary sources otherwise.

  6. "my course is managed using various Google platforms that encourage sharing and cooperative learning (if anyone wants another post on that, let me know and I'll do one)."

    Yes, please. I'm interested to know how others are using their LMS or Google Apps and if others have ditched Blackboard for gApps, despite Bb's superiority in various respects (such as blogs, wikis, quizzes and gradebook).

    Thanks, Cathal

  7. I've been recording and podcasting my lectures for the last couple of years (you can find many of them here).

    There are two potential worries: (1) the effect on students, and (2) the effect on me.

    (1) The recordings are very popular with my students. Of course there's a risk of parroting, but it seems to me that there's always that risk, and I haven't noticed an increase in the tendency since starting to make recordings available. I deal with the parroting problem by (i) giving lectures which are models of the kind of thought-work I'm asking students to take up, not lists of points to remember; and (ii) being explicit in my coursework rubric that no credit is available for reporting what I said back to me. On the issue of note-taking, I find that students actually make better notes - notes which concentrate on structure, central points, and their own in-the-moment thinking, rather than trying to get down everything I say - when they aren't worried about missing things, because they can always listen again.

    (2) Of course I'm sometimes nervous about making recordings public: what if I've said something wrong? What if I've said something obviously, stupidly wrong? But I comfort myself with the thought that, again, what I'm doing in lectures is modelling a valuable kind of thought-work, and that work includes taking the risk of thinking out loud, being wrong in public, and accepting correction. Further, I've had interesting correspondence with people from all over the world who've found and responded to my lectures, which seems an added benefit.

  8. Jmc and Cathal - we'll have posts up in the next days addressing these issues! Thanks for the suggestions.

    Sam, this is really helpful thank you. I've never faced the privacy issue because Google has very simple and clear sharing settings - so only my students have access to the files in any case.

    But it is a relief to hear that you haven't experienced the outcomes I had feared. I'll try ti again next semester and check back with you all.


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