How To Give a Million Lectures

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Well. You know how you watch your odometer on your car and see it tick over from 49,999 to 50,000, and for this to be a major event. For Twitter you often remember that time that your followers ticked over from 999 to 1K. It’s a kinda significant moment. And so today my YouTube channel finally ticked over to 1,000,000 views:

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When I first started very few people in academia used YouTube, and it was seen as a niche area. At the time there was a limit on the size of the video (I think there was a 10 minute limitation), and so I had to upload my videos in parts:

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And from 2009 to the current day, we have all seen a massive scale up in YouTube, and where many kids these days will watch their content from YouTube, and not even consider using scheduled TV programmes. In academia, when I started posting, few people could see the impact that the channel would have, and many thought that it was a threat to traditional lectures. But I’ve never found that it reduced the attendance for lecture.

For me, it was often a great way to do a brain dump of the new areas I had learnt, or it was a great question on a forum that starting me thinking about how best to explain something. Everything, though, is done on a zero budget, but which hopefully supports students in their learning, no matter where they are in the world.

My main motivation was to support students around exam time, as I knew that campus based students would typically not watch the lecture before the class or just after it. From my analysis I could see that most students were using it to catch-up before exam time.

You can then spot the different trends by looking at the traffic profiles. In the following we see an undergraduate class in Semester 1 (up to Dec 2017) and then a postgraduate class (with distance learning) in Semester 2 (after Jan 2018). In both cases the peak traffic is the day before the test, with small peaks around the daily activity. The distance learning class has the more consistent accesses to the content, as you would expect:

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One of the key elements, though, is the support for our lab work to be recorded, and this provides a way for students to remotely follow the same lab as us. The labs are written in the way that they will change for every student, but the same guidance is there to provide support:

For the core lecture, the talk around slides is the most comfortable for me, as the live lecture situation should be about the students who are sitting in front of you:

But I realised that sometimes it’s better just to get the whiteboard out, and chat around something:

So what tips do I have? Well, do whatever you are most comfortable with. For me:

  • Focus on support any gaps there may be. If I have 15% of students who don’t attend lectures, then I hope that these students will be able to catch-up sometime later with the lecture.
  • Provide lots of ways to learn. Some students like slides, other like to read book, other learn from doing, and others like to dip-in to a lecture, … support them all.
  • If there’s one thing that works, it is guided practical sessions, but don’t make it rote fashion, make sure a student can find a part of the lab that they are stuck with and help them, without them just following your steps.
  • Avoid “well this happened today”, and “tomorrow you have a class test”, as this will date the content. Perhaps make small snippets of material for each week to introduce your key concepts, and the latest news, but put your core methods into the online lecture, and make sure it doesn’t age.
  • Add key frames in your presentation, and, when you are recording, where you can pause and go back to, if you make a mistake.
  • But a good quality microphone, and make sure it is loud enough, but don’t distort (I feel into this trap many times).
  • Avoid just bullet points and reading from them. Try to draw and abstract.
  • Try and drawn on the slides as you would on a whiteboard (but some people find this annoying).
  • Add something, and don’t just give the same old lecture in the area.
  • Add a title and try and outline what you will cover. You have a minute or so to engage, or the person will leave.
  • You don’t need big budgets.
  • Take a risk on trying new things, but watch to see if they work.
  • Find the gaps in understanding, and plug them for future years.
  • Don’t worry too much about getting a thumbs down. As long as there’s more thumbs up than thumbs down, you are probably doing a great job. If you get lots of thumbs down, have a look at what the problem is.
  • Ignore horrible comments. There are some nasty people on the Internet, who obviously do not care that you have spent time preparing and recording the presentation, and that they are getting the content for free. It’s the world we live in!
  • It is 24x7, 365 and everywhere. The great thing about YouTube, is that it will always be up, and accessible from any device from anywhere in the world.
  • You don’t have the big budgets of the serious players, but you are the subject expert, so showcase your viewpoint of your subject.
  • If possible, talk to the camera, and not to the class.
  • Don’t localise your presentation. Make it relevant to the world.
  • Introduce and conclude.
  • Provide links to the slides, and extra content.
  • Respond to respectful questions and help those who don’t quite get some of the concepts.
  • Take the content off, if you ever get uncomfortable with it.

So here’s to the next million lectures!

Anyway, they are probably too technical for some, but it’s what we love, so here’s the channel:

https://www.youtube.com/billatnapier

Written by

Professor of Cryptography. Serial innovator. Believer in fairness, justice & freedom. EU Citizen. Auld Reekie native. Old World Breaker. New World Creator.

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