Video killed the radio star

Video shows no signs of slowing down – especially in light of the remote learning measures implemented in response to the coronavirus pandemic. But in such a saturated market, how do teachers separate quality educational content from the video ‘fluff’? Hazel Davis explores

This time last year, most educators would never have predicted how much time their students would spend learning via video.

But in July, the Department for Education (DfE) issued guidance for all schools to have the capacity for remote learning by September. This education, the guidance said, should be “high quality and aligning as closely as possible with in-school provision”.

When COVID-19 hit, there was no shortage of solutions hitting the market, some better than others. But in such a saturated market, how can educators separate the high-calibre wheat from the chaff?

The work-from-home revolution

“During COVID-19, it has become abundantly clear that technology is no longer a luxury – it’s a necessity. Schools need to ensure that pupils, as well as teachers and staff members, are well equipped to learn and work from home. This includes access to a reliable internet connection, laptops, tablets or similar devices that empower pupils and staff to learn and teach remotely. And it’s collectively up to headteachers, teachers, governors, school committees, technology partners and the government to ensure every child has the access necessary to learn remotely,” says Simon Carter, director at RM Education.

And video will be a key part of this: “Whether there’s a second spike in coronavirus cases, more local lockdowns, a snow day, a sick day, or all four, a hybrid approach to teaching – where online learning, which includes video and classroom learning, are combined – will be the only way to ensure pupils still receive the same high quality of teaching during term time.”

However, video learning isn’t just a replacement for physical learning. “Learning in a physical space or through a computer screen are two distinctly different experiences that require unique approaches,” says Ben Fogarty, CEO and founder of digital experience company Holoscribe. “Primarily, the classroom and seminar spaces are designed and promise to stimulate engaging conversation between students and encourage debate and learning. The lecture theatre itself is set up to focus attention on the teaching faculty member, to facilitate better engagement in the information or lesson being delivered. When entering a lecture theatre or classroom, the student will have an expectation of the sort of experience they will receive. Having the ability to ask questions or receive some sort of personal interaction with the teacher after the lesson is something that physical locations can facilitate, but is not a promise that digital can keep. Any attempt to substitute physical locations with digital will draw direct comparisons to the real thing, which will often make the whole experience fall flat.”

Education on-demand

But good video can support learners with low literacy levels, helping them access information quickly and supporting individual working speeds. Students can pause, fast-forward or rewind videos depending on how they are progressing. They can also introduce stimuli and materials that might not be possible or practical in other situations. In science, you can watch experiments without the need for equipment, for example. Good videos can inspire students with a different perspective. “In geography, for example, reading about a tornado and watching a video of a tornado could allow a student to relate more to the event,” says Simon Barnes, former teacher and founder of online tuition company TLC LIVE. TLC LIVE has developed more than 20,000 hours of bespoke, online learning content in line with the national curriculum.

The fact is that students will still expect the digital substitute to perform the same as their traditional learning structures. There are lots of fantastic videos on YouTube, to which many harassed lockdown parents will attest. However, if they haven’t been produced specifically for educational purposes, and at the correct level, there are no guarantees. So, how can teachers ensure what they’re getting hits the spot?

“Structure’s important,” says Barnes. “A positive, focused video is far more beneficial than a long-winded, rambling explanation.” Videos should complement the curriculum too, says Barnes, adding: “In maths, for example, only videos that mirror the working-out processes being used in the school should be used.”

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Accessibility, flexibility and interactivity are also key to providing a good-quality educational video. “Features such as variable-speed playback allow users to slow down or speed up a recording so that they can absorb the material at their own pace,” says Debra Garretson, director of accounts at Panopto, which helps businesses and universities create searchable video libraries. “One of the key elements to creating a good educational video is searchability,” she adds. “Students and teachers need to use their video library just like a regular library, by precisely searching across the entire archive or a specific recording for the exact information they need.”

PlanBee creates primary school resources for teachers. Teacher-turned senior manager Oli Ryan says, “When schools closed [due to coronavirus], it became apparent to us that video content was a great ‘equaliser’. Through video, virtually all children can have access to learning regardless of reading ability, access to technology or technical literacy. Anyone with a phone, tablet, laptop or desktop device can stream online video.” However, Ryan warns, “Teachers and school leaders must apply scepticism and critical thinking when selecting video content for learning, just as they should when choosing traditional learning materials.”

“Any attempt to substitute physical locations with digital will draw direct comparisons to the real thing, which will often make the whole thing fall flat” – Ben Fogarty

What makes a good educational video?

Good teaching and learning videos consider the following things, says Michael Wilkinson, managing director of video-based teaching and learning company ClickView, “Engagement: research shows around six to eight minutes is optimal to maintain students’ engagement. Delivery should be with pace, while being conversational, while being careful to weed-out interesting – but not essential – information given the time constraints.”

Cognitive load must also be considered to prompt working memory to accept, process and commit to long-term memory only the most crucial information, says Wilkinson. “This includes matching modalities (visuals and audio) simultaneously helping to convey vital messages, with on-screen symbols such as text and other imagery to draw attention to key information.”

Other good features that promote active learning include quizzes overlaid in the video to help students process information and monitor their own understanding.

However, Wilkinson warns, “Video does not live in isolation. Good educational video also looks to combine additional resources with wider activities to help educators to augment their practice.”

A glimpse of the future

While video shows no signs of diminishing, its future could look quite different, says Fogarty. “Three hundred and sixty degree interactive technology can become a valuable tool for digital learning as it allows the user to actively explore real or imagined worlds on their own accord. Instead of showing still images of old Roman towns, why not take students into a 360° world where they can explore the forum, the baths or the arena? This tech allows students to explore the aspects of history, geography and science that interests them, moving between topics that grab their attention and retain their interest for long periods of time. It helps to visualise locations and objects, placing them in the context of where they live or where they were found – and has the ability to take them to places or experiences that they would otherwise never have been able to explore.”

Matt Jenner, head of learning at FutureLearn, thinks that the future will be in more engaging content. “Talking heads in front of shelves of books have had their day. We need to think about video as a way to connect, share, demonstrate and be creative.” But for now, he says, “Video is still very one-way; teacher-driven. Education needs to take a step back, learn from social media and realise the transformative power of user-generated video content and then embrace it as a medium for learning.”


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1 Comment
  • Kirsty Cumming
    Kirsty Cumming

    Going back to the Department for Education’s guidance ‘high quality and aligning as closely as possible with in-school provision’, I think it’s less about video content (though that plays an important part) and more about creating live lessons that connect teachers to their students and students to their peers. To date, commercial video conferencing has been used with some success, but with the release of Live Lessons for example, in schools using Sparkjar, teachers now have access to classroom management tools that provide a powerful virtual environment. Teachers and students also have the protection of inbuilt safeguarding that operates to UK educational standards. The standard of teaching and education in the UK is high – teachers know what they’re doing. As edtech providers the most beneficial contribution we can make is to provide teachers with the tools to do what they usually do… but in a remote or blended environment. They know their students, they know their subjects and how to teach them. Great edtech goes un-noticed – it’s intuitive for all users. A head teacher from one school using Sparkjar (that ran a full lesson timetable throughout lockdown) described the software as ‘comfortable as an old shoe’. I’ll be honest, that’s not quite what we were hoping for – something a little more glamourous maybe! – but in essence, that’s what DofE are after – delivering the same brilliant teaching whether a school is open, closed or somewhere in between.

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