How can universities fix online lectures after the ‘pandemic scramble’?

Online lesson

Russell Ginley, Director of Business Development at Microsoft, speaks to academics facing the problem head-on.

When hit with the cold reality of COVID-19, universities scrambled to provide online learning. How it was achieved wasn’t as important as how fast, leaving many institutions with a jumble of tech and ad hoc approaches.

It’s time to tear off the band-aid solution

Many academics feel ready to implement a serious online lecturing solution. With a fresh intake of students for 2021, there are concerns whether current online lectures can justify the fees, let alone recreate the rich university experience.

“Students used to walk into half million-dollar lecture theatres, designed by architects, with professional acoustics, AV equipment and microphones,” says Dr David Kellermann, who teaches engineering at the University of New South Wales. “Now that half million-dollar facility has been replaced with a $49 webcam. It’s not fair and it’s not even close to parity.”

Education consultant Dr Ruben Puendetura agrees we need to move beyond “technology access as a direct substitution [for real-world lectures] with no functional change” and toward a model that can modify and even redefine what it means to teach online.

So what does work when it comes to online lectures?

Thankfully, a new paper published by Richard Mayer and Andrew Stull of the University of Georgia, and Logan Fiorella of the University of California, found ways to increase the effectiveness of online instructional video. These include:

  • Dynamic Drawing: Students learn better when the instructor draws diagrams on a board, rather than referring to pre-made diagrams.
  • Gaze Guidance: Students learn better when the instructor shifts their gaze between the audience and board while lecturing, rather than staring solely at the audience or the board.
  • Perspective: Students learn better when the video is shot from a first-person perspective — i.e., the instructor looks at the audience as if they are there.

How can technology support these techniques?

Choosing the right technology platform is vital. “I saw this as an opportunity not just to survive remote teaching, but to make it better,” says Dr Kellermann, who decided to build his own ‘lecture studio’.

To do this, he positions a laptop at standing height in front of a Microsoft Surface Hub 2S interactive whiteboard. This allows him to deliver a dynamic lecture to the laptop, while engaging with the faces of his students on the whiteboard. “It’s great because I’m actually looking at my students on a screen behind my camera,” he says. “It’s just like having them there, and it improves both their engagement and mine.”

Dr Kellermann can still use physical props, while jotting formulas in real-time on the Surface Hub screen. With one tap, he switches the Hub to full-screen mode so students can see his digital inking, and he swaps the in-picture presentation to the Hub’s camera, so the students can still see his face as he teaches. That’s Dynamic Drawing, Gaze Guidance and Perspective all in one setup.

He also uses a Surface device to display Microsoft Teams chat, where his students post questions and often chime in with answers. This way, Dr Kellermann can keep an eye on the conversation, and answer any difficult questions or bring students back on course.


Creating a ‘lecture studio’ with Surface

Dr Kellermann’s redefinition of online lecturing is an exciting strategy for universities looking to attract and retain students — not just locally, but virtually, worldwide.

I have $35K of equipment in my lecture studio, but in the context of value, I think universities could set up ten of these lecture studios in the same floor space and cost of one lecture theatre, then deliver this kind of experience to every online student.

Dynamic Virtual Lessons

Microsoft has worked with experts, educators, and engineers to develop a best in class ‘studio’ set-up, known as the Surface Hub to enhance the experience for both the educator and the student.

In this webinar Megan Townes & Collabtech demonstrate the reimagined lecture theatre using a simple set-up that blends Microsoft hardware and software to give your institution the opportunity to stand up and deliver better learning for all.