Short and Simple: Using Videos in Flipped Learning Environments

High school students and teacher in classroom discussion

Flipped learning is a fairly straightforward concept. The goal is to save passive learning activities, such as lectures, for students’ at-home time, while emphasizing active learning activities, like discussions and individual Q&A, for the classroom. In my travels and discussions, one item in particular that I’ve noticed trips up many instructors is the use of video.

Here’s a typical scenario: an instructor has spent most of her classes lecturing for about 45 minutes out of an hour, saving 15 minutes for class discussion. Recognizing that students’ attention spans don’t always extend through the entire hour – especially during the lecture – she decides to flip her class. She has read up on the latest techniques and tools for doing so and determines that she can “lecture” to her students via videos that they will watch prior to coming to class. She can then save discussions, mentoring, labs, and other active learning for the hour-long class. So she goes to her computer and decides the first thing she needs to do is record her 45-minute long lectures, using tools like Panopto, Camtasia, and iMovie.

Okay, first question: why use video instruction? Why not simply type out the important points she wants students to learn and let them read at their own pace? I would venture that she actually needs to do both. Not all students learn well from videos, and likewise, not all students learn well from reading written text. The aim is to have multimodal information – info that is delivered in different ways so that students have choices as to how they will engage with the material. What I might suggest to this instructor is this: write out what she wants to say, in a friendly conversational style, and then use that document as a “script” (or at least the bare bones of a script) for creating the video. Post both online for students to watch and/or download.

Second question: how long should the videos be? For starters, a 45-minute video is way too long. It’s not a question of presenting the same material as a live lecture. The real issue is that video lectures are not live, not face-to-face. A video cannot survey its audience. It can’t look into the students’ faces and determine whether they are understanding the material or are confused and in need of further explanation. And, quite simply, research from Massive Open Online Course provides such as edX, show that students get bored with videos that are any longer than about six minutes. So, our hypothetical instructor here should not make the mistake that a video lecture is simply a face-to-face lecture that has been recorded. She should also remember that she need not try to cover every question and every eventuality in her videos. Rather, information can still be shared during the live discussions and labs. Is six minutes not enough time? No problem. She can try chunking her material into individual concepts, one video for each. Keep them short, keep them simple.

Third and final question: what should be in the videos? Obviously, this is going to depend in part on the subject matter being covered. But take statistics as an example: if she is going to teach a statistical concept like the standard deviation, she probably wants to both explain the concept and show the equation. This is where screen-capture recording tools can be very handy. One mistake I’ve seen a number of times is where an instructor sets up his video camera in a lecture hall and records himself writing equations on the board. This can be very hard for viewers to see. But trying to type out equations on a keyboard is no day at the beach either. On the other hand, a decent capture-pen-and-touch-tablet can be found for under $100. Whether teaching mathematics, diagramming sentences, or sketching out new art work, I recommend that our instructor invest in a writing tablet (or that her department invest in one for her and all the other instructors). It’s a small price to pay for quality videos. She could then try a screen capture tool like Camtasia, write out her equations, and explain them while she writes.

And of course, there is the flipped-classroom instructor’s final concern: this is too much work. I try to help instructors capitalize on “economies of scale.” There is an initial investment of time up front, but the resources our instructor creates can be used over multiple terms, maybe with only minor tweaks. It may seem a bit daunting at first, but she should consider how much time will be saved over having to repeat the same lecture material live every time she teaches the course. In the end, it’s worth it.

Videos are just one tool in the flipped classroom arsenal, of course. We’ll be discussing strategies and research around flipped learning at the Association of Private Sector Colleges and Universities annual convention in Denver, Colorado on June 3. Can you join me?



About the Author
Rob Kadel, Ph.D.

Rob Kadel, Ph.D.

Dr. Rob Kadel is a Senior Research Scientist in the Center for College & Career Success His research centers on interventions that can help disadvantaged students overcome socioeconomic challenges, for example, using educational technologies to supplement instruction and forge stronger bonds between home and school. Rob is also a Lecturer in the Department of Sociology at the University of Colorado Denver. Prior to joining Pearson, Rob ran his own consulting firm for nine years, evaluating the effects of educational technology on academic success. He has also held faculty positions at Penn State University and Johns Hopkins University. Rob obtained his Ph.D. in sociology from Emory University in 1998. Connect with him on Twitter @rkadel42