Daniel Stanford

Four Ways to Improve Online Lectures

I recently signed up for a subscription to News In Slow French, a weekly news program for French students. Each episode features two announcers who discuss current events at a slow pace, making it easier for non-native speakers to understand. I’ve listened to several hours of old episodes over the last few weeks and there are several things I like about the way the lessons are designed. Here are four practices I’ve observed that I believe have relevance for anyone producing online lectures.

1. Provide Interactive, Just-in-Time Remediation

News in Slow French does a great job providing supplemental information for terms that might be unfamiliar. (See the screenshot of an interactive transcript shown below.) This strategy can be replicated in a variety of formats by linking unfamiliar terms and concepts to supplemental readings and/or videos.

Interactive Transcript Screenshot
Click to view the full resolution image

An alternative, low-tech option would be to include numbered notes throughout your text or presentation and provide students with a printable list of endnotes that they can reference as needed.

2. Optimize Audio for Portability and Flexibility

I hear students say over and over that much of their learning happens in stolen moments, and the same is true for me. I love listening to NPR or Ted Talks while getting ready for work, commuting, exercising, etc. These are times when I can easily focus on audio content, but might not be able to watch a video. Episodes of News In Slow French are ideal for this type of learning. I typically listen to the audio while I get ready in the morning, then listen again while reading the transcript on the train to work.

When producing online lectures, it’s important to keep in mind that learners might not always be consuming content in an ideal, distraction-free environment. If we can identify portions of our learning materials that lend themselves to learning via listening and learning on mobile devices, we can optimize that content for those scenarios. Examples of this type of optimization include:

  • providing downloadable audio/video files so learners can save content when they have a reliable, high-speed internet connection and still view it later when they don’t.
  • ensuring audio levels are loud and clear each time you begin a new recording. (Students can always turn down the volume, but they can’t do much to amplify a recording that is too quiet.)
  • summarizing visuals so students who can’t view them at the moment aren’t completely lost.

3. Anticipate Common Challenges

Whenever the News In Slow French announcer says a long number, she pauses and repeats it to ensure students have a second chance to process it. Numbers between 80 and 99 are particularly hard for French students to grasp because the number eighty is, literally translated, “4 20” and ninety is “4 20 10”. Good French teachers (and good teachers in general) anticipate stumbling blocks like this and build in some time for clarification. This type of anticipation of learners’ needs is even more appreciated in asynchronous, distance learning because students can’t simply raise their hands and get immediate help from the instructor.

4. Leverage the Power of Storytelling

Stories hold students’ attention longer than a simple list of facts, and they provide a context that makes new information easier to retain. Each episode of News in Slow French makes the most of this by including a diverse and interesting mix of four global news stories. For instance, the first program in July addressed the debt crisis in Greece, the U.S. Supreme Court’s gay marriage ruling, a new test for detection of pancreatic cancer, and the opening of an ancient tunnel where some believe Prince Vlad III was imprisoned in the 15th century. In addition, the lessons on grammar and idiomatic expressions are taught using quirky anecdotes and cultural lessons.

Foreign language educators have often been among the first to adopt new audiovisual technologies in their teaching because exposure to spoken language is so essential to student success. Today, it’s relatively cheap and easy for instructors in any discipline to create screencasts and other types of audio and video presentations. (All faculty who go through the DePaul Online Teaching Series (DOTS) are trained to use Screencast-o-Matic, while some of our more advanced faculty prefer Camtasia or Screenflow.) As use of these tools continues to expand, I think we could all learn a thing or two from some of the pioneers and overachievers who remind us what good online educational broadcasting looks like.

Daniel Stanford

About Daniel Stanford

Daniel Stanford holds an MFA in Computer Art from the Savannah College of Art and Design with a concentration in Interactive Design and Game Development. Since 1998, his interest in interactive media and education has led him to take on a variety of professional roles—from website designer and graphic artist to teacher and online-course developer. His work as an instructional designer has received multiple awards from the Instructional Technology Council and he has been both a course reviewer and finalist in Blackboard’s Exemplary Course competitions. Daniel is currently Director of Faculty Development for Faculty Instructional Technology Services at DePaul University where he oversees multiple faculty-development initiatives, including the DePaul Online Teaching Series, which won the 2012 Sloan-C Award for Excellence in Faculty Development for Online Learning.

One thought on “Four Ways to Improve Online Lectures

Leave a Reply