How to Get Students to Watch Your Instructional Videos
I often give a presentation to faculty about how to integrate video into a course. And while there are a lot of ways to do this, still, the single most frequent type of video found in higher ed courses are lecture videos where instructors deliver some type of prepared speech. So I typically end the talk with a few best practices for how to get students to watch this type of video. As with any element of a course, whether it’s how you communicate digitally, what your syllabus says and looks like, or what type of activities employed to cultivate student learning, it’s necessary to think hard about how video content fits into the overall course narrative and structure. To that end, here are a few points that can help guide the way you create and deploy video in your course.
You know what’s worse than being in a lecture hall where an instructor reads Powerpoint slides that cover the same thing as the textbook? Watching that same lecture in video format. Instead, let the textbook do the work and add value with experience, anecdotes, and expertise beyond book. Video is a great venue to show students what it looks like to think as an expert in your field. Why? Because video excels at context generally. Since experts don’t miss the forest for the trees, and video is a great vehicle for context, it can be a powerful way to demonstrate how you organize information within your particular knowledge domain.
But it also helps to tie video materials to an assessment. This can be done either directly, where students are assessed on the content of a video and forced to practice some basic knowledge retrieval to check their understanding of concepts explored in videos. Alternatively, videos can be indirectly tied to assessments by making them easier. If students know they will get added support for assessments by watching a video then there is an intrinsic motivation to watch them. Coursera, which has generated a massive amount of data on video and assessment, recommends a formative assessment for every 20-30 minutes of video and a summative for every module, or 1-2 hours of video content.
If video is central to your course, make sure it is available to the students when they need it, i.e., post it well before they need it. Generally, those who are new to teaching through video underestimate how long it takes to create videos, at least initially. So give yourself plenty of time to create and share.
Most courses are ritualistic, and students are quick to get into the flow of a course if it is well designed. While there is an argument to be made for spontaneity and even asynchronous improvisation, if you are delivering learning materials through video, it needs to be available on a consistent basis. If not, students will be distracted by the irregular timing of videos and less focused on the content. Thinking of video holistically, in terms of your overall communication plan for your course will help students to know when to watch videos and what to do after having watched them.
Concise does not necessarily mean short. Rather, it is the difference between deliberate speech and rambling. One way to think of concision is to think of the difference between video and conversation. Video is linear. Conversations are discursive. Concision is best achieved when videos are planned and scripted. So ask yourself, “What do I want to capture in the recording?” “What are my instructional goals?” “Why is it important to capture information in this way?” “What materials do I need to prepare” “How does this video fit into my course structure?” Knowing an answer to these questions will help you stay on task.
A crucial way to achieve concision and maintain student engagement is to be transparent about the content of your videos. Forecast where you are headed, signpost changes in direction, reinforce main ideas with examples and repetition, conclude and summarize the key features of the content covered. Also, you can facilitate attentive viewing by posing questions and encouraging prediction. Here is a great example of how this is done:
One thing that we can’t ignore when talking about video is the risk involved. There’s just something about recorded that triggers our social anxiety. But keep in mind, we are not trained professionals and anyone who watches these videos knows this. In fact, studies have shown that there is no correlation between production value of video and student learning. In fact, videos produced with a more personal feel can be more engaging that high-fidelity studio recordings.
Try, fail, try again. You probably won’t be satisfied with your first videos, but the more you create them, the easier they will get. Also, remember that making videos is fun, so don’t forget to enjoy the process!