Why professors should record lectures and encourage students to skip class

Most professors don’t post audio recordings of lectures online, despite the technical obstacles and time cost to doing so being near zero. That’s a shame. Listening to recorded lectures has tremendous flexibility that in-person lectures lack and, based on my experience, can significantly boost student efficiency and learning gains. The following is a sample of benefits I’ve noticed while taking an upper-division undergraduate evolutionary biology course entirely through audio recordings and pdf’s of lecture slides.

Benefits of listening to recorded lecturers versus attending class:

  • It’s more efficient. Using Window Media Player’s playback speed slider, I can listen at 1.4 – 1.8x the original speed. This allows me to go through an 80 minute lecture in 55-65 minutes

  • Do it at my convenience
    • For tough subjects/lectures, I can listen when I’m at my best, and for easier lectures, I can reserve those optimal times for more difficult work
    • No missed classes for workshops or conferences, which can wreak havoc on a term, especially for incremental classes like math and methods
    • Can work around other fixed-time events like guest lectures
    • Can put off lectures when there are other pressing demands for time and can go through several in a day during slower periods
  • Improve comprehension
    • Can rewind and go over tough concepts multiple times
    • Can pause to think through questions posed in lecture
    • Maintain focus better in quiet office environment versus lecture hall
    • Listening at 1.4 – 1.8x helps maintain focus: There is no reason to think that the optimal pace for a lecturer formulating and articulating thoughts is the optimal pace for a student to comprehend them. It’s especially unlikely that this is constant throughout a lecture or course, or across courses, lecturers, or students. Listening to recordings allows one to customize this ratio.

Of course, this isn’t appropriate for all courses. Opportunities for students to get to know each other and the professor are missing. For many classes that would be a deal breaker, but in my first year and a half as a PhD student, most of my classes have been straight lecture, where professors are often annoyed to be interrupted with questions, and student engagement is minimal to none.

The flipped class model appears to be a way to capitalize on the advantages of recorded lectures and the benefits of the traditional coming-together as a class. In this model, students listen to pre-recorded lectures first and then come to class for discussion. The model seem to be gaining traction, and I’m looking forward to my first experience with it next quarter.

Of course, this is all my N = 1 experience. I’d be curious to hear what other students’ experiences have been and how professors feel about it.