Category Archives for Learning

Feedback: We can’t learn without it

A simple feedback loop, applied in school zones in a small Californian suburb, “cut fatal injuries by about half.” (WIRED) By revealing speeding drivers’ speed to them via a giant on-street speedometer, “drivers slowed an average of 14 percent.” This effectively unraveled decades of law-enforcement dogma by proving the superior efficacy of feedback loops over punitive police surveillance, the traditional approach. Modern education has been moving slowly in this direction, but perhaps it lacks some of the tools that would enable this kind of feedback.

So what are feedback loops, what makes them so powerful, and how can they be applied to what’s going on in education thesedays?

40 years ago, Stanford professor Albert Bandura demonstrated that giving individuals clear goals and, more importantly, a means to evaluate their progress in real time, hugely boosted the likelihood that they would complete their given task. Bandura’s work has been confirmed and extended across psychology, epidemiology, military strategy, environmental studies, corporate training, engineering, and economics. The science behind the self-correcting magic of feedback loops can be broken down to four steps:

  1. Collecting the data
  2. Processing the data so it resonates with the subject
  3. Assigning weight or consequence to the data
  4. Recalibration of action as informed by the data

To use a very simple example , think about a tennis or volleyball player making a serve. If she observes the ball plow into the net, her brain instantaneously:

  1. Collects the data that the serve was no good,
  2. Does so in a way that makes sense to the player,
  3. Tells the player that she lost a point, a consequence of the mistake,
  4. Tells the player that she must strike the ball with more elevation on the next serve.

Enough serves and the player will be a top-level server due to the countless calibrations and recalibrations in this feedback loop. Ten thousand hours and all that…

Feedback and Health

But how can this be applied to a clinical context? Feedback is key in two growing areas in the health professions. One involves better feedback on the effects of medications and the other is in clinical skills education and training.

Consider the medical innovation Vitality GlowCaps – ‘smart’ pill caps that glow brightly and begin to play melodies as the patient’s time to take their medication gets nearer. Research has revealed the frightening fact that only about half of patients follow their pill consumption instructions exactly, leading to countless unnecessary deaths, particularly for those with heart issues. GlowCaps found a spectacular way to solve this issue. As Wired Magazine puts it,

“After three months, adherence in the control group had declined to less than 50 percent, the same dismal rate observed in countless other studies. But patients using GlowCaps did remarkably better: More than 80 percent of them took their pills, a rate that lasted for the duration of the six-month study.”

Harnessing the most fundamental element in the psychology of learning, this simple feedback loop has implications that could save countless lives.

Feedback in Education

What about feedback in educational programs – what problems can it solve? Consider the growing shortage of health professionals in countries like Canada. This excerpt from a 2016 Globe and Mail article sums it up best:

“The sum of all the numbers is a tightening nursing labour market,” says Karima Velji, president of the Canadian Nurses Association (CNA), said in a statement. “Immediate action is needed to stave off the potentially long-lasting trend of a shrinking [registered nurse] work force and its consequences for population health.”

What’s causing the shortage in labor supply? One theory is that numerous adult learners are unable to commit enough time to traditional face-to-face classes due to economic and family pressures. To some extent, online courses can help, but these courses don’t give the student the practice they need to perform clinical skills.

Basically, online learners need feedback and even on-campus students could use a lot more practice and feedback.  The main roadblock to more and better feedback loops in clinical programs has historically been data collection. Clinical educators have had to be present to see students performing skills and to give them the briefest of verbal feedback. Now that we’re in an age of video anywhere, anytime with smartphones and YouTube, surely there’s a way to use video for practice and feedback in clinical education. WeVu.video is betting that asynchronous video for practice and feedback at precise moments on student videos will become indispensable for skills training at scale. Using learner-recorded video uploaded to the WeVu platform, face to face student-to-teacher time can decrease considerably, lowering costs, time commitments, and even the program’s environmental footprint. But students will get more practice and more feedback that sticks with the learner.  Online education with this kind of video-for-skills-learning may mobilize thousands of mature students unable to commit to a traditional schooling hours.

Feedback is really the central element of any skills learning program across many disciplines and professions. If technology can help us get more and better feedback, it will make a huge positive impact in our education systems. Fortunately, educators are now starting to see that video technology can contribute to the active, doing, part of education, not just the watching and listening part.

How and Why Educators are Including Video Assignments in their Courses

Educators in all fields, from theatre to architecture to food science, and even math, are starting to see how students can use their phones to make video and engage more strongly with what they're learning. Students make creative or explanatory videos, or just film themselves practicing the skills they’re learning.

With the disruptions everyone has experienced during the COVID crisis of 2020, video assignments may be even more powerful tools for keeping students engaged and promoting the social aspect of learning, even remotely.

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. Even 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 use other media in their learning activities and assignments (Morgan, 2012). Students, too, are usually prouder of what they’ve accomplished and say their learning experience was deeper when they make a video rather than handing in text.

So 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 suddenly practical - easy in fact - for students to record and edit video. And it's a whole lot easier to submit the video so that teachers can give feedback and grades. 

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

  1. Documentary
  2. Presentation
  3. Interviews
  4. Skills Demonstration
  5. Public Service Announcements
  6. News Reports
  7. Dramatization
  8. A Mashup of Clips

Videos can be much more than a student presenting or explaining the content they are supposed to master. They can be vehicles for creativity, for learning teamwork and project management, and the production will increasingly be an employment-relevant skill.

For example, here's the introduction to a video assignment from a course at the University of British Columbia's 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 time spent filming and editing. All of those separate cognitive activities engage with the topic in different ways, stimulating creative and analytic work. 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. One study by Greene and Crespi (2012) looked at the perceived value of student-created videos as a tool for enhancing the student learning experience. Their data came from an accounting and a marketing course at a state university. 

Each course assigned its students a video project to assess 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 said “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 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?

Asessment of Video Assignments

One of the most challenging aspects of assigning student made video assignments is designing a fair grading rubric that simultaneously helps students know what steps to take but doesn't quash their creativity. Video presentations are by their nature individually unique and the feedback on and grading of each assignment could therefore be quite arbitrary. It's critical that instructors set proper expectations for students so that they have sufficient understanding of the key items to focus on. Teachers will also have to have structured, regular check-ins with students. Ideally, the assignment will be graded in stages, allowing rich feedback (possibly on draft videos themselves with a tool like WeVu). 

A basic video assignment rubric will contain some of the following elements:

  1. An 'elevator pitch' that can be delivered as text or as a 30 second video. This is a good place to start, and it can be continually refined as the project evolves. 
  2. Storyboard. A sketch of each scene or phase of the video. This can be done on slides (powerpoint, google slides, etc.) or just as an outline document. The storyboard should be the main planning document and it needs to be able to be shared with teachers for feedback.
  3. Script. The script must be suitable for the topic, the assumed audience, and for the time available. Script editing should be a major component of the project.
  4. Selection of content. Students must be encouraged to generate lots of ideas, ruthlessly abandon lots of them, and sequence the content in a persuasive or engaging way.
  5. Technical production value. Students need to be assured they don't need to make a perfect video. They should be warned not to spend hours on little transitions or super-precise editing. But they should be directed to consider some of the key elements of production value, including distance and depth of shots, variation in perspective and length of scenes, audio quality, voice-over video, captions or text, and so on. 
  6. Teamwork and Project Management. Assignments will often be group assignments. Give students a recommended or required structure for their collaboration, including what technologies they should use. Consider a part of the grade devoted to their project management, in which case the teacher needs visibility into the team digital space (Google Docs/Sheets/Slides, probably) and/or the students should journal or log their work, task by task, with task assignments, due dates, and task statuses.

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:

Feedback. Learning during production and learning from production of video assignments.

Teachers face another learning curve as they try to provide effective feedback helps students really learn and do better work next time.  One problem is that the videos usually sit outside a school's 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. The videos can then be made public, without the comments, when they're done.

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

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

The Content Bias in Edtech

Is EdTech really innovative? We can’t assume that technology applied to education automatically leads to educational innovation.  In fact, current trends in Educational Technology actually reinforce outdated, ineffective pedagogies that are being debunked by research on learning.

At a recent Edtech event in London, startups were asked where they sit on a continuum from innovation to revenue. Most resisted the idea that revenue and innovation were at odds. They seemed to be thinking mostly about technological innovation. And it’s true that in the long-run, tech innovation and revenue in edtech go hand in hand. But what about pedagogical innovation? Or, at least, making edtech products that are in keeping with, and keep up with, modern pedagogy.

This is where there IS  a painful innovation-revenue trade-off. It’s pretty clear that most edtech is on the revenue side, and you can hardly blame the founders of startups – it’s hard to swim against the current in education, especially when educators’ (slow!) adoption of technology is the only path to startup survival. But if tech innovation isn’t based on learning research and the wave of change it’s generating, our success in edtech, educational and commercial, will be short-lived.

The clearest symptom of this is all the talk – and big business – of content  in edtech. Just look at GSV’s 2017 Acceleration Report identifying 16 companies that are “Weapons of Mass Instruction”. Their Edtech products, with the exception of IXL, almost totally replicate a traditional model of, yes, “Instruction”. We’ve added multimedia content and some gamification, but the pedagogical model is still impoverished. It’s mostly about getting content in front of learners rather than having them repeatedly practice and progressively develop skills.

Edtech is lagging what we now understand about learning

The digitization of educational content is important, but there’s little that’s pedagogically innovative here. Digitization really just changes the knowledge delivery channel. Don’t get me wrong: this is transformational and liberating for populations that found traditional materials inaccessible, as the tremendous success of the Rumie project demonstrates. But with a focus on content, our industry misses a tremendous opportunity to swim with the tide of research in education that has completely upended the knowledge-focussed paradigm of the last thousand years. The revolution that Ryan Craig is talking about in College Disrupted: The Great Unbundling of Higher Education and the teaching that Cathy Davidson champions in The New Education is fundamentally about the triumph of skills – hard, soft, all kinds of skills – over knowledge.

Even Virtual Reality and Artifical Intelligence, front and center recently at @EdtechXEurope, @ReimagineEducation, @SXSWedu, and @GSV, is only pedagogically innovative to the extent that it’s built for personalized- and competency-based learning.  Most applications of VR and AI remain grounded in a pedagogy that emphasizes mastery of bodies of knowledge. Some are explicitly marketed as technology that promotes better scores on traditional knowledge-oriented exams. By their very nature, VR and AI in education are directed to learning or doing things that are well-defined by educational content creators. To be sure, they may be very effective tools to speed up the acquisition of knowledge, but they do little to contribute to an education that gets students to know when and how to use the knowledge and then actually do the things they are learning to do.

Look at the Tyton Partners Time for Class 2017  report. It’s an industry-leading report on the state of technology in higher education. Or that’s what it’s supposed to be. But it turns out to be a report on “use and perceptions of”… wait for it… “digital courseware”. The first bullet point in the report mentions “expanding options for “digital learning delivery”. Delivery. The rest of the report is heavily focussed on content delivery; the word “skills” doesn’t appear once. It’s important to understand the pace of adoption and satisfaction with digital courseware, but it’s only a preliminary part of what we now think of as a total learning experience.

Then turn to the Unizin consortium, linking the leading public higher education insitutions of the US Midwest. Unizin is supposedly pushing an ambitious agenda to “improve the learning experience with technology”. Yet its website’s “Solutions” area consists of “Content”, “Data Management”, and “For the Learning Environment”. I imagined that the latter would be about technology built to facilitate learning how to think and do, rather than learning as knowledge. But disappointingly, the link there is to “Course Material Delivery” and the words “Content” and “Deliver” appear twelve times in that short webpage.

And then consider TopHat’s attempt to ‘disrupt’ the publishing industry and Perusall’s platform that allows annotation of textbooks. Rather than innovating and leaving the 20th century world of textbooks behind, these platforms buy into that out-of-date pedagogical model.

The examples are too numerous to catalog. Delivery of content still dominates the mainstream understanding of higher education.

So where should Edtech be headed?

We can look at Finland’s transformation of the pedagogy in its education system, in step with current research, and now being copied in China, to see where education is really heading. The Finnish system’s focus on phenomena-based learning, co-creation, and multidisciplinary problem-solving is where education is heading, there can be no doubt. This means that edtech must innovate to produce tools that facilitate this kind of learning.

Certainly, any tool that enables social and peer learning is going in the right direction. Eric Mazur, the Harvard Physicist who famously gave up on lectures, turned to peer instruction, and built the Learning Catalytics application to make it happen in traditional classrooms, is an example of someone whose pedagogy drove the creation of educational technology.

It might be surprising that putting technology to the service of deep learning of skills and competencies is natural in some of the most traditional subjects – Philosophy and English Literature. You would think that content would be king here, but in these subjects teachers have for a long time used techniques to develop students’ analytic, argumentation, and writing skills. That’s cleary demonstrated in the best book on teaching in higher ed, James Lang’s, Small Teaching; Lang is an English Professor.  And the UBC Centre for Teaching and Learning partnered with faculty from these departments to develop COMPair and Studiorium, tech tools that have nothing to do with ingesting content and everything to do with active learning of skills for persuasive, effective writing.

Counter-examples of this progress abound, unfortunately. The gamification of learning, with technology like Gradecraft, is mostly designed for content ingestion so that students perform better on traditional assessments – exams.  To be sure, deep gamification can lead to deep competency learning, as in this gamification of learning ultrasound techniques. But at present most of it is like the profusion of digital flashcards, built to help students succeed in the current, traditional  pedagogical environment. And who can blame those who build these tools and the parents and students who use them.  Tools for the gamification of fact-learning are squarely at the revenue end of the revenue-innovation trade-off.

Skills over Content

One area that’s clearly underserved by edtech is the learning of hard and soft skills, both individual and interpersonal. For skills learning, we’re not even talking about innovative pedagogy. There’s no doubt that the only way to learn skills is to do them, over and over, reflecting each time, modifying techniques along the way, getting better along the way and learning what you’re capabable of doing.  We still have a system of apprenticeship for skilled trades that dates back thousands of years and relies on repeated practice and coaching. The pedagogy of apprenticeship is in fact more relevant in higher education than many realize, in fields from the creative and performing arts to health professions to business and law. So why aren’t we seeing edtech building more tools for learning of hands-on skills or skills that involve some kind of interpersonal interaction?

There are a few such tools. Learning technologies used for simulation-based education in the health professions and public safety are important, but they are very expensive and involve an on-site hardware installation, like the products offered by CAE Healthcare. Startups like GoReact, Practice.xyz, and WeVu.video are using the fact that video recording is now accessible to anyone to build tools for practice and feedback over time and space, including for the skilled trades.  We need more and better tools for collaborative, discovery-based skills learning, for educators to more easily put design thinking into practice at scale, and for real reflection and integration of learning like ePortfolios promised.

An educational model dominated by content delivery was a function of pre-digital, print technology. Technological innovation has given us a world where anything and everything can be digital, shared, and collaborative. How frustrating it will be if those building, buying, and using educational technology remain stuck in a pre-digital, pre-internet pedagogy and their technological innovation actually deepens the bias to a content-focussed model of education.

Video for Skills Learning – Evidence That it Works

Video feedback really works

Feedback is widely accepted as a critical part of the learning process (Boud & Molloy, 2013). As many scholars indicate, feedback not only provides direction on what particular techniques the leraner needs to improve, but is essential for the student’s growth – boosting their confidence, increasing motivation and self-esteem (Clynes & Raftery, 2008). While the feedback itself may be provided in a variety of different ways, there has been a particular surge in the use of video-based feedback methods alongside video assignments to support learning and education in professional development and sporting environments. More recently, as Lauber & Keller (2014) discuss, the usage of such methods in conjunction with course material may be an exceptionally promising tool within the health sector for the practice and education of nurses. With the critical responsibility of caring for and treating patients (often in stressful situations), the nursing educational process is rigorous and complex. There are a variety of skills a nursing student must master in order to be effective in their career including clinical practice, communication skills, motivational interviewing skills and many more. Early research suggests that video assignments and feedback are being put to effective use to assist in the mastery of such skills. Consider the following cases evaluating the effects of video feedback on various skills taught to nurses.

Case 1: Communication and Interview Skills

The Study:

A study conducted by Noordman, Vander Weijden and Van Dulmen (2010) examined the effects of individual video feedback on communication skills, clinical competence (adherence to practice guidelines), and interviewing skills of nurses working in primary care. The study involved 17 nurses and 325 patients in which nurse-patient consultations were video-taped at two sessions with an interval of 3-6 months. Before the recordings, nurses were allocated to a control or video-feedback group. Nurses allocated to the video-feedback group received video-feedback between the two sessions.


The results indicated that nurses who received video-feedback appeared to pay significantly more attention to patient’s request for help, to accuracy in their head-to-toe examination,  and gave significantly more understandable information to the patient. Moreover, in regards to interview skills, nurses in the video-feedback group appeared to pay more attention to ‘agenda setting and permission seeking’ during their consultations. Effectively, the study demonstrated that video-feedback may be an effective method to improve the generic communication skills of practicing nurses in the health sector. “Although a single video-feedback session does not seem sufficient to increase all motivational interviewing skills, significant improvement in some specific skills was found.”

A full link to the study may be found here: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/24588648

Case 2: Working with a Human Patient Simulator

The Study:

A similar study was conducted by Grant, Moss, Epps, and Watts (2010) to evaluate the effect of video-facilitated human patient simulator (HPS) practice and guidance on a student’s clinical performance. Students were given various roles and were evaluated on behaviors related to patient safety, communication, prioritization of care, implementation of appropriate interventions and delegation other health care team members. The study had 20 students from nursing and nursing anesthetist programs who participated in HPS practice and guidance with video feedback compared to a group of 20 students who participated in HPS practice and guidance that used oral feedback alone, in order to identify performance indicators that were sensitive to improvement.


The study showed that there was a significant difference between the the intervention group exposed to video feedback and the control group on three of the desired simulation behaviours: patient identification, team communication, and assessing vital signs. The highest number of desired behaviors were exhibited by the intervention group. Although there were no huge differences between the intervention group exposed to video feedback and the control group in total performance scores, the mean scores on the desired simulation behaviors were higher in the former.  This is great evidence that video-recording and feedback provides advantages in exactly the practices and skills that you would expect it to improve. Moreover, the students in the intervention group in this study expressed great satisfaction with the idea of viewing their performance on video and receiving feedback. We note that this was 2010, and the video recordings were not made available to the students on the internet and the feedback was not pinpointed to times on the videos, except by reference to the minute where it occurred.

A link to the full study may be found here: http://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S1876139909005325

Case 3Emergency Care


A study was conducted by Anita Nystrom in 2014 on 44 undergraduate nursing students. The primary aim was to examine the experiences of nursing students being video-recorded during an examination and of receiving feedback on their performance. The examination involved providing proper and effective emergency care for a simulated patient. Descriptive in design, the study tested the effectiveness using a qualitative approach with written answers and open ended questions.


The study revealed a great deal about the usage of video-recordings and feedback. While some students reported feeling tension knowing that their examination would be recorded, many of the subjects felt the dialogue with and responses from the teacher in connection with visualized feedback were beneficial the process was an excellent learning opportunity for the process of emergency care. As reported by Nystrom

“The students described how this opened their eyes to their own actions, and that visualization provided an opportunity to increase self-knowledge, both as a person and regarding their role as a nurse. The video-recording allowed them to see clearly and reconnect to what they had done and what they had neglected to do, which enabled the students to prepare for their future professional role.”

A link to the full study may be found here: http://www.diva-portal.org/smash/get/diva2:648405/FULLTEXT03

Video-enabled learning is better for mastering skills

Overall, these case studies demonstrate that within the health sector, video-recording and video based feedback are viable valuable educational tools which promote dialogue, increased self-knowledge and professional growth for nursing students. They are very effective in bolstering students’ communication and interview skills, their abilities with HPS, and their ability to handle an emergent situation. However, as with other professions, the effectiveness of the feedback is heavily dependent on the feedback process, and the ability of the instructor to provide timely criticisms.   Giving students clear and constructive feedback on their work in progress is just as important as giving clear instructions for the assignment itself, and platforms like WeVu help provide a nuanced solution to this problem. The software not only allows for students to see what happened and learn from their experiences but also provides an effective outlet for instructors to give students feedback throughout the learning process. The accessibility of the video for student reflection, peer feedback, instructor coaching, and assessment – plus the comments appearing at the right time and place on the video – makes it even more likely that we will see learning gains from the use of video for skills learning.