Recording lecture videos for the flipped intro biology course

In the flipped classroom, recorded lectures are the baseline and a failsafe. No matter what I and my students do in the classroom or lecture hall, students can still watch the videos and their learning won’t be any worse than in the traditional lecture course. When I decided to flip my large intro biology lecture course in fall 2011, I had to produce my own set of lecture videos for the first time. Fortunately, I was responsible for only 1/2 of the course, rather than an entire semester’s worth of lectures.

I set out to produce Khan-academy style videos with polished illustrations, but no other frills. I used a free, open-source application called CamStudio ( to capture streaming audio and screen activity on my HP tablet PC, while I talked and annotated Powerpoint slides with the tablet pen. This was how I gave lectures in previous years, interspersed with clicker questions. For the video lectures, I removed the clicker question slides (these were used in class). At the end of the lecture session, I stopped the recording in CamStudio. I used Windows Movie Maker to review the session, trim the start and end, and sometimes to split the video into multiple parts. I saved the movie “for computer” 640 x 480 display with a manageable file size.

My first recorded lectures suffered from poor synchronization of audio with video, so that the pen on the screen was writing a few seconds behind the voice. Students complained that this was distracting. In later videos, I eliminated this problem by using a higher frame-rate in CamStudio (50 frames/second). This led to larger (1 GB) avi file sizes, and there may be a better solution, but this worked for me. Your mileage may vary with your particular machine. Fortunately, Windows Movie Maker greatly reduced the file size in the exported wmv format. I uploaded these videos to T-square, Georgia Tech’s custom implementation of the Sakai course-management system, and to YouTube. I registered to get my own channel and to be able to upload videos longer than 15 min. The YouTube channel turned out to be important because students with Macs could not view the wmv files on T-square.

Recording the lectures turned out to be more time-consuming than I had anticipated. For 30 minutes of video, I spent several hours preparing the Powerpoint slides. Although I had slides from my previous years of lecturing, with my intent to put them on YouTube I wanted to remove all copyrighted material (textbook figures!). Because of time constraints I could not find acceptable substitutes for all of them. Then rough-scripting the lecture, recording the first take, reviewing the take, and preparing a second and sometimes third or fourth take consumed several additional hours. I had to wait until I could find a quiet place where I would not be interrupted by students, wife, telephone, or hungry/bored cats. Finally, uploading 100-Mb video files to T-square and YouTube took agonizingly long times. Although my goal was to upload each video at least 24 hours before class, some videos were uploaded just the evening before.

Now that I have a complete set of lecture videos already on-line, students next year will have plenty of time to view the videos in advance. However, I am not done with them. As my first effort, these videos are serviceable, but I’m sure they can stand a good bit of refinement. Over time, I will redo most of them, in shorter, tighter and more focused segments of 10 minutes or less.

Oh, and how did students like my videos? I think the majority did not like having to watch them. Typical student comments in the end-of-course evaluations:

Expecting us to listen to lectures before class, so that group activities could be done during class, was not fair to the students time wise. Listening to the lectures, doing the homework, and reading the chapters was more work than should be necessary for this class.

Watching the videos outside of class was an unfair expectation- if both 50 minutes of lectures and 20 minutes of video are required then the lecture should be worth more than 3 hours.

I had a hard time with the video lectures. They were very useful on occasions when I watched them before coming to class but combined with my courseload and in someways lack of discipline, this didn’t happen often.

Yes, I had a few complaints that the lecture videos were uninteresting/boring, but most of the complaints were about the additional work and time it took to view the videos, and the use of class time to do group activities. As the third student commented above, only about half of the students watched the assigned video before class. I could tell because straightforward clicker questions based on the video content elicited only about 50% correct answers.

On the other hand, many students appreciated the on-line video lectures:

I loved his strategy of the recorded lectures followed by the clicker questions. I felt like I understood the material much better than just reading the book before lecture. His videos were concise, to the point, and very representative of what would be on the test.

The video lectures are what taught me everything i needed to know for the material he taught.

I thought the lecture videos were very helpful, especially when reviewing for the exams.

I know many people did not like the lecture videos, but I would much rather watch the videos than read the book. I feel as if I did a lot better when I watched the videos, or at least I feel like I learned much more. They helped because it was like having my own private lecture where I could pause it at my own leisure to write information down. This also helped me to focus on everything that was said because when I noticed that I was no longer paying attention to the video, I could just pause and take a break as opposed to a real lecture. The diagrams and pictures that are used are also very helpful.

Overall, I do believe that lecture videos on-line can be very helpful for student learning. And the whole point is that it frees up class time for process skills and applications – real science! I can also see the student perspective that this is an extra demand on their time. For my next go-around, I will have to think carefully about how to integrate lecture videos, textbook readings, Mastering Biology and in-class activities to better enable students to manage their time and learn most efficiently.

All my lecture videos are available on my YouTube Channel:

As always, your comments and suggestions are welcome.


About jchoigt

I'm an Associate Professor in the School of Biology at Georgia Tech, and Faculty Coordinator of the Professional MS Bioinformatics degree program.
This entry was posted in Academia, Teaching and learning biology and tagged , , . Bookmark the permalink.

9 Responses to Recording lecture videos for the flipped intro biology course

  1. Jung, I wonder if a just-in-time quiz would encourage students to either read the book or watch the lectures before class. Maybe even have a question or two on the quiz that is from the lecture, not the book?

    • jchoigt says:

      I began each class with 3-4 clicker questions from the video. This wasn’t enough to motivate many of the students. I’m thinking I should more organically incorporate the videos into the homeworks and case problems. 5 or 10-minute videos that address one key concept can be flexibly incorporated, along with videos from other sources. And I can do this through Mastering Biology.

  2. kolitsky says:

    Interesting topic just covered in edutopia titled “Five Best Practices for the Flipped Classroom” and provides some things to think about for the flipped classroom model.


  3. kolitsky says:

    Sorry, forgot to include the web address for the “Best Practices for the Flipped Classroom”.

    • jchoigt says:

      Thanks for the link, Mike. I definitely agree that the flipped model is a tool, not a panacea or a goal unto itself. I need to work on making the recorded videos an organic part of the learning process. Creating the “need to know” to motivate the students to watch the videos is the hard part.

  4. Jung, We are just about to dive into creating a Flipped classroom for our general chemistry course. We also want to post our videos on YouTube. How did you end up working out the issue of replacing copyrighted material in your videos? Did you replace all of it or could you just cite the copyrighted material?

    • jchoigt says:

      I replaced most of it; some material I could find no suitable replacement, and simply acknowledged or cited the source.

  5. Pingback: Assessing the flipped classroom | Jung's Biology Blog

  6. Pingback: Flipped case studies workshop at Buffalo, 2014 | Jung's Biology Blog

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