Movie Day

Movie day was always one of the best days when I was a student. There’s nothing that quite compared to the euphoria of walking into the classroom one day to see the TV cart at the front of the room. Some of the excitement may have rested on the novelty of merely being able to watch a video in school. But, truth be told, it probably wasn’t going to be anything I was interested in anyways. Most of the euphoria centered on one simple fact: I was off the hook for today. No expectations (just stay awake), answer whatever questions the teacher gave me recognizing the teacher probably wasn’t going to read them anyways–busy work, as if to say “Don’t mess with me and I won’t mess with you.”

The Vestigial Video

We’ve come a long way since those days. Unfortunately, however, many students still have the same experience in many classrooms on a regular basis. No, it’s not the hour-long waste of time it used to be. We’ve evolved: it’s much shorter now, as if to be the vestigial remnant of a bygone era of schooling. Whether it’s the 3-minute YouTube video or the 12-minute DVD clip, students are still just watching a movie. Sure, they may be answering questions at the end, holding a discussion based on the main points of the movie, or writing a summary at its conclusion. But the majority of video-watching in our schools is unmistakably passive.

The problem isn’t with videos, though. Sometimes the best way to learn about something is to watch a video about it. Sometimes a video is necessary to support other materials in learning about a particular topic. I tell people that half of what I’ve ever learned has been from YouTube. I’m kidding, of course, but it may not be that much of an overstatement. The problem, as always, is what students are doing with the video. Consider what we’re doing with text in our classrooms these days: we’re modeling think-alouds, helping students choose the right texts, teaching them how to annotate, comment, question the text. We almost never hand students a 5-page article and ask them to read without purpose and let us know when they’re done. At least we shouldn’t…

Approaching Amazing

There are several ways to use videos actively in our classrooms using technology that can begin to approach the amazing ways we now deal with text. Here are a few suggestions…

  1. Students can and should have control over the movie’s navigation. In a text, students are free to “hover over the text”, re-read, stop and start at will. Why would we treat video differently? The best way to do this is to use a website (Moodle, Google Classroom, WordPress blogs) to post the video and allow students independent access. Let them know it’s ok to pause, and encourage them to watch the movie as many times as they need to in order to “get it”.
  2. Students need to learn how to view a video in different ways. Show them how to view a video’s transcript, enable closed-captioning, scan the video, and change the speed.
  3. Don’t let students get away with not interacting with a video. You might consider using to allow students to annotate the video or using H5P Interactive Content in Moodle to embed questions for students to answer at checkpoints throughout the video.

Who‘s doing what?

There’s even more to think about when using video in the classroom, though. We spend a tremendous amount of time browsing for videos to show. Hopefully before we give students the link to a video, we’ve watched it to make sure it is sufficient for the curriculum. But do we really need to do be the ones to do this? Do we really need to be the best curator in the room? After all, with the wealth of resources available on the internet, our students need to develop their skill in finding and evaluating resources. This reminds me of a quote I came across recently: “What are we doing for students that they could be doing for themselves?” Why not empower students?

Try this

Rather than providing the video for students, try this: give the topic and ask students to find the best video themselves. Help them develop criteria for determining what makes a “good” video and what is essential. Work with students to create a rubric with which to evaluate several video samples. Then turn them loose to evaluate and report back on their assessments of multiple videos using the rubric. The mere activity of searching for, viewing, and evaluating multiple videos can do two things: 1.) immerse them in the content you intended to teach in the first place, and 2.) help them develop a skill they will be able to use for years to come as they evaluate the validity of content available online. And, if you want to take it further, have students create their own content using such things as screencasting tools (like Screencastify) to make even better content than what they already find online using their rubrics.

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