Birmingham Digital, I think, is rightly a major theme of this round of the Big Conversation. In a previous piece I outlined a healthy scepticism about the use of technology in Higher Education. In this post, I consider a particular digital issue – the use of ‘teaching films’ in distance- and blended-learning programmes.
We hear a lot about the use of films in Higher Education teaching and learning these days. Perhaps most notably the University wide push to expand the use of Panopto and the expectation that all lectures will be captured (at least voice and slides) on film and posted on Canvas for students to scrutinise – hopefully for the second time! I can see both the benefits and potential pitfalls of this move and I am pleased the roll out has taken student expectations into account. The University is also, as you would expect, moving with the times.
My concern is less with the use of Panopto in campus-based courses; as the potential benefits appear to outweigh the inconveniences (as long as students are still attending and engaging in the lectures). My concern is more about the use of ‘teaching films’ in blended- and distance-learning courses – such as the one I run. My course, and many others like it (including MOOCs), rely heavily on their use. At the University of Birmingham, ‘teaching films’ come in various forms, including: films that are scripted and use an autocue; filmed conversations; impromptu pieces to camera; Pantopto recorded lectures; animations; talking heads; recorded seminars; interviews; on-location films; and others. Given the widespread use of these films it is surprising how little research there is about their impact on learning.
There are several publications that provide practical support and advice for University teachers about the use of films in teaching (see, for example, Raths, 2013; Baker, 2016) and also research into what makes films compelling (see, for example, Hibbert, 2014). It is concerning that very little of this advice appears to be based on substantial empirical evidence; an argument also made by Hansch et al. (2015) and Thompson et al. (2014). What evidence there is tends to be about retention rates, which as noted by Hansch et al. (2015) starts by asking, ‘Did people watch this video?’ rather than, ‘Did people learn from this video?’. In many educational environments engagement is seen as a good indicator of learning (for example, students active participation in seminars); however, I don’t believe good engagement necessarily equals good learning when it comes to teaching films. Also, what about the impact on learning the different types of films have? When should an academic use a scripted film and when might an impromptu piece to camera be more appropriate? Based on the lack of current research, in the words of Donald Rumsfeld, this for me is a ‘known unknown’.
As Guo et al. (2014) found, high production value might not matter when it comes to student engagement, but perhaps a more important question is does high production matter when it comes to student learning? Received wisdom is that teaching films are ‘liked’ by students and seen to improve their learning experience; a more important question is: what is their impact on learning and teaching? If distance- and blended-learning are to expand at the University (for example through degree-apprenticeships and the Dubai campus), and student survey scores including NSS and PTES are to remain positive, than it is important, I believe, that we take steps to answer this question.
Baker, A. (2013) Active Learning with Interactive Videos: Creating Student-Guided Learning Materials’, T H E Journal, vol. 40, no. 11, pp. 12-18.
Guo, P. J., Kim, J., and Rubin, R. (2014) How video production affects student engagement: An empirical study of MOOC videos, [Online], In: Proceedings of the first ACM Conference on Learning@Scale Conference, Atlanta, GA, 04-05 March, Available at: https://dl.acm.org/citation.cfm?id=2566239 [Accessed 30 October 2017].
Hansch, A., Newman, C., Hillers, L., Schildhauer, T., McConachie, K. and Schmidt, P. (2015) ‘Video and Online Learning: Critical Reflections and Findings from the Field’, HIIG Discussion Paper Series No. 2015-02, Berlin: Alexander von Humboldt Institut für Internet and Gesellschaft.
Hibbert, M. (2014) ‘What Makes an Online Instructional Video Compelling?’, EDUCAUSE Review, Available at: http://www.educause.edu/ero/article/what-makes-online-instructionalvideo-compelling [Accessed: 20 January 2015].
Muller, D. A., Bewes, J., Sharma, M. D., and Reimann, P. (2008) ‘Saying the wrong thing: Improving learning with multimedia by including misconceptions’, Journal of Computer Assisted Learning, vol. 24, no. 2, pp. 144-155.