Doculectures: Surmounting the Live Class to Online 2-D Challenge with New Media and the Cognitive Neuroscience of Learning and Memory

Author Information
Gregory Möller
Institution(s) or Organization(s) Where EP Occurred: 
University of Idaho
Institution(s) or Organization(s) Where EP Occurred: 
Washington State University
Effective Practice Abstract/Summary
Abstract/Summary of Effective Practice: 

Applying the decades-old knowledge developed in the broadcast and film industry that can create compelling, informative, and engaging presentations, an emerging pedagogical approach that has demonstrated effectiveness is an online presentation style called “doculectures.” A doculecture is a PowerPoint-free cinematic presentation, formalized in content, and supported with media such as subject descriptive film, photographs, animations, music, and text. This new approach couples the information intensity of a university lecture with the audiovisual warmth and dynamics of a documentary film. Using HD and surround-sound optimized for headphones, a cinematic doculecture approach leverages our understanding of the cognitive neuroscience of learning and memory using dynamic imagery, sounds, virtual spacial effects, as well as opportunities for disfluency that promote deeper learning. A case study for the new pedagogy is found in the OER university course Principles of Sustainability

Description of the Effective Practice
Description of the Effective Practice: 


In an era where online videos are viewed billions of times each day, online education—especially asynchronous learning—is quality challenged by the practice of trying to translate the physical classroom experience onto a two dimensional screen using captured lecture videos. Often these videos are produced by simply placing a camera in the classroom or by delivering a class in a video technology enhanced classroom. While this hybrid approach has distinct advantages in increasing accessibility, and minimizing content development overhead and culture clash on the production and delivery-side for faculty and institutions, product quality is highly variable and often falls far short of the rich experience possible with effective live classroom delivery. Calling on the decades-old knowledge developed in the broadcast and film industry that can create compelling, informative, and engaging presentations, an emerging pedagogical approach that has demonstrated effectiveness is an online presentation style called “doculectures.” A doculecture is a PowerPoint-free cinematic presentation, formalized in content, and supported with media such as subject descriptive film, photographs, animations, music, and text. This new approach couples the information intensity of a university lecture with the audiovisual warmth and dynamics of a documentary film. Using HD and surround-sound optimized for headphones, a cinematic doculecture approach leverages our understanding of the cognitive neuroscience of learning and memory using dynamic imagery, sounds, virtual spacial effects, as well as opportunities for disfluency that promote deeper learning.


1)  Write a lecture as a formal referenced topic paper suitable for publication keeping in mind that one thousand words is approximately fifteen minutes of oral presentation. Traditional lecture materials such as presentation slides can be good resources to provide an outline for this paper. Target subtopic title breaks in the paper at least every three to five hundred words as this is key to formatting doculecture breaks and the effective learning practice using shorter packages of information that accommodate attention span. Effective use of examples and detailed explanations of subject-specific topics, like math formulas, are written out as if providing a detailed explanation in print.

2)  Preserve the original paper as a background and citation resource. Rewrite another copy of the paper, deleting in-text citations and translating to a more informal spoken word presentation that you will be “reading” from a teleprompter. For example, many will write the word “utilize” whereas the spoken version of the verb will be “use.” This “script”, like any lecture, can be modified to focus the introduction and the conclusion, adding intensity and vocal color like alliteration, power words, and inspirational words that help frame critical concepts and learning objectives. The script can now be practiced for flow and pronunciation, and edited appropriately. Hard to pronounce words like medical terminology can be easily spelled out phonetically for smooth prompting. Script breaks at natural thematic breaks, guided by the subtopics of the written work are critical for ease of taped presentation, production, and learning effectiveness, typically yielding three to eight minute segments separated by short five to ten-second low density cognitive pauses. What you load into a teleprompter does not have to be a word-for-word script and each presenter will have a variable degree of "prompting" need. A key concept is to use a prompter to maintain eye contact and thus connection with your students on the other side of the lens.  

3)  Format the doculecture script as a transcript and captioning resource to incorporate best practices for course access by people with disabilities. Copyright the work if appropriate and desired.

4)   Load script into an on-camera teleprompter and tape the presentation in a studio, classroom or on-location in a subject appropriate location. A static wide-shot, one camera, no-operator taping can produce a very nice work product especially if a monitor is used. A teleprompter operator produces the best product, tracking the natural pace of the presentation, although hand and foot-pedal remotes for the presenter are available. Use best practices when filming including: using a room without background noises; using an “infinity” white screen background sized for wide-screen production that will serve as a digital “chalkboard” in post-production; having presenter lighting appropriate to the location; avoiding close-up camera framing unless familiar with theater make-up (HD close-ups are cruel to most of us); using full body or three-quarter presenter framing, avoiding frame cut at body joints like knees or waist; adopting presenter framing with the esthetic photographic convention of “thirds”; repeating diction flubs and fails for later editing; avoiding lavaliere microphones if possible as they are mono and produce a flat artificial sound; using a boomed stereo shotgun microphone or dual left and right channel shotgun microphones for spacial dimensionality—stereo separation allows the instructor to walk through the student’s head via headphones while walking from one end of the white screen to the other; and following basic camera screen talent techniques such as expressive presentation and avoiding tight patterned clothing which can cause screen distortions for viewers. Practicing teleprompted presentations takes some time for those new to the technique, however once familiarity and comfort is developed, it is often less difficult than other modes of digital presentation and keeps content focused, tight, and confident—respecting the viewer’s task of learning and engaging them on a more human level.

5)  Encode the spoken lecture into a non-linear video editing (NLE) software system using wide-screen HD and stereo or 5.1 formats. Although there are many levels of video NLE available, using a software product that is appropriate to skill level and the quality of the desired output is best. Edit out spoken flubs and break the presentation into script segments inserting five-second sub-title transitions between each. Add on-screen text for information dense areas of the lecture as needed, and add text for core concepts such as definitions or formulas using reveal as necessary. Smart use of a background white screen during lecture taping includes standing to one side or another and allows the other portions of the screen to be used as a digital whiteboard for text, images, or animation during the presentation.

6)  Add sound score, targeting suitable background music and matching sound to the tempo and theme of the presentation. Use royalty-free music (RFM) that is freely distributed or available from low-cost RFM production sources. Avoid “high cognitive load” distracting scores and keep any background music level well below lecture vocals (by -20 to -30 dB). Adding music swells (subtle volume increases) can emphasize transitions and heighten attention to specific content. In addition, sound can be used as an imagery resource. For example, when talking about nature, background forest sounds can heighten attention and transport students into the subject matter and aid in learning. Over-use of background music can be distracting to some and background silence for some aspects of presentation can be equally powerful in the learning process. Be cautious about using overly epic, genre-specific, and somber music, but also recognize the power of well-chosen music to create interest, maintain student attention, and add to the potential for deeper learning. Maintain subject matter objectivity and avoid biasing the content with sounds or music that emote an opinion—such as ominous background music during the discussion of material on which you have a strong personal negative opinion. The key concept of background music is that it is in the “background.” Do not use popular music, recognizable vocals, non-RFM, or non-permissioned and non-licensed music that creates considerable legal liability unless you are informed and skilled in appropriate educational “fair-use” and ready to defend such use.         

7)  Add audio-visuals into the NLE to illustrate concepts and maintain student interest. As with any presentation, dynamic imagery can assist in effective teaching and learning. Target royalty-free and freely-shared HD film and images available from a variety of sources, or produce your own. During the collection for editing, document the source of the audio-visual resources and the sharing entity or artist for proper crediting and record-keeping. A developing resource is the thousands of talented amateur photographers and videographers posting on web sites willing to share their adventures and artistic talents for educational use. Instructor-produced photos and video are an important resource in typical low-budget productions. Royalty-free commercial stock video and photos are often worth the impact but can add to production cost. Use accent images, “B-roll” film, and illustrations to illustrate concepts, to mask editing breaks or to create viewer interest and connection to the program. Do not use popular or commercial images or film, non-RF, or non-permissioned and non-licensed images or film that create considerable legal liability unless you are informed and skilled in appropriate educational “fair-use” and ready to defend such use.        

8)  Use editing features in the NLE for some subtle audio and video transitions and effects. Best practices by professionals tend to limit fancy or distracting effects. Avoid beginner mistakes with excessive zooms, flashy transitions, and long dreamy dissolves. Simple dissolves in a fraction of a second will add crispness and yield a tighter more interesting and engaging presentation.

9)  Apply titling to the beginning and end of the doculecture using standard approaches of first conveying important information and secondly crediting all of the resources used in the production including any production assistance, scholarly references and image or film credits. Copyright the work if appropriate and desired. Consistent use of appropriately permissioned, licensed or self-produced work can yield a fully open educational resource if that is desired. Proof for quality and transcode into an HD video format recommended by hosting services for web delivery. Carefully proof the doculecture production before uploading and releasing to a public or private video hosting service.

10)  Build and moderate learning management system (LMS) interactive discussion forums using the array of available approaches to integrate and support the doculecture delivery, as this will provide learning support, potential for student-student and faculty-student interaction, and vital course content discussion. In a flipped class, use live sessions to discuss and demonstrate core concepts presented in an assigned doculecture.

11)  As typical for any course, bring in scholarly reading and writing to address course content deeper than what can be efficiently presented in a lecture. Incorporate a system of learning assessment and student feedback to support student mastery of the subject matter.

Supporting Information for this Effective Practice
Evidence of Effectiveness: 


In the past two decades, the generations of online education have progressively advanced to include online course support websites offering digital learning resources, synchronous or asynchronous audio or video of class presentations, virtual learning environments, social media enhanced interaction, and hybrid or blended variants that attempt to deploy the best of each. Until recent improvements in broadly accessible high-quality video cameras, editing, and hosting resources, well-produced instructional video was only the product of large-budget professional operations. Coupling the desire for effective teaching by faculty and the need for high quality, effective learning resources by students, instructor-level production of digital video with the high information density that is a characteristic of a classroom presentation is now possible. While the learning curve of any new presentation technology can be steep for some, faculty should be encouraged by advances in production technology that worldwide have enabled hours of new video to be uploaded to the web every second. Social media and mobile learning are increasingly a part of student lives as well, and this presents a next-generation opportunity to deploy a learning platform that is entertaining, informative, and cutting-edge in assisting students in their achievement of academic goals.

For faculty, using new tools that pace the advancements of instructional technology is a recognized responsibility in their profession. Although skill sets and quality outcomes using any presentation technology are highly variable, video is a long-standing, recognized, and effective tool in instructional support. Many faculty are advanced practitioners of video use in a learning environment. By the nature of their profession, teachers are expected to be effective presenters and this is often preceded by adaptation to and adoption of new instructional technology.


Teachers at all levels of instruction use “prompts” for their classroom presentations. These prompts routinely take the form of notes, bullets on PowerPoint slides, overheads, or other outlines or techniques that support an organized, effective delivery. As well, a live presentation enables a presenter to survey and interact with the class by scanning students for eye contact, attentiveness, and facial cues that feedback to the teacher that pace and delivery are appropriate for the complexity of the topic. The richness of a live classroom presentation is enabled by the human social connection and classroom community we can understand as “education with a pulse.” In the digital world of online pedagogy, education with a pulse has proven to be one of its greatest challenges.

Working on camera for an online course, “live classroom” prompts and feedbacks can fail for many presenters who are not exceptionally talented, charismatic, and experienced in the medium. The innate coldness and isolation of the medium and its distributed delivery thus can be magnified for students. The umms and ahhhs, pregnant pauses, and vocal tics—often repeated “comfort” words or phrases, of extemporaneous oral presentation—even for skilled classroom teachers—can be magnified to point of listener tedium and eventual attention loss and disengagement. For presentations recorded for web delivery only, direct use of live classroom techniques can yield ineffective and poor quality outcomes in student satisfaction and learning. In this case, the delivery distracts from the learning destination. Even the celebrated online TED lectures limit their presentations to six to eighteen minutes in recognition of this challenge.

Prompting using a camera-mounted teleprompter is a decades-old proven technique to engage an audience during broadcast presentation. The presenter-to-audience eye contact afforded by the technique simulates that found in live presentations, effectively establishing the human connection we feel “in real world”. While trained actors can memorize short bursts of dialogue, on-camera professional presenters doing long and often-complex oral presentations have found success in cue cards and teleprompters, and faculty doing camera work in teaching should take their “cue” from these professionals who know their medium well. Teachers trained and practiced in this technique can magnify their communication effectiveness when producing academic content for online access.

Doculectures use background music to aid in generating and maintaining student interest and attention during “high cognitive load” information intensive presentations. Kiger (1989) studied the effects of music load on reading-comprehension tasks and found that slow, soft, repetitive music with a low information load aided learning. Music’s impact on learning is confounded by numerous variables such a task complexity, an individual’s psychosocial characteristics, and the music itself (Doyle and Furnham, 2012). In film, musical soundtracks “can influence the interpretation, emotional impact, and remembering of film information” (Boltz, 2004). Cognition and emotion are critically linked, and mood induction by music can enhance empathy (Gilet, 2008). Our understanding of the role of emotion in “higher” cognition is an area of active study (Perlovsky, 2012). As well, using background cognition challenges can increase attention and add interest variation to learning challenges, for example straining to read an unfamiliar font or trying to have a conversation in a noisy environment. Research shows that this “disfluency—the subjective experience of difficulty associated with cognitive operations—leads to deeper processing” (Diemand-Yauman, Oppenheimer, and Vaughan, 2011).

Translation of existing course content to the doculecture format is direct and like any educational resource, updating will require effort. Retaining the video editing project file allows for facile insertion of updated content into a NLE project containing video, data and image files. Periodic updating of the lecture script and redelivery on camera makes a new lecture track that can be edited into the open project file, preserving all of the audio-visual elements in the previous production thus minimizing the overall effort. 


The doculecture pedagogy has been fully deployed in the difficult and demanding upper division and graduate level conjoint OER course, Principles of Sustainability. The course has been formally delivered for two semesters to over seventy students in the 2011-12 academic year at the University of Idaho and Washington State University, in the Pacific Northwestern United States. The course has fifty segments containing about thirty hours of doculectures, and requires students to read over six hundred pages of textbook and scholarly readings, answer over two hundred review questions, participate in reflective discussion responding to segment prompts, write two or three analytical papers of twelve to twenty five pages, and complete a comprehensive final exam. Anonymous enrolled student course evaluations have been highly positive. Illustrative examples of student feedback when surveyed about the course include the following: "World class course.” “This class is amazingly well developed.” “Excellent combination of hard and soft sciences.” “Great use of the humanities to engage students.” “Made learning a lot of information engaging and easy.” “Preferred this course over my live courses.” “I retained much more than usual, and I believe this is because the delivery appeals to multiple learning styles.” “This instructor will leave a legacy of transforming education and expanding hard core distance learning to pop culture.” “I really like the real world relationships to the course materials.” “The relevant footage and information is outstanding.” “I'm not just saying this, but Principles of Sustainability is by FAR the best online course I've ever taken.” “The quality of the doculecture productions are impressive, and often make me feel like I'm watching a more academic version of a PBS show instead of a course lecture.” “I love this new way of learning.” “It's like being in the classroom only better.” “I feel connected, a part of the learning process.” “I cannot believe the quality of this University produced material - it looks like PBS or Discovery Channel.” “Amazing course.” “I am learning so much.” “The lectures are amazing.” and “It is like having a real class...”

Since its premiere in 2011, the Principles of Sustainability course and its doculectures have received two prestigious film industry awards. Students in the course are now invited partners in the PBS/Detroit Public Television “Corps of Discovery” research project, a joint venture in education and broadcasting designed to promote the central idea of worldwide sustainability and presenting a “case study for a new media singularity for sustainability—crossing institutional domains—where unbiased digital data and resources are rapidly researched and reviewed, supporting a broadcast outreach for national and international public engagement.” In addition, the Principles of Sustainability course website is already Google search rank number one for “sustainability course” and for “principles of sustainability,” a disciplinary significant term. Over 100 filmmakers and scholars across the globe, and numerous students, contributed to this course. Available on computers, smartphones, video game consoles, streaming media players, and IPTV (internet protocol TV), the Creative Commons 3.0 licensed doculectures are loaded almost 2000 times per week in 80+ countries by formal and informal learners.

Students are the direct beneficiary of better approaches to instruction. The rigorous quantitative assessment of a universal “better” in an arena of rapidly changing technology, and site or situation specific implementation differentials, is challenged—and makes global findings difficult to produce and re-produce. The rapid development and deployment of online education has led to a concomitant and now continual “culture shock” that is potentially disruptive of many of the proven models of effective pedagogy. One universal pedagogical truth is that “education with a pulse,” the close human interaction that binds the learning ecology of student and teacher—is as important in online education as it is in live instruction. As millennia of history in education have taught human civilization, teachers and institutions who recognize and understand this human dynamic will succeed, and those that do not will fail. Our successes will be manifest in the creative inspiration and learning success of our students, while our failure will waste the human potential and capacity of those who we presume to teach. We are called to succeed in this great work.

How does this practice relate to pillars?: 

When surveyed in anonymous course evaluations, two semesters of graduate and upper division students enrolled at two large universities and located in seven US states have expressed enthusiastic student satisfaction for the learning effectiveness of the doculecture approach deployed in Principles of Sustainability. These reviews demonstrate that the explicit use of new media targeting current knowledge in the cognitive neuroscience of learning and memory can be delivered in a style that our PBS/DTPV “Corps of Discovery” partners call “entertaining, informative and cutting-edge.” Elements of faculty satisfaction can be driven by the peer-review and wide OER distribution potential of doculectures in the domains of scholarship of creativity and scholarship of teaching, in addition to student satisfaction that are factors in promotion and tenure evaluation. The editing of course presentations afforded by doculecture production allows faculty to address lecture misspeaks and errors, and affords a pathway to routine content updating, thereby increasing quality of the work product and efficiency of course support activity. The coupling of this quality pathway and the demonstrated ability of a doculecture to engage students in a high load learning activity are critical factors in learning effectiveness

That students can call an online class “better” than a live class is a tour de force demonstration of the capability of new media to scale low-cost academic resources toward academic excellence in a demanding learning experience. The “education with a pulse” dynamic of doculectures allows students an emotional connection in a high-load cognitive experience, and frees faculty to interact “in real time” during reflective exercises and subject mastery assessments. Key institutional, faculty and student partnerships can develop from the collaborative assembly of educational resources and the ability to share talents, resources and educational objectives can scale and leverage available resources. Traceable academic integrity is maintained by scholarly scripting that builds from the referenced knowledge base of the peer-reviewed literature. Production of OER doculectures addresses the need and demand that knowledge is “free”, while marketing faculty and intuitional competencies, and simultaneously maintaining a rigorous system of enrolled student subject area assessment, accreditation of mastery, and credentialing that is the mission of institutions of learning.

The simultaneous provision of learning resources for students with disabilities through lecture scripting addresses a universal need to maintain broad access for online educational resources. The current provision of either SD or HD streamed video by hosting sites such as YouTube or Vimeo also addresses access that accommodates broadband quality. Support of doculecture broadcast by computers, smartphones, video game consoles, streaming media players, and IPTV (internet protocol TV) demonstrates a technology convergence that enables broad access, further enabling student academic goals. The use of proven film and broadcast techniques to establish audience connection can be likewise tasked to overcome the sometimes sterile and isolating environment of online education, thereby removing barriers to learning. 

Equipment necessary to implement Effective Practice: 

The Principles of Sustainability doculecture course was funded by an internal university Greening the Curriculum grant of $5000 that was used for a computer, software, and teleprompter. Instructor provided camera and microphones were used in an existing white screen studio on campus. Deployment of doculectures requires consumer to professional-grade video production technology including a video camera, microphones, teleprompter, video and image editing software, and a classroom or studio with sufficient lights and background noise control. No camera operator is needed if a monitor is used. Instructor editing of video (variable time @ 1 to 3X of a new PowerPoint presentation) keeps costs low and can enhance quality and product precision.

Estimate the probable costs associated with this practice: 

Suitable multi-user technology costs are estimated at:

HD video camera and tripod @ $1000 - $6000

Quality shotgun microphones and boom (2, or 1 stereo) @ $600 - $3000

Video workstation computer @ $2,000 - $3,500

Video and image editing (NLE) software @ $200 - $1200 (academic pricing)

Light kit (if needed) @ $1000 (variable)

Infinity white screen @ $100 (DIY) - $1000

Teleprompter @ $100 (DIY) - $1,200

HDTV Monitor @ $300

Editing headphones @ $100


Production support resource costs are estimated at:

Royalty free music @ free to variable cost

Royalty free film @ free to variable cost

Royalty free images @ free to variable cost

Instructor time @ variable cost

Production assistance time @ variable cost

The use, provision, and accessibility of institutional-level video professional production support resources is highly variable and this can be reflected in cost basis.

References, supporting documents: 

Boltz, M.G. (2004). The cognitive processing of film and musical soundtracks. Memory & Cognition, 32 (7), 1194-1205.

Diemand-Yauman, C., Oppenheimer, D.M., and Vaughan, E.B. (2011). Fortune favors the Bold (and the Italicized): Effects of disfluency on educational outcomes. Cognition, 118 (1), 111-115.

Doyle, M. and Furnham, A. (2012). The distracting effects of music on the cognitive test performance of creative and non-creative individuals. Thinking Skills and Creativity, 7, 1-7.

Gilet, A.L. (2008). Mood induction procedures: A critical review. Encephale-Revue de Psychiatrie Clinique Biologique et Therapeutique, 34 (3), 233-239.

Kiger, D. (1989). Effects of music information load on a reading-comprehension task. Perceptual and Motor Skills, 69, 531 – 534.

Perlovsky, L. (2012). Emotions of "higher" cognition. The Behavioral and Brain Sciences, 35 (3), 157-158.


Contact(s) for this Effective Practice
Effective Practice Contact: 
Professor Greg Möller
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