Tuesday, September 17, 2013

Classroom Videos: A Pedagogical Game Changer

As a film practitioner engaged in creation and usage of videos to enhance learning experiences, both, within & outside classrooms I am forever conscious that I do not overate & overstate their impact until I happened to be a part of a scenario which all of you at schools would identify with.

Subject Teacher is absent unexpectedly…sort of an Indian version of French leave.  Class is in disarray. The academic coordinator quickly scrambles a substitute teacher to fill-in for the main regular teacher. She asks the children to gather in the Audio-Visual room where they get to watch a science video on ‘buoyancy’.  Once the film is over, the substitute teacher takes over and checks out on how much concept clarity has been achieved.  This is the first time she is using an educational video and she is skeptical of the outcome.   

To her surprise, what followed was one of the most enriching classroom discussions, emerging either from a striking visual; a tricky text; a graphical representation; the animated protagonist or the sequence of events from the video all of which acted like triggers for an active debate, uncommon in typical classrooms. Later, both, the main subject teacher and her substitute shared with me that the concept was clearer to  many more children than they had bargained for;  more children were asking questions; shy children expressed more; and on the whole,  children were focused while watching the video and during the interaction thereafter. Also when I complimented the substitute teacher on the way she conducted the debrief, she attributed this to the co-viewing experience wherein she had donned the hat of a learner along with her students and was equally engaged in her own learning quest during & after the screening. One thing seemed clear- the use of this video in class had greatly helped the children in achieving the Learning Outcome of a complex lesson, that too with unexpected ease. This is just a sneak peek into the learning environment of a new age media driven class and perhaps gives some ideas about the possibilities that can unfold.

Most learning institutions share a common set of experiences when it comes to managing their learning and the epicenter of this lies within the classroom, specifically the quality & efficacy of knowledge delivery by the teachers.  While a school gets known usually because of the good teaching it offers, ask any school owner and (s) he’ll tell you that achieving quality teaching is easier said than done. I would like to direct the spotlight on teachers who are the ultimate learning delivery frontiers.

Finding good teachers is as easy as sighting the Snow Leopard or finding an honest politician. Many come with a baggage; Teacher attrition rate is unusually high; a significant majority is under-qualified and under-motivated. Teacher training, if, wherever & whenever it happens is mostly executed as a formality just because the rules mandate it and there is a budget allocated which ought not lapse lest it lead to queries & comments from auditors & the finance guys. Teacher training is seldom conducted with a missionary zeal and most such sessions are used as a break from mundane teaching routines.  Finishing the prescribed syllabus within a given timeline is considered the ultimate achievement for a teacher considering the numerous holidays we enjoy due to bandhs, festivals, weather truancies, annual school events, fund raising melas, elections, census (local, state and national) and the mandatory national holidays.  Ironically, good teaching is often the first casualty in any learning institution. And the biggest loser in this process are the students, the customers who actually should be at the centre stage stand marginalized even though they are the ones paying for it and in whose name the entire system runs!

So, how can we compensate this disparity in the knowledge & motivation levels, presentation and assessment skills of teachers and the typical vagaries in-built into our education system?

This is where educational videos step in! Of course, using videos as an integral component of the knowledge delivery process entails some transformation of pedagogy and calls for re-inventing the teachers’ role in such a classroom, though only slightly. What a teacher needs to understand is that the key difference lies in expanding the learning outreach and appreciating that the learning delivery through videos is ‘standardized’ and insulated from personality-centric transactions wherein several variables can come into play & compromise the efficacy & mar the impact. For example, mood of the teacher at that particular moment; her interpersonal communication skills & her own understanding levels of the topic, to name a few.

And creating a video-savvy class is no rocket science. As usual, the teacher enters the class with a specific learning outcome in mind. She plans to do this through as many creative ways and experiences as possible as long as these are converging towards that goal. A wide variety of teaching styles can work and coexist to reinforce concepts within the same topic: some use technology; others do not use it at all.  In my view, the rich interaction with the students and the conceptual clarity that emerges is far more important than any pedagogical parameter. In this context, a well made film offers multi-sensory engagement and allows for students to construct their own learning. Also when the teacher decides to use videos, it is entirely in her hands as to how she converts this opportunity into an organic learning experience. Another positive aspect is that, with the video successfully managing to do a part of the teacher’s job, specifically lesson delivery; it leaves her with more time & energy for individualized attention and enriched interaction with all the students. It also allows her to plan richer learning experiences to manage the finer aspects of her students’ learning... Even moderately tech-literate teachers may find it beneficial to use educational videos to accelerate, embed and amplify good learning.

However, taking a reality check, more often than not, videos are currently being used in the learning process, more often an afterthought or an ‘add-on’, rather than an integral part of the instructional design, or they are used merely to replicate a classroom lecture. Or worse, they might be used as a `show-off’ to browbeat the competition & give a `cool’ branding to a school. Sadly, there is hardly any attempt to exploit the unique characteristics of the medium of film itself and its potential of treating content and make it a good ‘watch’.  Not every educational video has an efficient learning design with production values to engage all learners. In other words, not all academic or educational videos make good classroom videos. So how does one decide as to which video to use & which ones are best avoided.

A simple checklist should to form the criteria of inclusion:

  • The content of the video should be convergent as well as divergent. In simple terms, while it should be focused to meeting a specific learning outcome it should also be a window for projecting interrelated view points, alternatives and diverse discourses and misconceptions related to the concepts.
  •  Core concept, topic or subject needs to be clearly demonstrated or visualized and be linked it to what the student is intended to learn.
  • The video is well produced with clear camera work, well designed graphics, effective presenter and clear audio.
  • The duration is short and to the point with an effective learning design for student engagement and attention span.
  • It should be child friendly and age appropriate.
  • The video should offer “out of class” experiences to the students.
  • For enhanced impact, the video needs to be Glocal perspective: Local in context and Global in vision. Examples and on-screen demos must try & use as much locally available resources/materials as possible.

So despite their apparent benefits, why are videos underused in our classrooms?

The first roadblock is the mindset. Schools and faculty feel that Higher and Secondary education is primarily about abstraction, lecturing and printed text is considered more appropriate for abstraction and theoretical interpretations. Many are of the view that a well made video is expensive as compared to other commonly available teaching resources. Some teachers feel that the preparation for a viewing experience is too much work. However, many of these (mis)perceptions about the medium can change once the management & teachers are aware of the learning benefits it offers.

The second roadblock is the absence of knowhow of using videos. The teacher needs to create a learning environment conducive for a pleasant viewing experience.  And that’s a prerequisite.

Here’s how one can help create a video friendly classroom environment-
  • Classrooms must have curtains or black screens to block light that filter on the projector screens
  • The room should not have a techno echo or a feedback due to faulty technical set up gaps.
  • The audio should be clear with no crackle, hiss or noise while playing.
  • Teachers must be trained on basic operational know-how to be on top of the technology so that she can pause and take strategic breaks during viewing for classroom discussions.
  • Teachers need to create a learning environment similar to that of going to a movie hall with minimal distraction and movement while the video is playing.

·        A litmus test for a teacher to decide whether to use a particular video would be if she was engaged with the content and its treatment when she first viewed it so that she can visualize how she can turn her class around when she incorporates it within her plan. 

·      The teacher should ensure that the video viewing experience should have a specific purpose which would help her achieve the overall learning outcome defined for the class.

·      It is also advisable for the teacher to plan for a good lead-in conversation before watching the video and a proper de-brief on the takeaways of the students post watching the video.

·       The teacher may conduct her classroom observations to map the visual learners in the class and identify those who benefit most through this experience.
         Lastly, it is important to be aware that videos work best as a blended learning tool and overuse of the medium can be counterproductive.

Unfortunately, good educational videos complementing the curriculum are rare. For many, an educational video is what one gets to see on TV channels like Gyan Darshan or UGC’s Countrywide Classroom which can put even a die hard insomniac to sleep! Well, it is time we woke up to the game changing role which videos can play. Yes, educational films can actually be as gripping as a Sholay or an Indo-Pak one day international.

We need to play further, use, mis(use) and experiment with videos to get to know the tremendousness of the medium and its educational potential.

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