Using Videos to Enrich Your Teaching of Online Science Courses

By Peter Jeschofnig, PhD, Founder of IEDSE: Institute for Excellence in Distance Science Education and Co-Author of “Teaching Lab Science Courses Online”

ComputerMedia_webNo matter how carefully we design the content of a new online science course, once we start teaching and getting student feedback, we learn that students often need extra help and additional clarification with certain course concepts and assignments.  After teaching a course once, it becomes obvious where we need to incorporate supplemental materials to create a much improved subsequent offering.   Among the many improvements made should be instructional video clips snatched from the plethora of multi-media teaching tools available online.

Most instructors use short video clips in face-to-face classes to get a discussion started, explain an especially difficult concept, show a hazardous demonstration, or share a fun experience.  The idea of enriching a class with videos is even more essential in the online learning environment.

Online classes should start with a personal instructor and course introduction video.  This gives the students a unique connection and means to establish rapport with the instructor plus can help enhance and clarify the course content, structure, and expectations.  The instructor’s willingness to share his/her image and enthusiasm for the subject greatly enhances students excitement about what they will be learning and sets the stage for the robust class discussions that are at the heart of online learning.

I prepare and post an introductory “meet-the-instructor” video at the beginning of my online classes. This is easily accomplished with simple video software such asAdobe’s Visual Communicator 3 or by narrating a PowerPoint presentation and saving it as a video.  This video can be uploaded into your LMS or posted on YouTube like this example from Wilmington University‘s Sandy Bennett.  One of my favorite introductory videos is by Professor Don Reed who sets the stage for his Oceanography course at San Jose State University and by recording his video along the seashore.  Another good course introduction example is this mix of PowerPoint slides and video clips by Al Trujillo of Palomar College.

Communication tends to be more focused and meaningful when people have first had a visual connection.  With the proliferation of web cams, smart phones, flip cameras, and similar devices, students can and should be encouraged to also prepare short video introductions of their own to share with the class.  This is an excellent way to begin the engagement process and build a learning community within the course.

We know that students learn in different ways.  To fully engage online students in course content, the course design should employ multiple formats and strategies including lots of audio, video, and graphics that resonate with the multiple learning styles of today’s students while reinforcing the course content.   The internet is a great storehouse of multi-media teaching tools ranging from videos and animations to narrated PowerPoint presentations created by some of the world’s best professional teachers

Before finalizing course content, review the plethora of online instructional resources like YouTube,  TED,  Annenberg Media,  TeacherTube,  iTunes University,  Vimeo,  Khan Academy,  Open Yale courses, UC Berkeley webcasts, and similar.  Just type the name of your discipline in the search line, sit back, enjoy yourself, and be prepared to find amazing materials that will greatly enrich your students’ learning.   One of my favorite resources for Physics is MIT Open Courseware, especially the lectures and demonstrations by Professor Walter Lewin.

In addition to the URL link for each video required or recommended, I provide a brief summary that tells students what they should watch for and might expect to learn.  I typically add several optional and required videos for each course section/module; and one assignment is always to write a short reflective paper on one of the videos from the list.  In addition to video selections, I also provide links to PowerPoint presentations, blogs, storify collections, plus internet-based professional articles and current science news clips for further enrichment.

When students are having similar problems during the semester, I prepare short impromptu videos using screen-capture software like Camtasia (commercial),CamStudio (free), or Jing (free) to clarify or explain the problem issues.  Examples of impromptu videos I’ve made include how to find the best-fit-line through a data set and how to attach a DDM as ammeter into series and parallel circuits.

Initially, I used the webcam that came with my laptop, but for improved video quality, I started using a $75.00 Logitech HD Pro C920 WebcamThen I added a headset with microphone instead of relying on my laptop’s microphone.  The visual and audio quality of my videos has improved sufficiently to justify these purchases.   Instructors should ask if their institution is willing to provide or cover the cost of this equipment; many are.

When planning a short video, it is very important to use a well-constructed written script.  This will assure smooth delivery plus can be used as an ADA-approved alternative to the video and even facilitate your use of YouTube’s automatic captioning feature to add captioning that complies with ADA regulations.   The U.S. Department of Justice maintains an American with Disabilities Act homepage that is an excellent source for accurate and up-to-date information on meeting the needs of students with disabilities. There is also an excellent Western Kentucky University video on “Providing Equivalent Alternatives to Audio and Video Content:”

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