Video killed the textbook star?

Using video content to improve student engagement, by Jay Ashcroft, edtech author and UK schools director at Boclips

When students spend upwards of five hours per day online in the fast-paced, instantly gratifying digital world, dusty old textbooks just aren’t that engaging anymore. It’s becoming a cliché, but today’s students have never lived in a world without Google or YouTube, each instantly accessible from the smartphone in their pockets.

This presents a challenge to schools, who with limited funds, rely on traditional learning resources like textbooks and handouts. In a perfect world, classroom technology would rival what students are used to at home, and student engagement wouldn’t be the challenge that it is today. This world is some way off, but there are ways to bridge the divide as educational technology catches up. Let’s look at three ways that short-form video can be used in the classroom. 

Improving engagement with guest stars

Three minutes of the right video content can engage an entire class and set your lesson on its way.

Studies have found that good video content improves subject cognition and recall for students

You could introduce Shakespeare’s Othello by bringing in Gregory Doran, the Royal Shakespeare Company’s artistic director. You could open your next physics lesson with a little help from Neil deGrasse Tyson. Maybe even Al Gore could stop by to talk about climate change and what we can do to address it. It doesn’t matter that these people can’t make it to your classroom in person (although that would be very cool!). 

What matters more is that you can share these expert perspectives with your students. 

Using a short video as a learning prompt, discussion starter or contextual hook within a lesson enables you to introduce new and exciting perspectives. You’re effectively bringing the outside world into your classroom, all without the hassle of having to leave your desk. 

Developing a stronger knowledge base

Having taught in secondary schools, I always found one of the greatest challenges came when starting a new module. In a classroom of 30 students, there’s a wide range of abilities and knowledge that must be catered for. 

Three minutes of the right video content can engage an entire class and set your lesson on its way

Blended and flipped learning have been hot topics for some time in education, both aiding students to develop a more consistent knowledge base. It may sound complex but it’s really very easy to get started. As a teacher, try curating a video for students to watch outside of your lesson. It could be an instructional video, a news clip or just something interesting. With good content, students can self-direct their learning, consuming the video at their own speed and reviewing it multiple times. The result, at worst, is that students won’t grasp the learning objective and you gain a discussion opportunity for the classroom. At best, students achieve the objective and better understand the subject.    

Aiding revision 

Studies have found that good video content improves subject cognition and recall for students. Use this to your advantage by giving students animated ‘explainer’ videos in the lead-up to exams. These short videos summarise complex topics by highlighting relevant points in an engaging and informative manner. There’s no shortage of this type of content, covering topics such as history, the sciences and many more.

You might also like: Why video is the future of HE

It’s nothing new to say that video content is a powerful tool for teachers. Educational video platforms have been around for some time, however, there have been barriers to widespread adoption, mainly due to costs involved or limited libraries of content. With Boclips for Teachers we aim to overcome these barriers, offering one million video clips, aggregated from reliable, globally recognised content providers, and for a limited period, free of charge. 

To access engaging educational video content free from distractions and inappropriate content, visit

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