Optimize Online Lectures

One of the greatest miracles of 21st-century medical science is that med students can now learn pathology at home in our pajamas. In addition to the coursebooks being available online, every lecture is recorded and posted later that day. “Lecture capture” opens up the flexibility to accommodate any schedule or learning style, but comes with a few glaring pitfalls.

The UGLY: I want to say up front that if you have trouble focusing in class, you will need to be very intentional about how you chose to lecture capture. For those who opt to avoid the commute and watch lectures from home, any number of distractions will inevitably seem more appealing. Unlimited access to phone/facebook/tv is a thief of focus. A playful pet or an inquisitive spouse will trump your commitment to pathology every time.

Remember that the point of watching these things is to learn as much as possible in as little time as necessary. Avoid lecture capturing just to check something off the to-do list.

The BAD: When you show up to class every morning ready to learn, you are essentially eliminating the possibility of falling behind. When you rely exclusively on lecture capture, falling behind is almost inevitable. This problem arises as a result of the lag time between the lecture being delivered and when it is published online. Often, once you miss you lecture you are behind for the following lectures that build on it, so you have to wait until the weekend to catch up. There are two reasons this is a bad thing. First, the weekend may be your only opportunity for downtime; don’t squander it lightly. Second, throughout the week there will be many opportunities for implicit learning in small groups and discussions which you’ll miss out on if you are not current on the lecture material. For example, in the anatomy lab you are wasting your time if you do the work of dissecting but haven’t previewed the structures. On a particularly bad day, no one in my group could name the regions of the kidney that we had just removed, because no one had gone to that morning’s lecture.

By not going to class, you will also lose access to the professors and your peers. All that tuition money really pays for the learning environment, not for the information. The more you interact with your colleagues, the more you will grow as a future physician.

Finally, ask yourself how much time you can spend in front of a screen. At some point your eyes will glaze over, start to itch, get blurry. Your glasses prescription may get a little worse, and we’ll all probably gain a few pounds. The alertness necessary for learning is a physical process that benefits from movement, and it is all-too-easy to become an blob when lecture capturing for five hours straight.

The GOOD: Even with all of the potential pitfalls, it is no-wonder that over half of my classmates prefer to watch lecture from home, the coffee shop, the library, or elsewhere. The #1 reason that people give is pure efficiency. Why commute unnecessarily? Why go at the professor’s pace instead of your own? There are certain lecturers who I find easier to engage with when viewed at 1.3x speed. With lecture capture, you can even watch at 2x speed and finish in half the time. You can also pause, rewind, and re-watch (which you do more of if you watch at 2x speed!).

One of my favorite aspects of lecture capture is batching multiple lectures in a series and watching them all in one sitting. Frequently a topic won’t fit neatly into a 50-minute lecture, and the series will span multiple days. This hurts comprehension when the break-point is arbitrary, so instead I eliminate it altogether by watching multiple lectures back-to-back. This has the added benefit of making the day seem less cluttered, because instead of having four different topics to learn, you may only have one. To further optimize my class line-up, I will often watch last-year’s lecture in advance and actually be ahead of the class syllabus. Also, as the technology advances, the lag time to post lectures is becoming less and will soon eliminate that drawback entirely. However, don’t confused efficiency for effectiveness– keep the focus on learning the material, not simply condensing classes.

On a final note, lecture capture can allow you freedom in med school that our predecessors wouldn’t have dreamed. Stay home if you’ve got the sniffles. Binge on bio-chem when you’re in the mood. Take a guilt-free trip somewhere sunny and warm. Just make sure you bring your laptop.

One response to “Optimize Online Lectures

  1. Pingback: Med School of Phoenix – Online | Mad Med Student·

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