How and Why Educators are Including Video Assignments in their Courses

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Educators from theatre to architecture to food science have discovered the big gains in student engagement and learning when students make videos and podcasts or just film themselves practicing the skills they’re learning.

Even literacy organizations formerly concerned exclusively with text, such as the International Reading Association (IRA) and the National Council of Teachers of English, have added standards emphasizing the need to foster creativity by going beyond text to have students us alternative media as a form of student production (Morgan, 2012). As the technology gets more accessible and easier to use, more and more instructors have been turning toward student video projects as rich new form of evaluation and some are event favoring it over more traditional written assignments.

But now, with the combination of high-quality video cameras on smartphones and cloud video sharing, we’re set to see an explosion of video and audio assignments in every discipline. It’s that much more practical for students to make video and audio, and a whole lot easier for teachers to give feedback and grades. Students, too, are usually prouder of what they’ve accomplished and say their learning experience was deeper.

Kirkland (2006) offers a diverse list of video-making projects, including:

  1. Documentary
  2. Interviews
  3. Demonstration
  4. Public Service Announcements
  5. News Reports
  6. Dramatization,
  7. Pre-Selected Clips

Take this example of a video project assignment from a course at the University of British Columbia taught in the School of Population and Public Health.

Do younger Canadians need a movement to promote their social determinants of health? Design a short creative video to answer this question

In contrast to a typical in-class presentation that vanishes into thin air with little feedback, video assignments can be powerful learning tools for students as a persuasive visual argument requires deep, iterative conceptual and rhetorical thinking. Not only is it necessary for the student to synthesize various sources on the subject content, but she must also write it down as a script, read it, decide who to interview or record, and then create a video, requiring hours of filming and subsequent editing. Each of these steps repeatedly exposes and reinforces the subject content. Additionally, student created videos place students on display, and as such, students make a greater effort to master the subject content so as to avoid embarrassment in front of their peers. So students get to practice and demonstrate their grasp of key course concepts, but student-made video also promotes creativity and individuality, basically eliminating concerns about plagiarism.

A great deal of research reveals students themselves find video projects to be more beneficial to their own understanding and mastery of subject material. Consider a study conducted by Greene and Crespi (2012) on the perceived value of college student created videos as a tool for enhancing the student learning experience. They looked at two different business courses in a state university. One of the courses was an undergraduate accounting course and the other is an undergraduate marketing course, both in a school of business.

Each course assigned its students a video project to test their mastery of the material. The survey data gathered from the students who created the videos revealed that students found such projects “creative, unique and educational.” Moreover, the students who watched the creative projects found that the “the videos were extremely helpful, put a fun twist on learning experiences, a very good way to review material while helping others to understand the material, interesting to see the material learned in a video format, were a good learning experience, and a simple way to remember/learn the material.”

However, while these assignments are fun and provide academic benefits, they can also be frustrating for both students and instructors if students plan poorly, are not trained and supported with technology, or are confused about the purpose of the assignment. As noted by Kearney and Shuck (2006), a gap exists in assessing learning outcomes for student created videos. This often results in assignments which are subpar and or irrelevant to the class. This new form of learning activity brings with it challenges for teachers: What sort of guidelines should you set for video assignments? How do you make sure they are implemented effectively?

One of the most challenging aspects of assigning student made video assignments is designing a fair grading rubric. Unlike multiple choice or essay based exams, video presentations are by their nature individually unique which often makes the grading of each assignment quite arbitrary. Often times a student will believe that they are meeting the standards for the creative assignment during the filming process but will receive a grade much lower than expected. For this reason, it is critical for instructors to set proper expectations for students and so that they have sufficient understanding of the key items to focus on. To be able to accomplish this, it is essential that instructors keep in touch with their students throughout the whole time that they’re supposed to be working on their video assignments. Rather than leave them to fend for themselves, check in from time to time and give concrete advice towards their video content, and how they can improve their projects to more closely meet the learning objectives.

The Open Thinking blog has a good set of ideas for educators wanting to start using video assignments. And here’s a simple example of one from a Cognitive Psychology class:

Teachers face another learning curve as they try to provide effective feedback that students really learn from.  One problem is that the videos usually sit outside their online learning platform or the feedback is given as a separate text commentary, just like students get on the papers they hand in. The technology is just starting to catch up to what educators are doing — platforms like WeVu.video give students and teachers a place to share video without making it public, get peer feedback if desired, and get all the feedback on the timeline of the video, just like we’ve always done with comments in the margins of what we write.

Video assignments are increasingly common and pedagogically powerful, but they need preparation and technology to succeed.

Here’s a nice short guide from Wired on how to make a film with a phone.