Researchers create video-highlighting tool

It’s a dilemma facing students in lecture halls around the world. Don’t take notes so you can concentrate—and just pray you remember everything important. Or take notes and hope you don’t miss anything crucial while frantically writing.

Thankfully, it is a choice students may no longer need to make. That’s because a team of UBC researchers has created a new learning tool—the Collaborative Lecture Annotation System (CLAS)—which enables students to virtually highlight key moments in class without having to take notes. They will debut the system in UBC lecture halls in January.

Leveraging two growing trends in education, electronic clickers and videotaped lectures, CLAS is designed to help make classes and studying more effective for students and give professors the feedback they need to craft better lessons. Developed initially to support online lectures, it has the potential to become a fixture wherever students learn.

CLAS works like this. Students use clickers in videotaped lectures to signal what they think are key moments. The team’s software syncs the video with students’ clicks, providing what amount to personal “best-of” reels that the class can log-in online afterwards to review.

“Not having to take notes, students can concentrate on learning—listening, thinking, asking questions and being more engaged,” says Alan Kingstone, a professor in UBC’s Dept. of Psychology, who is leading the project. “Essentially CLAS enables students to highlight the key moments of a lecture just like they would highlight a textbook.”

The act of clicking has two important side-effects, says Kingstone, who leads UBC’s Brain and Attention Research Lab. “Research shows that physically signaling something as important improves students’ chances of retaining an idea,” he says. “Studies also demonstrate that students who are physically engaged in lectures, even in minor ways, are able to concentrate at higher levels for longer periods.”

When students log-in online, CLAS presents videos of classes with a timeline at the bottom of the screen, showing a student’s clicks, allowing them to scroll through hours of lectures in minutes by jumping ahead to bookmarked sections. The team is working to add functionality, including the ability to tag video with text, search keywords and trigger clicks with keyboards and cell phones.

Students, in addition to seeing their own clicks, also have the option of viewing what their peers clicked on. Kingstone says this is important, especially for struggling students, who can find it more challenging to determine which material is most important.

“Knowing what your peers focus on can be immensely helpful,” says Kingstone, whose team includes postdoctoral fellow Tom Foulsham and Evan Risko, a former UBC postdoctoral fellow who is now an assistant professor at Arizona State University. “If your clicks line up with everyone’s, you know you’re probably in good shape. But if you’re a struggling student, you can review what everyone clicked on that you might have missed.”

Kingstone says CLAS has the potential not only to improve student learning, but to help teachers to up their game. Seeing what students are clicking on allows a lecturer to judge for themselves how effective they are at presenting information, he says.

“This enables lecturers to quickly see whether students are getting their key points,” says Kingstone, who envisions professors monitoring students’ clicks in real-time. “This is crucial, because if students are not clicking on the right stuff, the lecturer is aware they need to deliver the information more effectively.”

CLAS is one of a number of UBC projects dedicated to advancing teaching and learning, including the Carl Weiman Science Education Initiative, the new UBC Centre for Teaching, Learning, and Technology (CTLT) and UBC’s Lasting Education Achieved and Demonstrated (LEAD) initiative. Support for CLAS has been provided by UBC’s Arts Undergraduate Research Award and the Arts Dean’s Innovation Fund.