Resource Database: Geography, Earth and Environmental Sciences

Title Lectures and Distance Learning
Originator Clive Agnew
Department Department of Geography, University College London, 26 Bedford Way, London WC1H 0AP, UK
Tel. +44 (0)171 504 4271
Fax +44 (0)171 380 7565

This review is based on papers by Fox (1996) and Hellwege et al. (1996).


To make lecturers available to students via television broadcasts, video cassettes and WWW pages and to investigate the usefulness of this approach.


The growth in distance learning programmes across the world and the opportunities presented by the WWW means that the potential for students to view video, film and other types of imagery without direct teacher involvement has grown. This mode of teaching has been further encouraged through the promotion of self-tuition and student-centred learning. With this opportunity questions arise about the presentation and use of visual lecture materials especially when the teacher is remote (Rowntree, 1990). Concern was expressed over the power of such media and the need to develop students' critical abilities when viewing such imagery. Rose (1996) has recently suggested how this can be advanced using small discussion groups. Students' use of the WWW has only just begun to receive similar critical evaluation.

Two examples are cited here. The first case study by Fox was taken from Canadian experience where there has been a tremendous growth in HE students numbers yet the size of the country presents a geographic barrier to participation. The particular example concerns a course in human geography consisting of 48 one-hour lectures, which was subsequently broadcast and distributed using video tapes for students off-campus. The second case study by Hellwege et al. comes from Australia and uses the WWW to reinforce materials utilised in geology lectures both to students on site and those at a distant campus where video is also distributed.


Using video and televised broadcasts in lectures

Lectures were presented in a 450-seat lecture theatre using standard audio-visual equipment. They were recorded onto video-tape for subsequent broadcast or distribution. The visual course content included maps, satellite imagery, photographs and tables of data. Non-standard equipment included an overhead television camera for the display of illustrations.

The lectures were followed-up on campus by taught discussion groups led by graduate students, using exercises provided. Those off-campus were mailed the exercises and could seek advice by telephone. An answering machine was dedicated to calls about the course. The course enrolment was 812 (295 off-campus).

Teaching of geology using the World Wide Web

All lecture materials were prepared using Microsoft PowerPoint. The full text of the lecture and all illustrations were made available via the WWW prior to the lectures.


For both approaches there were a number of technical facilities that the lecturers had to become adept with. This has cost implications in terms of training and provision of facilities but here the evaluation is more concerned with students' learning experiences.

Fox reports the results of two types of evaluation: student performance, and a student course evaluation questionnaire. In student performance there was a 20% drop out rate (left the programme) for those watching televised lectures. This is reported by the author to be average for such classes but twice the loss found for the classroom-based group. The average grade earned was slightly higher (64.9%) for those watching at home compared with an average of 62.7% for those on campus. It is difficult to draw firm conclusions from such data because of the different compositions and study regimes of the two groups.

Students noted the following advantages for using video:

An advantage not noted in this study is that for foreign students the ability to play-back can help their understanding of both the subject and their English. It could also be argued that more eminent academics could be persuaded to teach on a course if the timing of its recording is determined by their own diaries.

The disadvantages included:

The use of WWW pages appeared to make students more attentive in lectures as it reduced the need for note taking. Other advantages are a clearer structure and the same lecture can be repeated by a number of staff as the materials are already organised. It is reported that overall students felt their understanding and retention had improved.

'This is certainly the way to go. It gives the student time to ingest the information at a pace conducive to retaining the information.'

(student evaluation response, Hellwege et al. p.4)


These case studies have highlighted examples of distance learning which is normally undertaken for particular geographical, economic or social reasons. There are however a number of lessons to be drawn from the experience. There are many advantages to be gained for students with learning difficulties if the lecture can be videoed and made available, maybe by placing it on the WWW. Students who are not being taught in their native language and those with disabilities can benefit greatly. There are significant costs in the production of such material in time and facilities. The lecturer also needs to decide whether a student's time is best spent watching and/or listening to a copy of the lecture or following up through reading or some other activity


Fox, M.F. (1996) Teaching a large enrolment, introductory geography course by television, Journal of Geography in Higher Education, 20(3), pp.355-366.

Hellwege, J, Gleadow, A. & McNaught, C. (1996) Paperless lectures: an evaluation of the educational outcomes of teaching geology using the Web, GEOCAL, 15 (Dec.), pp.3-6.

Rose, G. (1996) Teaching visualised geographies: towards a methodology for the interpretation of visual methods, Journal of Geography in Higher Education, 20(3), pp.281-294.

Rowntree, D. (1990) Teaching Through Self Instruction (London: Kogan Page).


Distance learning
World-Wide Web (WWW)

This is one of the case studies which appears in the GDN Guide "Lecturing in Geography"

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