ORIE Students and Faculty Benefit from a Locally-Grown Innovation in Teaching Support
ORIE faculty have been among the early adopters of new technology, such as computer-based instructional games, to assist in the learning process. A recent example is the adoption of VideoNote, a system developed by Ryan Morris, BS '08 M.Eng. '09, and his business partner, Paul George, Ph.D. EE '09.
VideoNote hires students to use modern camcorders to capture videos of lectures, tagging transitions between topics and tying the topics to a lecture outline. Students can later view the outline via the Internet to quickly locate and review specific video segments as often as needed to assure they have understood the material. The system grew out of a project in Entrepreneurship for Engineers, a course offered in ORIE and other Engineering units by John Callister, Director of the Harvey Kinzelberg Entrepreneurship in Engineering Program and a member of the faculties of both ORIE and the Sibley School of Mechanical and Aerospace Engineering. ORIE students and faculty have reacted enthusiastically to this new classroom technology.
Despite positive experience in an informal trial in Fall 2008 and in a more formal study in which the system was used in 10 courses University-wide in Spring 2009, continuation of VideoNote is somewhat jeopardized by the current campus economic climate. The cost of the system thus far has been supported by the University, but ongoing funding is uncertain. According to Morris, "for Fall 2009, 12 courses are using VideoNote, with funding from a combination of departments, the College of Engineering, and the Office of the Provost. Some large courses that I think would benefit greatly do not have the funds to pay for the service and so are unable to make it available to their students."
VideoNote has been used in three ORIE courses so far, and sample lecture segments are linked from the course titles in this article. Financial and Managerial Accounting, taught by Professor John Callister and Simulation Modeling and Analysis, taught by Professor Huseyin Topaloglu, were part of a pilot activity in Fall 2008, and VideoNote is being used in these courses again in Fall 2009. In Spring 2009 Optimization II, taught by Professor Leslie Trotter, was one of ten courses that participated in a formal study, commissioned by the Cornell Task Force on VideoNote, E-Learning, and Online Courseware System, to assess the use and value of VideoNote.
Trotter has been particularly enthusiastic about the innovation. "I'm tremendously positive, for the experience in my class and for ways the system might be used which we have yet to realize" He saw real benefit in the current use - "mostly I was relieved that students could easily catch-up on missed work" - and initially thought that eventually a class might be taught by making videos of lectures in an early semester available to students and turning the class time over to open discussion of the points covered in the online material. However in discussing this approach with students in his course, he found that they preferred to learn from live lectures, in particular where algorithms and theorems were discussed. For the most part, they saw VideoNote as a supplement to rather than a substitute for live lectures.
Trotter's students did use VideoNote extensively as a supplement, with 90% of the 125 students watching more than 1700 hours of searchable lecture videos. According to surveys organized and analyzed by the Task Force, 68% of his students used the system to review one or more specific points in a lecture, and 83% used it to review for exams. Almost all of the students felt that VideoNote helped their grades, with 62% reporting that it helped "very much." In an informal mid-semester survey separate from the Task Force study, one student in Trotter's class commented that "it was helpful to be able to pause the professor at times so that I could process whatever point he was trying to make, in the context he was making it in." Another responded to the survey, in capital letters for emphasis, "DONT EVER GET RID OF IT!"
Trotter taught the same course, without VideoNote, again during the summer of 2009 to a smaller class primarily made up of Co-op students who were not on campus in the spring. Part way through the course, he presented an example and was surprised when a student commented that "you used a different example last spring." It was then that he discovered that most of his summer students were reviewing the spring videos, often before class. Questioned at the end of the semester, the students were very enthusiastic, especially about the tagging of topics that made it easy to search for specific material, a capability which Morris claims is unique to VideoNote among classroom lecture recording systems.
Callister and Topaloglu, who used the system in Fall 08, commented on the positive impact that that VideoNote can have on the instructor. For Callister, it was the fact that "being taped forced me to speak clearly and stand still...a good thing." For Topaloglu, being recorded "pushes the instructor to make the in-class discussion more interesting so that the students have a reason to come to class. Also, since the lectures are documented forever, it pushes the instructors to be careful and precise with their delivery."
Callister, in whose course the idea had its origins, said that "when I saw this demonstrated in my class a few years ago, the compiling and synchronization of the written notes with the video was all done manually. Adding the written notes to an hour of recorded video could take an entire workday. Thus, the business plan did not look too promising. Now, a few years later, by using newly-developed commercial software and adding proprietary algorithms, VideoNote has been able to streamline the process considerably. After the cameraperson/transcriptionist has completed recording a lecture, the camera is connected to VideoNote’s hardware and the downloading occurs automatically and almost instantly. This takes a tedious, home-movie type recording system and makes it into an almost automatic, low-cost process. The VideoNote system may be very useful in other applications such as workplace training.”
Topaloglu (and some of Trotter's students surveyed in the Task Force Study) did express a concern. Topaloglu said that the system creates "one more reason for the students to procrastinate, thinking that 'the lectures are online anyway and I will watch them all when I get the chance.'" Some students in Trotter's spring course did indicate in the survey that they had skipped class in favor of watching it on VideoNote instead, with 29% stating that they had done so more than 10 times. Both Topaloglu and Trotter taught at 8:40 in the morning, a time which clearly created an incentive to miss class. However the Task Force report noted that some "chronic skippers" reported deliberately using VideNote instead of class attendance to increase what they learned from lectures either by time shifting the lecture to when the student was more alert and better able to learn or because of a learning disability or learning style issue the student found it easier to learn from the video or to use the video to supplement the lectures.
Another innovation, which has been used by Professor David Shmoys and others in ORIE, may hold a possible solution to the issue of class skipping. A number of Cornell classes now use a 'clicker' system that facilitates pop quizzes in the classroom. Each student in the room has a device that transmits the student's response to a multiple choice question to a computer in the room. The computer can then display the distribution of results, sometimes leading to further discussion. Since each student's transmission includes a unique identifier, the responses can be graded and attendance recorded.
However, in his use of the clicker technology Shmoys chose not to record attendance or grade responses but instead used the capability to promote thought and discussion in the classroom. For example in one lecture he showed a graphical diagram and asked the students to select, from among possible modifications of the diagram, those that would satisfy a property he had introduced earlier in the lecture. The clicker results immediately showed that there was not a consensus, and the ensuing discussion among the students solidified their understanding the property.
The Task Force report on VideoNote concluded that it is "a significant new pedagogical tool" but "whether Cornell can continue to support it or students will be willing to pay for the service is another question. Some sort of continuation is advised, for Cornell actually leads the field with this innovation, and it would be disheartening to see it die because of lack of support."
The Task Force report was largely written by Cornell Engineering Teaching Excellence Institute Director Kathryn Conway Dimiduk '79, who is the daughter of ORIE and Johnson Graduate School of Management Professor Emeritus Richard W. Conway, ORIE '53, Ph.D. '58. She was assisted in the analysis by current ORIE undergraduate Jeffrey Dimiduk '10, her son.
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