I have often criticised the use of technology just to record and transmit lectures. Nevertheless, I do recognise the value of a top class lecture, which can be very stimulating and can help get you started into a subject.

Academic Earth is a web site that offers video recordings of lectures from top professors from the following universities: Berkeley; Harvard;  MIT; Princeton; Stanford; UCLA; Yale. One of my favourites is Professor  Marian Diamond’s lecture on the human brain and muscular system – you have to love a woman who brings both a hat and a brain in a hat box to class!

Now my question is: what is the best way to make use of these lectures? I have a 20 year old niece just starting at a university in Britain, and I have sent her the url for Paul Bloom’s Introduction to Psychology at Yale University. So as a student – or potential student – this can really help in an early orientation to a subject area.

But if I was an instructor teaching psychology, how would I use these videos? I guess the first thing I would do is ask whether I would need to give any lectures myself – except perhaps an introductory lecture at the beginning of the course and a wrap-up lecture at the end. Particularly if I had a large lecture class – perhaps 200 students – as is common in introductory psychology courses, I would be very tempted to get my students to follow a careful selection of online video lectures from other professors then use the time freed up from not having to prepare and give lectures to participating with groups of students in online and small face-to-face group discussions about the content of the lectures.

I would also encourage the students to find other videos from the ones I have suggested (as well as books and online articles). I would also look at ways to get the students to do projects around the topics covered in the lectures and post the projects online for discussion and criticism by the rest of the class. All the time, of course, I would be looking at how these activities would help students achieve the learning outcomes set for the course – but I might change some of the learning outcomes as the course progresses, if students come up with new ideas and topics that are relevant – making sure that any changes in learning outcomes are communicated to students.

However, how would you use online video lectures with your students – or would you avoid them altogether?

See also:

A review of lecture capture systems

More on lecture capture

Laptops in lectures

More on laptops in lectures

The danger of recording lectures

Microlectures in online courses


  1. By the way, women can have brains and beauty at the same time. Regarding how to use these videos, for students it can be a great way to learn more about a subject they may be taking in another school. And if you’re actually a student of that class, wouldn’t it work great as a substitute for actual class? watching a lecture in my pajamas in my dorm room sounds better than going to class on some days.

  2. If I was a frontline educator again, in the current environment, I would treat these videos as any other open educational resource and provide links to them for students. But then I have always thought of my role (when I was in a lecturing position) as being a facilitator of learning rather than a teacher.

    What is the point in me giving a lecture on the human brain when Marian Diamond has done such a fabulous job? I might put some narrative around her video and it might include some contextualisation that may be required but that’s about it.

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