The following article, featuring John Harford, senior director of educational technology and media at the Poorvu Center, originally appeared in YourYale: The University at Work.
Advancing Classroom Technology
By John Curtis
August 7, 2023
When the COVID-19 pandemic subsided and Yale classrooms began to fill up again, it became clear that some adjustments made during this period were here to stay. Although faculty were back in the classroom, students had become accustomed to revisiting recorded lectures online. Commonly referred to as “lecture capture,” this practice allows instructors to record their lectures or presentations for later viewing.
“Students said this has been a great resource to refer back to so they can synchronize their notes and go back to the instruction if they need to,” said Leonard Welch, director of telecommunications and audio-visual systems at Yale. That request has spawned the Classroom Technology Project, bringing together the Poorvu Center for Teaching and Learning, Information Technology Services (ITS), the Office of the Registrar, and facilities managers across Yale.
“There are a lot of moving parts — budget, timeline, external teams — that need to get on board,” said Mark Koelle, an AV Project Manager. “It’s a lot of coordination of people and equipment. We all have different roles at different times. The Poorvu Center comes in when we’re deciding what rooms need technology. We put in new cameras, lecture capture, and microphones, and test them when we’re in the room. We all work great as a team, and it’s been a terrific pleasure so far.”
The project started in 2021, when the Poorvu Center identified seven rooms that needed enhanced AV capabilities. A year ago, the effort expanded to cover 67 more lecture halls and classrooms for refreshes, based on their size, how often they were used, the amount of traffic they generated, and how many classes were held in the room.
Success of the initial project — 38 rooms were completed in the 2023 fiscal year — prompted an expansion program to address audio-visual needs for all rooms across the campus. That project will begin in the 2024 fiscal year and will become the basis for a comprehensive approach to update audio-visual technology as it’s purchased and becomes operational. The team is aiming to make maintenance and upgrades a regular process. “It’s like painting the Newport Bridge,” Leonard said. “You start, and by the time you finish you’ve got to start again. We’re trying to figure out what that refresh interval is.”
Straightforward and intuitive
In rooms that don’t have lecture-capture capabilities, professors typically record classes on their laptops. “The gap in the quality level that you get with an installed, automated system using all the AV in the room, versus using just a laptop is pretty wide,” said John Harford, senior director of educational technology and media at the Poorvu Center.
Rooms scheduled for upgrading will have at least two cameras, one facing the speaker and one facing the audience. Speakers will wear lapel microphones, and microphones in the ceiling will capture questions and comments from students.
The Classroom Technology Project strives to make the lecture-capture interface straightforward and intuitive while also improving videoconferencing capabilities and meet Americans with Disabilities Act guidelines for audio accessibility. “If a request is made for captioning, it needs to be ADA compliant. It is incumbent upon the university to meet that request, whether or not the room has the equipment,” John said.
Integrating technology into teaching
Before starting renovations, the team inventoried the 67 high-use classrooms and found a patchwork of systems across Yale. The older buildings presented the added challenge of upgrading the technology while preserving historical architecture. “No two classrooms are alike,” Leonard said. “Software and the interface are about the only things that can be standardized, and it’s a challenge for us to bring that familiarity across the various types of architecture.”
Because the rooms that most need upgrades are also the busiest, construction can only take place when class is not in session, often during winter, spring, and summer breaks. “On average, a basic room takes about six hours,” said Mark. “When you get to some of the older buildings, that can take up to a week or so. As we standardize the AV process, we’ll be able to maintain it, keep an inventory, and know what’s in the room so it’s easier for us to go back if any maintenance is needed.”
Putting technology to use
How instructors use the technology depends on different factors. By and large, they appreciate having the options at their fingertips so they can make the decision on how and when to share recorded lectures, or if they will record in the first place.
“At Poorvu, we generally like to keep access available to students, but it’s really up to the faculty member how they like to approach it,” said John. “We like them to communicate to students what their goals are and how to use lecture capture as part of the class. There are a lot of different ways you can approach that, by engagement policies, attendance strategies, limiting the publishing time of recordings, or limiting who can access it.”
Daniel HoSang, professor of American Studies, never recorded his classes before the pandemic. He teaches a course on race, politics, and the law to upwards of 160 students, and an introduction to ethnicity, race, and migration to about 115 students. When classes were online during the pandemic, students who were absent could request access to the recorded lectures, a practice he continues. Part of his strategy now is to make lectures more than a one-way transmission of information.
“For many years there has been an emphasis in teaching and learning that lectures shouldn’t be one-way as a form of pedagogy,” he said. “I realized I needed a new approach in honoring students’ needs to make their own decisions about their health and attendance and ensuring that lectures were robust and dynamic.” To that end, his twice-weekly lectures include exercises, activities, and discussions that continue in weekly sessions with the teaching assistants.
Jonathan Reuning-Scherer, a senior lecturer in statistics, has made his lectures available online since before the pandemic. His class in data analysis has 500 students, with a mix of students attending in person, via livestream, or accessing it online on their own schedule. “Because a lot of what I’m teaching is examination of statistics, data analysis, and coding, it’s better for students to control the way in which they’re processing the information,” he said.
Maia Cook, a sophomore majoring in ethics, politics, and economics, attends the class in person. “I am a product of the pandemic, so I am very much over online schooling,” she said. During the class she follows the slides on her laptop, takes screen shots, and writes notes.
Coby Yang, a rising sophomore economics major, prefers to watch lectures online later. “Last fall in my microeconomics class, I constantly used lecture capture to rewatch and better understand the lectures. I fully believe that this is why I performed well in that course.”