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Med school offers taped lectures online

If you could watch all your classes on a personal computer in the comfort of your room, would you ever sit in a lecture hall again?

First-year medical students at the School of Medicine now have the ability to access their lectures online, raising questions regarding possible declines in student attendance and how they are utilizing the new technology. Students and professors have so far expressed divided opinions on the system's merits.

"[I]f you can't make it to the lecture, you can log on to the site and [see] the lecture," said Dr. Edward Buckley, associate dean of curriculum development. "Or, if you're studying anatomy and you're like, 'Jesus, what did he say?'... and your notes don't make any sense, you can go back and log onto the websites to find the lecture - every last one of them is taped and on the web."

The first-year lecture hall at the School of Medicine is outfitted with several built-in cameras and microphones, said Tom Hurtgen, director of Educational Media Services. The equipment is connected via a central control room, where lectures are assembled, switching between graphics and video using high-tech touch screen controls.

"Usually when students are finished [with the class] they can access the file within 15 minutes," Hurtgen said. The new system of recording lectures replaces the antiquated and unpopular VHS recordings and audio tapes. These video streams, located on Blackboard, cover all first-year medical school lectures, from microanatomy to neurobiology.

Most students are using the system and praising its convenience. Hurtgen said results from software that analyzes web activity shows that "every lecture got looked at a significant number of times by more than half the class."

"It's fantastic! I love it. I use it everyday. It gives you a little more control over how you want to spend your time," said Hui Xue, a first-year medical student. "I try to go to class whenever I can, but if I have a conflict or have to go to the dentist, I know I'm not missing anything."

Buckley said there are concerns about a decrease in the number of students attending class, but the ultimate decision to attend is in the hands of the students.

"There's been an issue about [missing the lectures], because for some [professors] there's been a little bit of a drop-off in attendance," Buckley said. "These are adult learners, and for adult learners, we don't require that you sit in a lecture hall to learn. If you can learn it in another way, then so be it."

Some students and faculty members, however, do not see the system as a replacement for going to lectures.

"I personally don't use the streaming video," said first-year medical student Vik Devisetty. "If you have to watch the lecture, you still have to spend the hour watching it. You might as well be there [in lecture] and have the ability to ask questions."

Emma Jakoi, associate research professor of cell biology, agrees, suggesting students are not using the system "in lieu of going to class" because they have no time.

"Medical classes go extremely fast," Jakoi said. " Students really don't have the ability to streamline their extra time. They want active interaction. They want dialogue with faculty."

Ivana Nikolic, a first-year medical student, said she has attended all of her classes while utilizing the system. "I used it mostly for review time for exams, if I can't understand what I wrote down in class or if the lecture is not really clear. It is just a really huge help," she said. "Some lectures go faster than others. Sometimes I don't have time to get it all down."

"I think it is too early to tell yet [about attendance]," said Thomas McIntosh, professor of cell biology.

While he noted a decrease in attendance in the fall, he said that "for a giant lecture where you have 200 people, it is not a big factor if there are a few less students present."

Devisetty, Trinity '02, added that the whole issue was a question of learning style. "[Video streaming] doesn't facilitate missing class," he said. "It's a great tool to have if you miss class, on purpose or not. It can only help students." He said people would be surprised that almost everyone still shows up in class.

"If I don't want to go to lecture, I don't go," he said.

Mike Miller contributed to this story.

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