New Lecture Capture System Aids Catch Up After Snow Days

When Mother Nature throws schedules for a loop, technology helps keep students and courses on track.

“Due to inclement weather, all morning, afternoon, and evening classes are canceled today, Tuesday, January 18, 2011. Classes will resume tomorrow morning, Wednesday, January 19, 2011 as scheduled.”

This message, excerpted from an e-mail sent to University of Connecticut students and faculty, heralded the first snow day of the 2011 spring semester. Coinciding with the first day of classes, it was greeted with enthusiasm from students eager to postpone the start of lectures, studying, and exams.

But after a total of four full-day cancellations and two partial cancellations, students and faculty found themselves further behind than they expected. Excitement turned to frustration, as class after class was canceled, leaving many concerned as to how they would catch up on all of the missed work.

A new system for faculty to videotape and post classes online has enabled students to catch up on coursework they missed because of snow cancellations. Photo by FJ Gaylor

In an effort to undo the damage caused by the cancellations, some professors turned to a new lecture capture system offered by the University’s Institute for Teaching and Learning (ITL) called Mediasite. This system allows faculty members to videotape themselves giving a lecture and upload it online, where it can be viewed by students either live or at a later date.

Just like in the classroom, faculty can supplement their lectures from outside sources such as PowerPoint presentations, Microsoft Word documents, and other links, so that students can have access to all the resources they need to learn the material.

“Mother Nature threw several curve balls at us this past winter,” says John McNulty, clinical professor in UConn’s School of Nursing. “I teach a once per week nursing class that meets on Wednesday evenings, and had two of those classes canceled due to ice and snow.”

To combat the cancellations, McNulty turned to Mediasite to teach his students without having to reorganize his syllabus or drop material from his lectures.

“The system was very well-received by students,” he says. “They liked that they could replay the lecture and listen to my discussion multiple times in order to truly understand the material.”

Associate vice provost Keith Barker, a professor of computer science and engineering as well as director of the Institute for Teaching and Learning, also used the technology to catch up after the snow days. Barker, who teaches a graduate class once a week that was cancelled twice this semester, first tried to schedule his own make-up class so he could get his students caught up on the material – but it proved difficult to get everyone together outside the designated class time.

“Because I couldn’t get everyone together, I gave the lecture to about half of the class while recording it on Mediasite,” says Barker. “Then the students who couldn’t make it to the lecture were able to watch it at their own leisure, whenever they had the time to do so.”

The system is especially useful for straight lectures, says Barker, which require little interaction between students and faculty. But even for discussion-style classes, he says, it is “a helpful tool.”

Professors who didn’t make use of the software had to find another way to make their classes work with fewer meeting times. Some shortened and compressed lectures that would normally have spanned a week so that they fit in a single day; others were forced to drop some of the material from their syllabi. And others are making use of a make-up day scheduled by the University for Saturday, March 26. However it is they’re getting the job done, students and professors are pushing forward through what has proven to be a trying semester.

“We’re still trying to catch up,” says Christiane Pimentel, an eighth semester biology major with a minor in molecular cell biology from the College of Liberal Arts and Sciences. “And the worst part is that a few of the snow days fell on days that my classes had labs. We’ve been doing two, three lab experiments in one lab session just to make sure we learn all of the material.”

“To put it gently,” says Pimentel, “I hate snow days.”

Mediasite is not limited to making up classes after snow days. Professors may use the technology for a variety of reasons, including sickness, family responsibilities, or attendance at a conference.

Faculty members interested in delivering a lecture using the Mediasite system should contact the Institute for Teaching and Learning.