When I started out as a teacher in 2008, video felt like the domain of experts. The equipment, software and skills required to produce half-decent footage that could actually help people learn seemed like more trouble than they were worth. So even though I was personally interested in using innovative technology to encourage and extend learning, I left it in the too-hard-basket.
Video 4 learning
Fat-forward a few years into the post-PC era, and things have changed. Equipment has dropped in price dramatically. Software is easy to use, even for novices. YouTube, though it is still changing rapidly everyday, is a far cry from the small community of amateur videographers it started as; it’s now a multi-billion-dollar company with thousands of new videos going up every day, a large portion of which are educational. At the end of last year, amid lots of talk about the flipped classroom and its benefits for mathematics education, I decided to dive in and start recording my day-to-day teaching of a year 11 mathematics class and an elective ICT course. It was (in many ways, still is) an experiment, and in the almost twelve months since I started, I have learned a few things about how it is useful (and how it isn’t).
What the Benefits Aren’t
Let me start off by cutting through some of the unrealistic propaganda that I’ve heard spoken by over-enthusiastic administrators wanting to sell a technology to jaded educators. Some have told me that once we get together a bank of lessons from skilled and experienced teachers, we’ll never need to teach a lesson again because we can just pull up the video for each concept and hit play. I feel that such a view betrays a complete underestimation of the most important ingredient of effective teaching: namely, teacher-student interaction. Though mathematics is often (sometimes fairly) stereotyped as a subject that is all about mindlessly perfecting mechanical processes, the development of genuine mathematical understanding and intuition requires questioning, engagement and live collaboration that are impossible to communicate through simple recorded lessons. Instructional videos, even the very best ones, are no substitute for a flesh-and-blood teacher.
What the Benefits Are
All that being said, after uploading videos on a daily basis for the last few months, I have become more and more convinced of how worthwhile it is to produce and publish videos explaining concepts and skills in mathematics (and technology). I can’t say I’m certain it would be as beneficial for other subjects – I am sure the learning dynamic is different enough that it would take an experienced teacher in each field to make an accurate value judgement – but in mathematics for sure, the benefits have been tremendous. Let me briefly outline a few for you.
1. For revision
Once understanding has been initially established, videos are fantastic at jogging students’ memory when they don’t need a full-bodied explanation of an idea – they just need to be reminded of something they can’t quite remember from a few months ago. Being able to refer students back to any lesson in the past year has given my students confidence and also freed me up to move forward at a more even pace (or cover extension work rather than continually reiterating basic concepts).
2. To support absent students
Students miss class for all sorts of reasons – some of them valid and some not. This year though, I have had students away because they were pursuing unique extra-curricular opportunities; because they had issues at home to sort out; and because they had to be in and out of hospital due to problems with their health. In each case, having access to our lessons via video enabled them to keep up (or catch up) with the class in a way that was vastly superior to being forced to try and work through the course completely without help.
3. To push me to my limits as a teacher
More than once I have gone back to some of my old videos and realised, “I can teach that better. I need to teach that better; I owe it to my students.” At university we were taught the importance of reflective practice and were urged to spend time every day going back and thinking about what aspects of our teaching could be improved upon; though my videos aren’t exhaustive (they don’t capture one-on-one interactions between myself and students, for instance), they do allow me to actually relive teaching moments (both the good and the bad) and provide me with a helpful instrument to diagnose my own efficacy as an educator. As a side note, just being aware of the fact that my everyday teaching is going to go online for the whole world to see is also a handy motivation to make sure that my teaching is passionate, my explanations are clear and my manner is encouraging.
So in conclusion, videos are worth it. If you’d like to take a peek into my classroom then here’s a good place to start: