Law School Adds Audio, Multimedia Recording to Classrooms

November 5, 2008

A new system for recording audio and multimedia presentations in all Law School classrooms now allows faculty to make their class lectures available online for students.

J.H. (Rip) Verkerke

The technology allows faculty members to use a computer to record classroom audio while simultaneously capturing the images that are projected from a computer screen, including PowerPoint presentations, Web sites and other visual aids. After the class is over, the multimedia file is automatically uploaded to a password-protected Web site available to students enrolled in the class.

"The most obvious benefit of recording classes is that a student who misses class due to illness or religious observance or because of some other good reason will be able to hear the class and see any slides rather than rely on a classmate's notes," said Professor J.H. (Rip) Verkerke.

"Second-year students in fall semester courses especially benefit from having recordings available when they must miss classes due to travel for [interview] callbacks. I have found that these students seem to stay more involved and aware of the themes of the course when they listen to recordings instead of just reading a classmate's notes."

The new system was designed to be easy to use, even for faculty members who are not computer-savvy, said George Payne, a Law ITC computer systems senior engineer. Since it was installed over the summer, Payne said, more than 20 classes have experimented with the technology.

The system's microphones are designed to capture every part of a class, including class discussions - an experience that's difficult to replicate simply by reading notes.

Verkerke began experimenting with capturing audio from his classes in 2006, when he bought a high-quality portable digital recorder and recorded every session of a course from October until the end of the term. He posted the audio recordings on a class Web site available to his students.

The benefits of recording the classes were twofold, Verkerke said. First, students who missed classes for legitimate reasons were not at a disadvantage, and Verkerke also had an opportunity to review the recordings and devise ways to improve his presentation of the material or interaction with students.

Verkerke also said he carefully watched class attendance to make sure students were not using the audio recordings as a substitute for attending class. There was no discernable change in class attendance.

"I was surprised and pleased to discover that a significant number of students found that the recordings helped them prepare for tests and exams. More recently, I've heard from other students that they listen to the recordings whenever their notes on a particular topic are unclear," he said. "A few students even reported that listening to every class session again allowed them to focus in the classroom on following and participating in the discussion without worrying that they might miss something."

Verkerke's experiment continued through 2007, when he began working with the Law School information technology department to devise a system that would be installed in each classroom and available to all faculty members.

If a professor decides to use the new system, the materials are posted on course homepages and students must agree to use them only for personal study.

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