Teachers source 85% of their instructional videos from YouTube. But what makes the videos educational, rather than just a time-filler?
To answer that question Monash PhD candidate – and working teacher – Matt Fyfield combines cognitive science and real-world classroom practices to produce a new body of research.
In 2011 YouTube was described by two researchers as a “vast wasteland of garbage and social parody that adds nothing to the learning process.”
It’s come a long way since then, but it’s folly to suggest all videos claiming to be educational are either reliable or effective.
Here’s how to pick the gold from the garbage.
1. Keep videos short to keep students engaged
Shorter videos are more effective. Six minutes is the absolute maximum, less for younger students.
Data from massive open online courses [MOOCs] shows engagement drops off markedly after six minutes.
So, keep videos as short as possible while still addressing the main concept or content.
If you absolutely need to use a longer video, break it into smaller segments and let the students know how long these will be at the start.
2. Choose videos that focus on your learning aim
Some elements of a video are there to entertain and serve no educational purpose. These include anecdotes the presenter adds in for fun, irrelevant animations and even background music.
Any part of a video not focused on your learning aim is chewing up valuable cognitive resources, particularly in your lowest performing students.
This isn’t to say you should choose the dull and boring video. Effective videos can be designed with great informative animations, using engaging presenters, keeping the whole class engaged while delivering the learning aim.
Just avoid the ones with added bells and whistles, as they tend to distract from the main point, learning.
3. Use videos to help dispel students’ misconceptions
Dr Derek Muller, who runs the YouTube science channel Veritasium, said the problem isn’t that students know nothing, it’s that they know an awful lot, only much of it is wrong.
A video that explicitly dispels common misconceptions about a topic can help students achieve conceptual change. This can be as simple as a video that starts with ‘you might think that… but you’d be wrong’.
Simply presenting facts can reinforce students’ incorrect assumptions. Indeed, deliberately using a video that presents incorrect information then discussing these mistakes can also be an effective way of handling student misconceptions at the start of a unit.
4. Allowing students to watch on individual screens can aid learning
My research shows most teachers prefer to use a communal screen. This can be good for prompting discussion, collaborative learning activities and sharing experiences.
However, if students are watching an educational video for information and you think the video is good at explaining things without your input, consider allowing them to watch it on their own screens.
This could be part of a flipped model where students watch the video at home, or students could watch it in class on their own device using headphones.
Each student can watch the video at their own pace, pausing it when needed or scrubbing forwards or backwards to the parts they need to hear again.
This way, they can manage the flow of information, so they can take notes or complete activities without missing content.
It also frees you to interact with students one-on-one.
5. Integrate learning activities into video-watching
With the rise of YouTube, and the move to shorter content, videos can become part of powerful learning sequences.
Integrating learning activities before, during or after watching educational videos leads to greater learning outcomes.
Activities also help correct the overconfidence some students feel about how much they have actually learned from passively watching a video.
Some platforms allow for pop-up questions throughout a video, however focused discussion, drawing the content of the video, and even old-fashioned quizzes have all been shown to improve learning.
6. Use YouTube search functions to find the best content
The search bar in YouTube works just likes Google. You can use the minus sign, “phrase searching” and other Boolean terms. Once you search, you can also filter by length, licence and other options.
YouTube is a treasure trove of riches when used correctly. Of course, all of these guidelines require teachers to put just as much effort into planning with videos as they do when they plan using any other resource.
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