Panopto: A helpful resource or class inconvenience. By Eryk Gadomski

Prior to 2015 the recordings of lectures for student use was virtually unknown. Students either took their own notes manually, (and maybe typed them up on their Remington) or, if they were absent, were without.  The initiative to attend lectures was therefore strong. The arrival in the last five years of recorded lectures altered all this. Founded in 2007 by William Guttman, William Scherlis, Brad Winney, and Eric Burns, Panopto became the lecture recording software for all universities across the UK. Prestigious universities and companies like Oxford, Newcastle, Yale, Stanford, IBM, Genentech and HSBC are all subscribers. This software is only 10 years old, but it still causes controversy and leaves a bad taste in lecturers’ mouths as though it were made yesterday. When I asked students at the University of Derby to describe Panopto, one word consistently arose – helpful. Panopto has many functions such as video recording, video management, live streaming, quizzing and analytics (Panopto, 2017). All these functions are available at the click of a button. However, are these functions really being used in the day-to-day world?

The main reason that some lecturers will not record their lectures is that they are concerned about attendance, and thus the performance of the class. This could have significant implications for the university itself. However, research into students’ views on lecture recordings provided evidence that live lecture capture did not affect the grades or attendance of students (Bollmeier et al, 2010). Furthermore, students did find the system useful, and would like an increase in lecture recordings on their courses.

In some cases, there will be a small number of individuals who do not attend lectures but engage with the lecture recordings (Chester et al, 2011). However, the main reason for some students engaging with the recordings rather than attending lectures. For example, another possible reason for this is the individual’s mental health. Recently, a YouGov survey revealed that one in four students has reported a mental health illness (Aronin & Smith, 2016). Students who struggle with social interactions or homesickness during their time at the university (Page, 2014) might find it easier to stay at home and still engage with the course content like everyone else. Thus, the debate over whether students will become lazy, and not attend lectures if they are recorded, has more depth and complexity than has ever been previously appreciated. Another piece of research, this time into student perception and academic performance, found a difference in usage of lecture recording between high-achieving and low-achieving students. The high-achieving students fast-forwarded to the sections they wanted to revisit, whereas the low-achieving students listened to the whole recording several times (Owston et al, 2011). Nevertheless, the same study found that lecture recordings were highly regarded by most students, as they offered flexibility as to whether or not to attend classes. 

Personally, as an undergraduate, I do use Panopto to verify my lecture notes and for revision. Furthermore, as some lectures speak very quickly, I value being able to turn to the recordings in my own time to supplements my incomplete notes. This is particularly important in longer, three- and four-hour lectures, when concentration flags.

Overall, lecture recording offers students a variety of options, the most favourably of which is use as a preferred revision resource. Panopto contributes to a positive student experience and thus satisfaction in the degree programme (Larkin, 2010). Sadly, it the potential to be abused, as Panopto offers the chance of lecture flexibility, which could encourage lower student attendance. Although not yet documented by peer reviewed research, Panopto has the potential to be a positive tool in managing mental health issues such as anxiety and depression. The research to date indicates that students regard lecture recordings either positively or neutrally; but, in the end, the choice as to whether to record lectures will lie with the lecturers themselves.

Author: Matt Howcroft

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