Technology for Learning | Feature

Teaching in One-Minute Snippets

A New Mexico college is successfully integrating micro-lectures into classroom instruction. Can students and faculty members benefit from 60-second chunks of knowledge?

It may be hard for some college professors to understand just how effective a one-minute lecture can be, but many educators at San Juan College in Farmington, NM are already paring their lengthy diatribes down to 60 seconds. These "micro-lectures" are the brainchild of David Penrose, the college's manager of online services.

Penrose said he came up with idea of truncated lectures delivered to students electronically two years ago. "I began looking closely at traditional, 45-minute lecture formats, and did some reverse engineering to see how much material could be cut out of them," said Penrose. "In the end, it came down to a 60-second piece of information that identified specific topics, but without the explanations."

Calling those 60-second lectures "knowledge bursts," Penrose began distributing sample formats via podcast to the school's statistics, sociology, psychology and history professors. "I wanted to demonstrate that this concept would work across disciplines," said Penrose. Educators responded positively to Penrose's test and were particularly interested, he said, in being able to record multiple, short lectures at one time and then to distribute them over the course of several semesters.

"Because everything that the professors say is essential to the student's learning experience, the micro-lectures are never outdated," said Penrose. "The only element that does change is the classroom assignments." A physiology professor, for example, who spends a few hours taping dozens of one-minute lectures can use that material for years--updating only when medical advances and changes necessitate the revisions.

That evergreen nature of the micro-lecture is complemented by the fact that instructors who use the format can significantly reduce the amount of time they spend lecturing in class. Penrose said one San Juan College instructor who "traditionally loved to talk," for instance, was able to reduce total lecture time for a 16-week course from 70 hours to a mere 25 minutes. "That's pretty significant for someone who was used to talking for 70 hours," said Penrose.

The micro-lecture concept was formally launched as a pilot project during the fall of 2009 as part of a new online degree program in occupational safety. Penrose said the pilot went over so well that the program is now being expanded to include various other study areas, including reading and veterinary studies. Recently, the college developed a cultural heritage technician certificate program based largely on micro-lectures.

To develop the micro-lectures, the college uses Mac OS X-based computers for recording and production and for adding graphics to the presentations.

"There was no post-production involved," said Penrose. "We were able to create a finished product quickly, and without much additional effort." Since coming up with the micro-lecture idea two years ago, Penrose said, the college has experimented with other recording and distribution tools, including a free, open source audio editor and recorder called Audacity, as well as Abobe Flash and Wimba Voice.

Students access and view the lectures on their computers via the college's course management system and can also download the snippets to their mobile devices. Some of the lectures contain only an audio component, while others include both audio and video.

San Juan College's success with using micro-lectures in the classroom hasn't gone unnoticed by the higher-education space. "As our efforts gained more and more publicity, we started getting requests to help other schools with their micro-lectures," said Penrose. Columbus State Community College in Ohio was particularly interested in integrating a similar program into its classrooms.

"I received a request to do a videoconference with some folks at CSCC," said Penrose. "I'd never met any of them before, but they had about 15 faculty members who were interested in using micro-lectures with their courses." Penrose has fielded similar requests from other institutions and said, "It's nice to be able to help faculty at other colleges achieve the level of success that we have with micro-lectures."

Ultimately, Penrose said, the lecture snippets help fill the gap when students need more than just one-time, classroom-based lectures. They create opportunities for instructors to produce engaging activities on specific topics, he said, and they allow individual students to access and learn via computer and mobile device on their own time.

What micro-lectures don't do, said Penrose, is undermine in any way the value of good quality instruction. "Despite advances in educational technology, we've seen a renewed emphasis on learner participation, and its effect on the success of any instructional content," said Penrose. "With micro-lectures, instead of trying to cram an entire textbook into 16 weeks, professors can link the content they're teaching more closely to specific learning objectives, thus creating a more focused learning experience."

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