What is a History Lecture for? Part II – Transcripts

In November 2018 I wrote a short blog about the impact of automatic recording on traditional long, one-hour History lectures. My argument was that recording changes the nature of the lecture from event/performance to resource/text, and that embracing this logic might mean changes in how historians ‘do’ lectures:

“It may be historians would be better off replacing them with 20-minute screencasts to be viewed in advance, and ‘flipping the lecture’. “

In many ways Covid has accelerated change already underway, and lectures are a good example of that. Most universities have opted for shorter, pre-recorded lectures, and these seem to be generally popular with students. It seems likely to me that some element of this will be retained in future.

Some students have also asked for transcripts of these lectures. For some historians this is going too far. But for me, this is an entirely reasonable and logical consequence of recording. It’s now a legal requirement in the UK for recorded lectures to be captioned, so lectures are now spoken texts, whether we choose to think of them like that or not.

Students will presumably increasingly quote lectures in their work verbatim, and understandably so. What if the automated captioning is inaccurate and leads a student astray in their work, lowering their grade in the process? The least we can do is to provide an accurate version of the wording of the texts that we have provided them with.

In short, recording and a fortiori captioning means the lecture is now a spoken textual resource, not an event or a performance. It may be that the wider implications and possibilities of this transformation in the nature of the lecture have yet to be fully appreciated. But I see no reason why educational professionals should be putting up unnecessary barriers to accessing the textual resources that we are creating. Transcripts are surely the future of the lecture.

2 thoughts on “What is a History Lecture for? Part II – Transcripts”

  1. Does this not significantly disadvantage foreign national lecturers, or those with particular accents, for whom auto-captioning often fails to probably transcribe what is being said? How much additional work does this make for lecturers? Does this increase how precisely lectures must script themselves? Indeed, is it better for lecturers to produce their own scripts, rather than rely on auto-captioning to precisely interpret what they say, as well as rectifying and slip of the tongue?

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