OFF THE BOARD: Class you can watch in bed?

Off the Board/Opinion by

PSYCH 213: Cognition is like most 200-level psychology courses: it’s straightforward, chock-full of interesting studies that explain human behaviour, and it’s in Leacock 132. But unlike most large science classes, it’s not recorded.

Among the many redundant questions posted on WebCT, there have been well over 100 requests to record Cognition lectures – in addition to dozens of emails and in-class appeals about the same subject. They’ve ranged from simple inquiries to insults to the department. For a small fee, the Psychology Students’ Association offers note-taking club transcripts of the class, but even direct transcripts haven’t placated some students.

The Science and Society office began recording lectures for its World of Chemistry courses partly because their exams focus heavily on details, and accompanying textbooks aren’t usually available or appropriate. Since then, the practice of recording lectures has spread to dozens of lower-level science courses and even some arts courses. While that technology can be beneficial at times, it has spoiled some students to the point of insult.

When the projector broke in the middle of a lecture, a few students next to me said that the professor is obviously technology illiterate, and that’s probably why she doesn’t record the classes – because she can’t. I don’t think that this is true. Classes aren’t recorded because, despite size limitations, the professor would like to engage students in the material.

Lectures recordings are a great resource, but they are not a substitute for going to class. They can be very useful for first-years when homesickness, a full course load, and new social environs combine in the worst of ways, but they aren’t necessary for academic success.

In a class that examines attention and memory, students should make practical use of the material. As one student so aptly put it on the WebCT discussion board, her decision involved “something about passive listening and active listening.”

Students who claim they will attend class and then watch the lecture later to take notes are likely to spend less time in class paying attention and more time on Facebook, typing furiously on their BlackBerrys, sleeping, or some combination thereof. While many psychological studies have shown that humans can divide their attention equally between two tasks, this process requires formal training. Furthermore, lecture recordings are usually not posted until the day following the lecture, making a missed lecture easily forgettable. And as many studies have shown, cramming is one of the least effective forms of studying, so watching 10 lectures two days before a final exam is not nearly as effective as going to class throughout the semester.

Academics have never been so easily accessible. WebCT provides an easy – though occasionally precarious – interface for accessing course materials, organizing study groups, and contacting instructors. Any student who has to miss class on a particular day – a primary argument for recording the lectures – can request notes from fellow students on WebCT. JSTOR and other electronic library services have greatly simplified the research process. Most science textbooks even have an interactive website, allowing you to learn the basics of the material without much effort. While it may seem trivial, typing a question into Google really can solve a lot of ambiguities. Studying has never been so easy.

And as one student said on the discussion board, “Have you heard how quiet Leacock 132 is? I think it’s fantastic. I’m glad this class isn’t recorded … I find it refreshing and motivating.” Your job – and most aspects of your life – won’t be recorded, so start taking notes.