A Lecture on Lectures

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By Andrea Ng (22S06B), Chern Huan Yee (22S06A), and Keiran Koh (22S06M)

Have you ever wondered about the work that goes into making our online lectures? How they differ from past-years’ presentations to a full theatre of students, and how they might spell a shift in learning styles in the future?

To answer these questions, Raffles Press interviewed three teachers to find out what goes on behind the scenes of these online lectures.

What goes into an online lecture? 

Different modes of lecturing come with their own set of challenges, but all three teachers attested that recording the online lectures took much longer. 

First comes the preparation before recording. According to Mr Jeremy Ng, the Chemistry Department starts off with preparing the lecture notes they have each been assigned to. After the notes are proofread, vetted and deemed “ready-for-consumption” by students like us, the recording commences!

Most teachers, like Mr Harapan Ong (Physics Department) and Mr Edmund Kwok (History Department), record their lectures in the comfort of their homes. But for Mr Ng, “my room is far from the router [at home] so I have to literally position myself in an awkward position so I can get some decent Wifi”. 

Mr Ng’s uncomfortable recording spot at home.

He overcame this difficulty by booking a slot at the Raffles Discovery Studio’s recording studio-cum-editing suite, which is a soundproof room where he can record his lectures on Panopto distraction-free. 

Despite not being able to lecture face-to-face, our teachers still try their best to make lectures as engaging for us as possible. This was especially so for Mr Ong, who felt that his attention span (which lasts for only 30 seconds) did not allow him to concentrate while watching the usual lecture videos. 

He thus hoped to capture the essence of Youtube Science videos which he could watch, no matter how long they got, by incorporating various teaching methods such as teaching concepts using mind-maps and demonstrating the application of the concepts using toys and other cool Physics apparatus. 

The toys and mind-maps Mr Ong used in his Circular Motion lectures.

Mr Kwok, on the other hand, recorded his online lectures in the way he usually would lecture in real life. His conversational, podcast-like lectures reflected his own bubbly, cheerful and animated personality and style that his History classes have had the honour of experiencing. 

The element of intellectual closeness is present in a less formal style and it is easier to be in one mind and space with my charges. I do not intend [for] my lectures to be likened to a news broadcast with the lecturer speaking in crisp English and I don’t wish it to be ‘assessed’ that way.

Mr Edmund Kwok

We would indeed prefer not to listen to a news broadcast! Kudos to that, Mr Kwok!

Sometimes, the teachers would have to mentally prepare themselves before recording, to make sure their “sentences were grammatically correct, [and] everything was making sense.”

Sound familiar? That’s because those are probably our worries for PW OP too! Our teachers do not usually get stage fright, but sometimes when recording, they would get tongue-tied.

But if you think their job ended there, think again. After the recording, comes the editing of the lectures. And we quote Mr Ng: “The editing, oh my god.” 

Editing videos was definitely not what our teachers signed up for when they decided to become teachers. However, the pandemic has forced them out of their comfort zones to pick up new skills in a short period of time. For “computer idiots (sic)” like Mr Ng, a “manual” was created to aid them in their acquisition of editing. Others, like Mr Ong, spearheaded the process of producing a lecture—he was the first teacher to create a lecture and set the bar for the rest of the Physics department (thus the fruition of our high-quality, good-audio Physics lectures!).

Every stammer, stutter and awkward pause had to be edited out. It was taxing to cut out a millisecond of an “erm” or an “ah”. 

Thankfully for them (and for us!), our teachers stick together through thick and thin, and help one another when faced with difficulties. “I am grateful to have found [a patient colleague] who stays by my side in my unit, I’ll leave you to guess who it is,” said Mr Kwok. He added that he felt great after learning from the other teacher and looks forward to learning more from the latter.

Would you rather: Live or Online lectures?

We also asked the teachers about what sets the two types of lectures apart for them, and which they prefer. 

Time constraints 

As shown in the first section of this article, the teachers all agree that online lectures take a significant amount of time to record and edit. The creation and animation of the powerpoint slides used similarly demands precious time and effort. However, a usual live lecture is actually slower-paced as compared to a recorded one, as during live lectures, they would have to take some time to let students settle down.

Content

Teachers also mentioned that online lectures allow them to fit more subject content as compared to live ones. They have the ability to prepare all the things they want and put them into the video. Mr Ong mentioned that small Physics demonstrations would be hard to do on stage, and Mr Kwok noted that it was more efficient to place content into a 50-minute lecture as they did not need to do as much “lecture management”, an example of which is having to wait for students to arrive from another lesson.

Spontaneity and social cues

The most interesting difference observed by the teachers is that, unfortunately, the more “human” aspect of live lectures has been lost in its translation to a digital platform. All three teachers said that during live lectures, they were able to relate more to the students; for example, they could make a quick situational joke and build rapport. 

I can provide an intellectual joke or a provocative comment, and I am able to see instant reactions and responses.

Mr Kwok

Social cues would indicate if the audience understood or needed to hear the point reiterated. The teachers could “sense” whether the students were engaged and could alter their lectures accordingly. Today’s online lectures thus pale in comparison in terms of spontaneity. 

When everyone [turns off] the camera and mutes… I’m teaching students, but I’m blindfolded.

Mr Jeremy Ng (Chemistry Tutor, Year 5 Year Head)

In general, the teachers seem to prefer live lectures, and prize the face-to-face engagement of students above all.

How have lectures changed since the beginning? How might they change in the future? 

Ivy’s History

Many of you may not have known, but Ivy has been around since way before the pandemic. It was initially used as a depository for recorded live lectures. There were cameras in lecture theatres recording live lectures, and these recorded videos were uploaded onto Ivy for students who were absent or simply wished to rewatch the lecture to better grasp the concepts taught.

The Positives from the Pandemic

While it may seem all grim and gloomy, the pandemic has engendered a wave of digital savviness amongst teachers. 

The pandemic force every single teacher to be savvy and to master [technology].

Mr Jeremy Ng

Student-teacher consultations have become more convenient as teachers are now more familiar with Microsoft Teams and can easily utilise these platforms to conduct them. This cuts down on commuting time for both parties and makes consultations more seamless and accessible. 

Future of Lectures

It is definitely difficult to ascertain the effectiveness of online lectures, since it has only been a year. However, the pandemic has certainly shown alternative ways to deliver content. Education and pedagogy are dynamic, and we can always afford to be more open to different methods of teaching that supersede current traditional methods.

Given some pros of online lectures, it will be here to stay but in a modified or hybrid form.

Mr Kwok

For now, given the current state of the pandemic, online lectures are clearly the most viable option.

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