Do audio recordings of lectures help students?

I have been experimenting with various ways to support lectures using IT. Last year I made audio recordings of all of my lectures and made these available to the students as  audio podcasts. I have also been using a tablet PC to present the material by annotating pre-prepared pdf slides during lectures, and making the resulting annotated slides available in full from the relevant web page. For more details of some of the approaches I have tried so far, see my e-print “Using a tablet PC and audio podcasts in the teaching of undergraduate mathematics modules“, adapted from a case study submitted for publication in  Giving a Lecture, Exley and Dennick (2008/9). It is possible to go far further than I have done. For example, it is possible to record what appears on the data projector during the class together with the sound track, to give a “full record” of the lecture (but without the interactive element).

Certainly students are generally very  enthusiastic about having these extra resources available to them … but there appear to be some drawbacks.

  • Attendance at classes drops significantly, as students know that they can obtain all the lecture  materials whenever they want.
  • For the same reason, some students allow themselves  to fall behind, perhaps believing (unrealistically) that they will be able to catch up later.

Thus it may be the case that making these materials available actually results in some students doing less work, and performing worse on the module, than they would have done if the materials had not been available.

On the other hand, there are other students who have good  cause to miss classes, and who greatly appreciate having audio etc. available, in order to get as close as possible to attending the  classes they have missed.

I have a variety of questions on these issues. Here are two.

  • Do we make too many materials available to students for their own good?
  • Does it matter whether students actually attend classes, provided that they do obtain a good understanding of the material by some means?

Joel Feinstein


One response to “Do audio recordings of lectures help students?

  1. If you do decide to use audio podcasts, I have a few tips that you may find useful.
    – Some students find it frustrating when there are longish pauses, of unpredictable length, in the audio. I have found it useful to use software to automatically delete silence. The software which I found easiest to use (so far) to do this was Adobe Audition. Audition also has a helpful “batch” feature which allows you to process multiple files and give each of the resulting modified files a sensible new name.
    – Automatic silence deletion is, however, still an imperfect operation. I usually offer the original and the “pauseless” versions of the audio in parallel.
    – Automatic silence deletion will often delete questions from the audience (which in any case may not be picked up clearly by your recording equipment). It is good practice to repeat the question yourself, both for the rest of the audience (who may not have heard the question) and also for the sake of the recording.
    Joel Feinstein


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