Sam Liang, CEO and co-founder, Otter.ai
In the wake of the Covid-19 pandemic, just about every sector of society has undergone profound changes. The shift has been especially significant for students and teachers. Less than a year ago, only 38% of teachers said they used a blended or hybrid course format for teaching. In the blink of an eye in March 2020, universities and community colleges scrambled to transition to an almost 100% remote learning setup. Educators saw the adoption of video tools like Zoom, Google Meet and Microsoft Teams skyrocket as a result — initially as an interim measure until the spread of the virus slowed and schools reopened.
The realization now, of course, is that the pandemic has accelerated a dramatic shift toward remote learning. I’ve spent a lot of time exploring the benefits of tools like videoconferencing software as I’ve worked on new features to add to the remote learning experience. Understanding the many components in use and those in development can help students and instructors make the best of this new frontier in learning.
Remote learning has undoubtedly created a new frontier for educators. Lecturers have had to fundamentally reexamine how their students learn. This is no light undertaking. The classroom structure of teaching has changed relatively little since the first American schools opened in the 17th century. Technology has facilitated a reinvention of nearly every industry except for education. Universities and community colleges now need to embrace technology at a rate never seen before. We have virtual meeting software, recording features and even after-the-fact transcribing capabilities, but what does real-time transcribing and note taking look like for the virtual classroom?
When you are conducting remote learning over a Zoom or Teams video call, there is parity. Everyone has the same perspective looking at the same screen. It also feels like the teacher is talking to you directly rather than to the whole room. One of the challenges that comes with remote learning through videoconferencing software is the balance of taking notes and engaging with the lecture on the screen — both central pillars of the learning experience. Technology that transcribes lectures in real time and allows for highlighting of notes during the virtual lecture creates a hybrid learning environment. Students can focus on reading the transcript in real time or focus on the lecture and refer to the transcription later.
A More Personable Experience
Teachers are looking for ways to build a sense of community among their remote students. Adding comments during a video lecture is a standard feature of virtual meeting programs and can help facilitate better engagement with the content, but it can also show how students are personally engaging with the lecture. The chat function on Zoom or Teams adds an immediacy between students and lecturers to help guide the lecture. Highlighting and commenting on a real-time transcription uses the immediacy of the chat feature to create a resource crafted together by students and lecturers. It can show up for students studying alone but can also be found in study groups.
A real-time transcript also differs from the chat feature because of richer content like images. Videoconferencing software allows for attachment uploads in the chat. A real-time transcript offers a place to put attachments that will stay with students after the lecture.
The attention span of healthy teenagers and adults is often debated, but common estimates are between 10 and 20 minutes. Recording lectures and transcriptions allows for more reinforcement after class, especially for complicated and technical subject matter. Students also have a whole host of responsibilities as they learn from home. Lecture recordings can be assimilated into students’ everyday lives like other sources of content they consume — whether that be a podcast on a journey somewhere or during downtime in the evening. Students who are unable to go back and watch the full recording of a lesson or are working in a study group can refer to the full transcript of the lecture. We can all admit that we have been guilty of allowing distractions from texts or chat while in meetings or lectures, and knowing that accurate notes are available can relieve some of the stress of repeated hours of lectures.
Universities compete in a global market for international students. However, many foreign students face the challenge of speaking English fluently enough to carry a conversation but not enough to take in all the information delivered during lectures. My own experience of being a foreign language student at Stanford is a testament to how hard it is to follow lectures when English is not your native language. Through remote learning, foreign language students can take lecture transcriptions to study in more detail at a pace that suits them. They can also use it as an aide to help them learn English as a second language in addition to learning their course.
Having the full transcript of the lecturer being delivered in real time, right in front of you, enables students to concentrate on the lecture, rather than note taking. It gives them confidence that they are able to read the transcript as they listen and watch the lecturer at the same time. For lecturers, they can deliver their lecture knowing that they can speak at their normal pace, and without repetition, because their students have the notes to look back on.
With a variety of approaches to the fall semester playing out all over the country, figuring out one delivery method for education — high-quality remote learning — is a top priority for universities and community colleges. Many colleges and universities are exploring established virtual learning technology and new innovations in building their approaches. If implemented correctly, with useful technology, remote learning can introduce a fundamentally new approach to education. Understanding and utilizing this approach can spur new forms of collaboration between students and lecturers while providing a supportive environment for both synchronous and asynchronous learning.
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