Back to the (Early) Universe

After what seems like ages away from the lecture theatre, today I resuming teaching duties with the first session of my module on The Physics of the Early Universe; the link there gives Enzo Pascale as being in charge of the module, but he has left BrExit Britain for his native Italy so I’ve taken his place. I actually wrote the syllabus for this module about five years ago when I worked in Cardiff previously, and was scheduled to deliver it in 2013, but I left for Sussex before it started and never actually lectured it. It’s nice to be able to teach this material at long last – at least it’s stuff that I should know something about.

This lectures are attended by students on the 4th year of the integrated Masters programme (MPhys) and also on stand-alone MSc courses in Physics or Astrophysics. I have about 25 students enrolled, which is not bad for a specialist module.

In fact Enzo recommended the book I wrote with Francesco Lucchin when he taught the module, and I’m happy to use it as the main text. I won’t cover all the material in the book – there isn’t time, and some of the book is out of date (written in 2002) – but at least almost everything I do in the lectures has a counterpart in the book.

Chapter 3 of Coles \& Lucchin has a chapter that may prove particularly popular in this era of ‘Alternative Facts’:


I did however resist the temptation to hire a group of people to sit at the front of my first lecture cheering and clapping wildly.

I’ve asked to have my lectures timetabled in two-hour chunks. That’s partly because I only work part-time and I wanted to be able to maximize the flexibility with which I can use the rest of the time by concentrating my teaching commitments. The other reason is that I like the extended format. I don’t talk continuously for the whole time, of course. That would be unbearable for me and for the students. We have a ten-minute break in the middle. However, the two-hour block allows a wider range of activities – lecturing, discussion and worked examples – which is harder to do in the usual (50-minute) slot without being excessively rushed. When I taught postgraduates at Queen Mary we used two-hour blocks, which worked out quite well. The only problem is that I’m now a lot older, and having finished my first double-lecture I think it’s fair to say I’m more than a little knackered.

Another innovation is the use of Cardiff’s new lecture-capture system (called Panopto), which allows the lecturer to record everything – powerpoint, data visualizer, whiteboard and live action – for posterity. I recorded this morning’s lecture in toto and at some point when I get a moment I’ll do a quick edit and put it on Learning Central for the students to view at their leisure. I’m not sure how useful my ramblings will prove to be, but it’s fun to try these things. It’s a significantly more sophisticated and flexible system than the one we used when I was at Sussex, and I’m also lucky to be in a nice, clean and recently refurbished lecture theatre…

Anyway, this gives me the excuse to refloat an old opinion poll about lecture capture. Such facilities are of course very beneficial for students with special learning requirements, but in the spirit of inclusive teaching I think it’s good that all students can access recorded lecture material. Some faculty are apparently a little nervous that having recordings of lectures available online would result in falling attendances at lectures, but in fact the available evidence indicates precisely the opposite effect. Students find the recorded version adds quite a lot of value to the “live” event by allowing them to clarify things they might not have not noted down clearly.

I like the idea of lecture capture a lot and am very happy to do it with my own lectures. It does seem to be the case however that some university staff are wary of this innovation, but opinion may be changing. Please let me know what you think via the poll:

If you don’t like the idea I’d welcome a comment explaining why. I’d also be interested in comments from colleagues in other institutions as to the extent to which lecture capture technology is used elsewhere..


11 Responses to “Back to the (Early) Universe”

  1. Bryn Jones Says:

    You posted this essay 35 minutes ago and there are 100 votes already?

  2. Adrian Burd Says:

    Video capture is used by several US institutions in order to retain continuity of teaching after a catastrophe (e.g. earthquake, hurricane etc.). I know of several universities along the south coast of the US that do this, so that if students are evacuated to other locations they can continue their course work online with minimal interruption; they will be seeing last year’s lectures, but it’s better than nothing.

    The other thing I think video capture can be useful for is for the lecturer themselves to see their lecture from the student’s perspective. This can help improve future presentations, though not always.

    • I think the implied suggestion that Peter’s lecture was anticipated to be a catastrophe is a little harsh. I actually think that Peter is an excellent lecturer (I’ve argued this point with many colleagues over the years).

      • Bryn Jones Says:

        Whatever, Peter’s teaching style may be, I’m not convinced it causes earthquakes or hurricanes. 🙂

      • Bryn Jones Says:

        (Although I could be persuaded to believe it about one of Peter’s former Cardiff colleagues.)

      • telescoper Says:

        I’d like to thank Alan for his unqualified support and assure him that the cheque is in the post.

  3. As an example from the student’s perspective, I had a couple of history classes (at an engineering school in the US) with a particular professor where one of the other students had a small digital audio recorder he used for every lecture. The professor was a very dynamic, engaging speaker, and he was always one of my favorites despite being outside of my degree area. To this day I regret not trying to record his lectures myself (or asking for a copy from the student who did) because the notes I took do not remotely do justice to the experience.

  4. […] I grasped the nettle and clicked on the link to take me to my questionnaire results for my module Physics of the Early Universe. I was relieved that it was all fairly […]

  5. “I did however resist the temptation to hire a group of people to sit at the front of my first lecture cheering and clapping wildly”.
    Cheers!!! (wild applause) \o/

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