‘Chunking’ lectures into shorter, meaningful recordings for online delivery
Dr Danielle D’Lima, Faculty of Brain Sciences, describes the experience and benefits of dividing her lectures into digestible, meaningful ‘chunks’ of content for students learning online.
21 October 2020
Dr Danielle D’Lima, module convenor on the MSc Behaviour Change, Faculty of Brain Sciences, sets out her approach to ‘chunking’ the lecture content for her ‘Theories and Models of Behaviour Change’ module; how the lecture chunks relate to the module’s other asynchronous and synchronous components of online learning; and reflects on some positive, unexpected consequences!
‘Chunking’ a lecture means to create multiple small segments or ‘chunks’ of content – be it video or text - from the initial lecture material.
When teaching face-to-face, you can immediately gauge students' attention and adapt accordingly. This kind of feedback is often lacking in online teaching, whilst the risk of distraction is also much greater. Therefore a ‘chunking’ a lecture into small segments punctuated by various learning activities is recommended in place of replicating a 1-2 hour face-to-face lecture online.
Theories and Models of Behaviour Change is a core module of the MSc Behaviour Change in the Faculty of Brain Sciences. As module convenor, I was responsible for converting the face-to-face version of the module to an online version in response to the pandemic. I took the approach of dividing the content into a mixture of asynchronous and synchronous learning activities.
Asynchronous activities consist of essential readings, watching pre-recorded mini-lectures and contributing to the discussion board. These are followed by a two hour synchronous session in which students can complete seminar tasks in break-out groups, with some additional content provided based on the data accumulated from their discussion board contributions.
Over the summer, I have been working on ‘translating’ the materials, including chunking the lecture content to create the pre-recorded mini-lectures – as per advice from the UCL Arena Centre and Digital Education teams.
To chunk the lecture content, I began by reviewing all of the lectures that I usually give on the module and separating the content into meaningful sections. A meaningful section equates to a chunk of learning that stands alone but is clearly connected to what comes before and after it.
I went through several iterations of chunking in this way and recording, as I found that recording a section sometimes made me think about chunking it in a different way, and this had implications for the overall organisation of the material.
By recording as audio over PowerPoint files I was able to reshuffle quite easily without having to start from scratch (e.g. because individual slides can be recorded, moved around and re-edited without impacting the slide deck as a whole).
The final pre-recorded mini-lectures ranged in length according to the content and purpose. For example, some took three minutes to introduce a task for the discussion board or prepare students for the upcoming synchronous session, right up to twenty minutes to cover key content for the week’s learning objectives.
I was keen to undertake this exercise as I was drawn to the idea of categorising the content and reassessing it against the learning objectives. I also hoped it would make me more confident about delivering term one online this year as I had been feeling a little anxious about it.
In the first week of the module, we have seen a high level of online engagement, which is both encouraging and exciting. This type of structured online teaching may offer some advantages over face to face teaching, including more equity in students’ communication of their reflections and a more inclusive shared discussion among the entire class. This has been an unexpected outcome of this pandemic, and I look forward to our continued efforts to maximize students’ learning and engagement online.” Dr Leslie Gutman, Programme Director of the MSc Behaviour Change, Centre for Behaviour Change
I plan to continue to make small iterations week by week to ensure that I can adapt and develop based on my experience of teaching the new cohort, and the feedback I receive from students. For example, for Week 2, I added a short mini-lecture chunk with contains some reflections on week one and additional examples to support learning.
Benefits for my teaching
Coherence: This experience is something that I would not have got from delivering the content face to face. Despite regularly reflecting on the individual lectures that I give and how to improve them, it is sometimes difficult to see the relationships between smaller chunks of information (and the learning activities that they are nested in) after having delivered the entire content.
More responsive: By having access to the ‘data’ on the discussion board in advance of the synchronous session, I am able to proactively tailor the session in a way that I would not when delivering the lecture and seminar as part of the same face to face session. This offers an additional safety net to ensure that the learning objectives are successfully met for all students.
Supporting a diverse cohort: It has also helped me to address some of the specific challenges that I face with this module. For example, I have struggled to tailor the content to a very mixed student audience from different disciplinary backgrounds. The module covers multiple theories and models of behaviour change. Some students who take the module already have relatively advanced experience and understanding of these theories and models (e.g. those that have come to the MSc directly from a psychology undergraduate degree). However, we also have many students (around half) on our course who come from other disciplinary backgrounds (e.g. Economics, Arts, Law, Politics, History, Business, and Health) and therefore come to the module with no or very little prior knowledge of these theories and models.
Through the process of chunking the lecture content, I organically began to identify components that were of particular relevance to different audiences (i.e. those with more or less experience). I was therefore able to highlight this in my audio by clearly signposting who it was most relevant to. I could also tailor the learning where appropriate by creating and highlighting particular recordings that go into more detail on some of the theories and models. This will hopefully help students to better understand the position that they are sitting in within the cohort, and how they can ensure that they take what they need from the pre-recorded lecture chunks; it gives them autonomy to engage with the material in a way that best suits their learning needs.
Going through the process of translating this module for online teaching has already taught me so much about the learning process and reminded me why I love teaching - Dr Danielle D’Lima, Senior Teaching Fellow, Centre for Behaviour Change
This also has a positive impact on the weekly synchronous sessions that I am running for this module. For example, students are able to join the session with the right level of information to engage fully in the interactive group tasks, and I am able to join the session with prior information on how students have engaged with the asynchronous activities and the extent to which they have met the learning objectives.
I have found this to be a rewarding process and it has encouraged me to reassess the content in relation to the learning outcomes of the module.
If the pandemic requires us to teach online in future terms, I plan to take the same approach. Teaching on my double credit module, Behaviour Change Intervention Development and Evaluation, will present slightly different challenges. For example, it is a highly interactive module that relies on students having the time and space to practice key skills for intervention design
I anticipate that chunking the material will help me to identify exactly which components of the material are essential for setting students up to practice and develop the skills – either independently or as part of synchronous group work – interspersed with formative feedback.
Danielle’s top tips for chunking your lecture content
- Plan carefully before recording. Complete the rough chunking of multiple lectures before starting to record. Breaking down the information and looking at it as a stream of chunks across the weeks helped me to make some broader amendments.
- Keep in mind the value of asynchronous and synchronous teaching. My face-to-face lecture content moved between chalk and talk approaches and more interactive components. Going through the chunking process helped me to focus on what different types of information/activities were trying to achieve and therefore if they truly belonged in the mini-lecture or would be better suited to a discussion board activity or the weekly synchronous sessions that I am running for this module
- Leave some room/time to iterate. Most of this work has been completed before meeting the cohort of students and getting in the flow of the term. I am aware that I will likely want to make small edits week by week to tailor to their specific needs. I am hopeful that regular engagement with the discussion forums (from both staff and students) will naturally create data that can be used to make adaptations that support the students’ learning. Again, this is an opportunity that would not have come so easily with face to face teaching
- Work with the resources/equipment you have. Don’t feel intimidated if you are unable or unmotivated to create highly sophisticated and technical video recordings. I was concerned about my equipment and skill set to do this but have found that by keeping it simple (i.e. audio over PowerPoint) but approaching with confidence and enthusiasm it has been achievable and I am happy with what I have created
- See it as an opportunity. I was nervous about the challenge of translating materials for online teaching but have found it to be an extremely rewarding process. It has helped me to think about the content of my module in a different way and address some challenges quite organically. I don’t think this would have happened so naturally if I was proceeding to deliver the module in a face to face context as normal this year. It has also reminded me why I love teaching!