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Scaling-up lecture capture: a perspective from Newcastle University

Just before Christmas I visited Leuven with a colleague of mine to speak at a REC:all event focused on lecture capture at scale. Our aim was to give an insight into how we’ve dramatically increased the use of recorded lectures at our university, why this mattered to us and some of the lessons we’ve learned along the way. We wanted to share some of this knowledge with the community more widely, int he hope that our story will help other institutions that are trying to extend their use of lecture capture.

In 2007 we because increasingly aware of research coming out of Australia and the US that showed the growing uptake of lecture capture. It was clear that even at this stage there was a fledgling user community of innovative universities that wanted to see how recording lectures could positively impact on students and academics.

A lecture capture pilot scheme was devised and implemented with clear objectives in mind. As well as technical considerations around scalability, we also made an important decision around the nature of our recordings themselves – to capture just audio and PowerPoint/screen content. We felt that by not pushing video, this would make academics more likely to accept the concept of recorded lectures. We believed that this would also make the captured content significantly different from the real-life lecture experience and we were very keen that the recordings shouldn’t be seen to replace live lectures.

We began our pilot with six installations and a pioneering team of staff willing to give it a go. Underpinning this, we had an Education Steering group which brought together IT staff and academics to make sure the project met everyone’s needs. This was very crucial to the success of the project; particularly as we also included some sceptics in the group.

The pilot was well received and increased to 20 installations. The system was set up on an opt-in basis and we were one of the first universities to integrate lecture recording with our timetable system. It was key to make sure academics had the system available to them at the times they needed. We focused on ensuring we could facilitate lecture capture in high-use, high capacity lecture theatres, primarily recording undergraduate lectures. With use of the system spreading, we also created a team to support the lecture capture system full-time.

In 2012 we reached a turning point in our use of lecture capture. With the rise in student fees coming into effect, our senior management team wanted to reconsider our proposition to prospective students. We were essentially posing the question – what can you expect as a student if you come to study at Newcastle University? Obviously many things formed part of that answer, but one of them was that we wanted to be able to offer the capability to record all undergraduate teaching. The implication for our lecture capture system was that to enable campus-wide uptake, we had to move to a more scalable underlying technology. It was at this point that we transitioned to Panopto as our lecture capture provider. We didn’t want to lose any of the functionality we’d enjoyed with our previous system, just to augment what we were doing and make it possible to embed lecture capture even more thoroughly at the university. Panopto allowed us to do just that. A key decision at the outset was to use our own internal branding – ReCap – for the lecture recording system, to give us the flexibility to change the back-end technology, which meant that the changeover was more or less seamless to our end-users.

We’re now recording lectures at a mass-scale with Panopto and it’s amazing to think how far we’ve come over the last six years. One thing that has become increasingly important given the huge number of recorded hours we’re generating is quality control. We actively monitor recordings to make sure the audio and visual aspects reach an appropriate standard and so that we can identify any issues early on. As you can imagine, this is no mean feat, but we’ve actually started getting students involved in doing spot-checks – fitting really as the recordings are ultimately all about giving students access to the learning materials they need to succeed.