Recording Guest Lectures – Should We Bother?

The short:

We should! (Maybe.) However, we need to commit to some uses for them before we do.

The long:

The Faculty of Arts, where I work, hosts hundreds of events across the year, producing hours of expert insight across topical, specific, emerging, and general interest topics. For instance,  we’re soon hosting British-Chilean documentary filmmaker Pablo Navarrete following our Latin American Film Night, and the regular Ancient History Seminar Series will feature our very own  Javier Álvarez-Mon presenting “Genesis and Identity of the Persian Empire: New Paradigms”. Neat!

Thanks to the arrival of some new equipment in our faculty, and reasonably well-established recording and distribution infrastructure, we have the capacity to be capturing a lot more of our extra-curricular academic activity than we currently do. The question is, should we?

It’s always struck me as odd that those lucky enough to attend events on campus have access to this knowledge (and sandwiches), but it’s only available during that initial burst of air-column vibration from the vocal chords. We live in an age where we have the technology to cheaply and accurately record and reproduce the human voice for later access, and we have a wealth of human voices to record. What’s stopping us from combining the two and creating a reusable resource that can help spread knowledge beyond that initial geotemporal instance?

Well, two major obstacles:

  1. Traditionally, recording events was a labour (and resource) intensive process. It takes time to sort out the technical requirements, even more so if there are visuals involved. Is it worth it? That strongly depends on…
  2. Who actually wants it? In a world of near infinite information (on a human scale,) who has the time or inclination to go back to a potentially inferior simulacrum of the original event?

I’ll square with you: the University has been burned before, investing time and resources filming events only to have them sit idly on a server (or even worse, a hard drive,) unplayed and unloved. Are recordings addressing good intentions or actual demand?

This second obstacle, I think, is where we’re at now, since the resourcing question has diminished significantly. These day’s we’re able to make audio recordings with little effort; in rooms set up with Echo recording, the entire process can be automated! We also have some capacity to support making video recordings of lectures and events, and in Arts we have the equipment that can be lent out to the Faculty for those prepared to use it.

So to the question of ‘is it worth it’, let’s examine some of the benefits of recording our guest lectures and events (in order of increasing value, according to our current policy framework.) Guest lecture and seminar recordings are useful for:

  1. Archive purposes
    It’s always nice to have something to show for yourself at the end of the day, a material (or digital) artefact. Quasi-tangible assets are much more real than ephemeral entries in a calendar, and who knows how a lecture might be useful a few weeks down the track, a few years, Macquarie@100? We have the potential to build up our own library of recordings, opening up space for future utilisation we haven’t yet invented.
  1. Research dissemination and engagement
    We talk about the role of universities in creating and disseminating knowledge – might these not be part of that role? It’s a shame these sorts of presentations aren’t recognised in any formal output metrics, but we at least recognise visiting scholarship and new research as important academic pursuits. Perhaps there are some guest lecture recordings that could be made public, as part of Macquarie’s social and community engagement? Maybe it’s good PR to show the community “this is who we are and what we do!” Maybe an engaged high-school student would find it valuable, and be further persuaded to come to Macquarie? Podcasts have entered the mainstream (or at the very least the upper-middle class/Ira Glass fans) – could we repurpose the most engaging as a podcast? What if we assigned the curation of this podcast to our best and brightest students, and got them engaged as ‘co-producers’?
  1. Accessibility
    There’s a very clear argument for making these resources available to those who are off-campus. Our external mode student cohorts have seen enormous growth over the past few years, but we’re still very much oriented towards on-campus events. External students consistently rate their ‘engagement’ satisfaction as poor. Providing access to event recordings, explicitly framed as resources designed for external students, might be one way of extending our extra-curricular offering to these cohorts.
  1. Assessment resources
    Non-course based academic lectures can be a useful research resource for students to use in their assessment tasks. Many speakers present the findings of their published studies, and often contain mini-literature reviews to contextualise their work. With some development around academic literacy and the appropriate use of public lectures in formal research and assessment, these could provide an additional resource available to students that compliment other resources we provide, like suggested readings.
  1. Learning & Teaching
    Moving beyond their optional ‘additional resources’ deployment, what if we approached some of these guest lectures and seminars as teachable content, with the same status as a course reading? Our number one strategic priority, after all, is to foster a “culture of transformative learning in a research-enriched environment.” Using the presentations of new research in our teaching seems such a direct way of achieving that! At their core these lectures are often highly topical and niche, which makes them ideally suited as specific or real world expressions of broader teachable concepts. Many of these lectures often present the findings of interdisciplinary studies, so they might be suitable in a range of different contexts. For instance, the Art Gallery is hosting an upcoming lecture: “Humour as History – Soldier Cartoons from the Trenches.” I wonder if that lecture might find a second home in a History course, a Media one, English, Sociology? Perhaps it might be relevant in areas of Linguistics or Psychology? There are no technological obstacles to providing students access to this content through iLearn – instead, we have the potential to provide a diverse range of experiences through rich media content. Since they’re delivered online, they can also be run side-by-side with activities/discussions.

So there we have some of the potential benefits of recording and repurposing some of the enormous untapped resource. What’s apparent, however, is that for the majority of these it’s not enough to simply make the recording and expect people to find it (or want to find it!). If we were to go down this path of recording lectures, then finding a use and an audience for them would be an active process.

There are a few other obstacles to recording and repurposing this content that I haven’t addressed here (particularly around IP issues), but I think these can be overcome if the will is there.

I think it’s worthwhile having the discussion. To me, we’re creating and disseminating such a wonderful pool of knowledge, it’s a shame that relatively few get the opportunity to experience it. It would be great if we could reframe our approach to guest lectures. Instead of thinking of them as single-use consumables (sustainability!), let’s talk about how they might be reused in the pursuit of our research, and learning & teaching objectives.

If you’d like to talk more about this, or the logistics of recording and disseminating lectures (and there are a range of approaches to different standards of presentation,) please get in touch. I’d be happy to help those of you in Arts, or, if you’re in another area, put you in contact with those that could assist. If you can think of any more benefits, or want to ruminate more on the obstacles and challenges, then share your comments below!