Using Videos as an instructional tool

Using Online Videos (made with WACOM board)
Using Online Videos (made with WACOM board)

In my brief time as a sessional instructor for calculus in the last school term (May – August 2012), I had an opportunity to experiment with making videos. You can access my YouTube channel. I had been a fan of KhanAcademy and Salman Khan’s desire to supply free knowledge to the world long before his recent explosion of popularity. I had watched most of his calculus videos on YouTube just to get ideas on how to teach the topics effectively as a teaching assistant.

I had even begun advertising his videos to my class as an alternative to what I was teaching in class…(if they wanted to hear and watch someone else teach) until I ran into a five-week long chunk of material that the website didn’t cover, or at least to the level I was expecting my students to know it. I wanted my students to have that alternative. While learning in class can have significant benefits, there are many good reasons to consider videos:

1) Pause and Play, Learning at own pace: If a student misses something the first time, they can just watch it again. Some students require additional reinforcement, and instructional videos are a very user-friendly tool to provide it.

2) Shortened Attention Span: Videos shouldn’t be the same length as 50-minute lectures. Students don’t have to listen to concept after concept without having the chance to try the problems or have their understanding tested.

3) Additional Examples: In both math and engineering, a measure of success is being able to solve problems on certain concepts. Providing additional examples through video allows students to understand the thought process rather than simply seeing completed solutions.

Since I decided to start making videos in the middle of the term, I did not spend that much time getting acquainted with the process. I used a WACOM tablet (with stylus) that I borrowed from Mark Morton at the CTE (I have since bought my own Bamboo Capture Tablet from WACOM for about $80 on sale). In terms of software, I downloaded CamStudio (free) which is a screen capturing program, and used Microsoft Paint. In Paint, I zoomed out as far as I could, and made the drawing space as long as I could so that I could have a “scrollable” blackboard. Here is the end product (increase the quality for a sharper look):

I have to be honest. I know very little about video editing, so there was none (all videos were done in one take). If I significantly messed up, I would start over. So I intend on learning some video editing before creating the next batch of videos. I’ve also heard Camtasia works much better, but it costs around $300.

Some tips that I would have found useful before I had started:

1) Have a very clear idea and plan of what you will do and say. In my first attempt, I tried to have a general idea. I knew what problem I would solve and even have the solution in front of me. I didn’t have all of my explanations figured out though. While this spontaneity was not always a bad thing in tutorials, or in the classroom, students are likely to get bored or frustrated because they cannot interact with the video.

2) Talking and writing at the same time is more difficult than it seems. Again, this goes back to good planning. Making an effective lesson plan that outlines what will be said and written is very helpful.

3) Make sure the purpose of the video is outlined clearly at the beginning of the video. Videos that focus on examples may cater to a different crowd than videos that focus on additional theory.

4) Keep your videos short (not more than 10-15 minutes). If they need to be longer, offer them in shorter segments, such as theory, example, and example. Long videos make students lose focus.

In my future courses, it may be worthwhile to consider assigning some teaching assistants to make videos that supplement class material and guide students on problems. I had a chance to familiarize myself with clickers as well in the last term. My goal is to implement a teaching strategy similar to Eric Mazur (a Physics Professor from Harvard): where a video will be used prior to class to introduce students to a topic. Students will then come to class with their misconceptions and misunderstandings on concepts, and the in-class time will be spent on more interactive elements, such as clicker think-pair-share questions. Follow-up videos could then be implemented, but that’s a whole different topic for another time. Thanks for reading!

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