My past, present and future with video – an academic’s viewpoint
A guest blog post from Dr Martin Khechara, Senior Lecturer in Biomedical Science (Microbiology) at the University of Wolverhampton
If you’ve seen guest blog posts from my colleagues here and here, you’ll know that video plays a really important role in how we deliver science teaching at the University of Wolverhampton. Personally, I’m a massive advocate for using video to improve teaching and learning and, luckily for me, my own experimentation with video is matched by a push from my institution to actively use technology in the classroom to improve the experience for our students.
I’ve been working with video for learning since 2009. My interest in using video in this way initially stemmed from an institutional blended learning project I was working on at the time. Since then, I have been involved in a variety of initiatives to investigate the impact of lecture capture technologies and video for the flipped classroom. In my own time I’ve experimented with video for student feedback and for science communication and outreach – often just using an HD flipcam to capture my message.
So, why video? Well, video appeals to me on many levels. As a senior lecturer, engagement practitioner and professional science communicator, I can see the power of video as a medium for communicating concepts. It helps, of course, that I spent lots of time in front of a camera in previous occupations (I was an extreme sportsman for 10 years). This meant that I was already very aware of how video can enhance your ability to communicate with an audience – especially when practical things need to be shown. Unlike purely audio or text-based messaging, video offers the viewer access to the richly expressive nature of the human body and this helps to convey the information you want to get across much better than, say, just sound alone. Video also lends itself well to giving out information that you might need to reiterate multiple times. Our class sizes can be as big as 500 students and this means that without video we would have to deliver the same lecture over and over again, which is just not efficient use of our time as academics.
Right now, I’m using video for pretty much anything I can teaching-wise! As well as doing standard lecture capture to record important sessions, I’m also using Panopto for live webcasting, which our students love. In addition, we’re using video to give feedback on students’ assignments, along with feedback to the questions students pose when we’re ‘unpacking’ or explaining the assessment criteria for the course. In these assessment criteria sessions, students are often too shy to ask questions outright in front of the whole group, so we get them to ask their questions anonymously or raise points by writing them on post-its and sticking them to the wall as they leave. I can then summarise their concerns and feedback to them using video. In fact, these are the videos that have been used the most by our students.
Another really important use for video at Wolverhampton is to power the flipped classroom – a teaching method that we use with both undergraduate and postgraduate students. We have a whole building designed specifically around the flipped classroom approach which doesn’t have any of the conventional spaces you’d associate with traditional lectures, where the academic teaches didactically from the front of the room. Instead, we can use video to bring students up to speed with key concepts and then focus on practical implementation of these ideas in the face-to-face sessions.
This flipped classroom approach offers significant benefits for STEM subjects, which often have a large amount of didactic content that needs to be transmitted to students. While, naturally, it is important to teach students key underlying concepts, unfortunately, this has often resulted in more ‘transmissive’ delivery of content by the onstage academic to a large number of passive students. This traditional lecturing model doesn’t easily allow for the development of deeper understanding – and here’s where using video to flip our classrooms has become extremely useful. We can get all the basics (which would previously have been delivered in a traditional lecture format) out of the way on the video and then spend the session checking understanding and exploring core concepts more fully. The flipped classroom also offers us the ability to give video instruction to facilitate large practical classes. The video is used to deliver the ‘method’ along with a demonstration of the activity. Students watch this and follow along. This has led to more organised sessions and is also producing students who are more adaptable as, in effect, they are helping themselves to facilitate their work instead of immediately turning to an academic for help.
The aim of all of this, of course, is to give our students the best teaching we can and they have welcomed the delivery of teaching materials via video with open arms. In fact, when there is no video they always ask: “where’s the video sir?’. Video has now become such an essential part of their learning experience that some people seem a little lost without it. I think this stems in part from the ‘just YouTube it’ attitude to learning that a lot of people have now. I know that if I need to learn about something I will typically just find an online video about it. Our students are just the same!
Some of my peers worry that delivering content via video in this way encourages students to skip the physical lecture. However, in my experience those people who like to attend will and those that don’t like to won’t – regardless of whether or not the lecture is being recorded. Independently of whether someone does or doesn’t come to the lecture, everybody seems to engage with the video content and in doing so receives the learning materials we want to give them. Does it matter if they are there in the physical session or not? Not necessarily. For those who want to engage in a different way or in a different format (for whatever reason), video just makes the session more inclusive and as an educator, I’m OK with that.
So my students love video, but what about my fellow academics? Well, it’s fair to say that here the response is more mixed. Some members of staff are all for it and accept that as the world changes, we need to embrace new technologies. Others who are perhaps more traditional in their approach or less confident in their abilities as educators can be more resistant. Some have unfounded worries that the institution might replace them with a video, while others have concerns about intellectual property. To be honest, I can’t see what the problem is – I think video is a vital tool to improve the student experience in higher education.
Coming into academia from a different kind of work background definitely meant that I approached teaching with a totally open mind and with a willingness to try any new teaching method that had good evidence to demonstrate its effectiveness. I’ve become a big fan of not just using video but also dialogic learning, gaming in teaching and self-organising learning environments. Teaching and learning is very different now compared to my own university experiences and I am very keen to embrace these changes. I think most of the concerns my colleagues may have about engaging with video could be countered pretty easily and that the benefits of video far outweigh these concerns. Of course, there will always be some teachers who can never be persuaded to integrate new technologies into their classroom, but I think those academics who adapt and embrace new things will thrive and those who don’t risk getting left behind.
As well as providing students with learning resources in a medium they can relate to, I also think video has a role to play in improving teaching standards by encouraging self-reflection by academics on their lecturing or teaching style. I regularly watch my videos for self-review purposes to iron out any issues in my delivery. I think it could be used for audit and quality control too, as it allows peer and institutional review of teaching practice.
In terms of what’s next with video for me as an academic, there are several things coming up in the near-term. Firstly, we are just finishing up a project to investigate the effectiveness of the flipped classroom when used in conjunction with other electronic tools to see if this can help raise attainment in postgraduate studies. We are particularly looking into how video can assist our international postgraduates. I’m also going to start using video for outreach and engagement with schools. In particular I’m thinking about webcasting some of our lectures so that school students can experience the lecture format for themselves as well as allowing school students to virtually join in with an undergraduate practical session or have an academic join the classroom to answer any questions they might have on a given topic. It’s my opinion that with the advances in technology these days there isn’t necessarily always a need for me to actually go to the classroom to inspire a generation. Perhaps they would prefer to talk to me through an electronic intermediary, like they do so often with their peers. I’m very interested in this sort of tele-presence approach to engagement and want to explore this more in the coming year.
Thinking a bit longer-term, I love the idea of using virtual environments more extensively – especially for teaching subjects where there is an imperative to experience the laboratory environment to develop skills. I’m also very interested in the whole maker space area, as it seems like a natural extension of SOLE classrooms and team-oriented problem-based learning. The potential for cooperative learning is massive and something that I think will become an important tool in the classroom. We can give our students content and we can give our students laboratory time but what we can’t easily give them is the adaptability and the forward-thinking skills that they will need in the advanced knowledge economy they’ll be entering when they leave university. I’m sure there will be a role for video in helping our students grow and develop in this area too – watch this space!