Only a few years after I started teaching (in 1995) I attended and presented at a scholarly conference that was chronologically focused but interdisciplinary, and had classicists who were language specialists, historians of various stripes (economists, demographers, military specialists), archaeologists, numismatists, and art historians. I come from an interdisciplinary area studies background, and the research was great to hear, all the various approaches to late antiquity (4th through 7th century, principally). But I was teaching at a small non-research I university and there were very few others who taught anything similar to what I did, and this conference was one of the first times I had been in a discussion with people who taught material similar to me. So I took advantage of the opportunity and talked with them about what they did in their classes.
It wasn't much use, as their primary teaching tended to be graduate students, and the people I was talking with were not interested in undergrad teaching, or at least in teaching non-specialist undergrads. That in and of itself was a surprise, as I had spent a couple of years already at a place where undergrad teaching was the main goal of our university and I was surprised to be confronted with someone who didn't really care about teaching in the way that I already had been convinced was the better way of approaching my job.
But I don't remember the specifics of the conversation aside from the horror one of them expressed at the idea of using a video in class. He said he had been teaching for a decade and had not once used a video. While there are some aspects of using a video for teaching that are not desirable there were already times when I found it a particularly useful means of communicating certain content, and I still think that. For better or worse, follow me beyond the loop de loop d'orange, and we can continue the conversation.
I occasionally use videos in class, particularly with architecture study. The static approach to buildings that is provided by plans, elevations, photographs, and isometric projections is not as effective as mobile images that mimic the walk through a building that a person would experience. Now there are interactive websites that provide fly-throughs of buildings but at the time there wasn't any way to share the experience with slides -- we now have computerized powerpoint projections but at the time there was nothing for it but showing a video. I still use them to give a better sense of place -- you get sounds and movement. And sometimes there is a lovely plummy accent which is a nice break for students who get tired of hearing my voice.
In the past several years, as our students become more and more connected (not that all of them have internet access at home, but more do every year), I have been using videos outside of class as well as in class. One can put videos on reserve in the library, access videos through a digital library to which our university subscribes, and I can also assume that at least a portion of the students have Netflix or Amazon, and others can access things online whether legally or not-quite. In this semester, when I have been missing class for conferences, university events that have required us to cancel classes for the day, or illness (I had a cancer checkup this past week in a city that was an hour and a half drive each way, so could not meet with my class on Wednesday), I have tried alternative assignments as well as having someone proctor an exam and a library orientation designed specifically for the assignment I was giving them. These assignments are videos.
I asked a colleague to show one on a Friday to a class, and when I went to look it up, I found out it was available through a digital library, and I could get by with sending the link to him. He showed it to the class, passing around a sign-in sheet that day so I could be sure who had seen it. This was a video on the Parisian World's Fair of 1900, and discussed how the colonists dealt with their colonies and the display of cultures and their material. I have used it in the past, because it has photographs I have not been able to access otherwise, and teaches students quickly about the western gaze and how the west objectified even those cultures they admired. I am sure the video works better when I am there to lead discussion but it still covered valuable material, and moved the class along when I could not be there.
The other video I assigned to that class was one I found on YouTube, a documentary on spirit beliefs and practices in Sulawesi. It was your standard National Geographic-ish documentary, with a British narrator, indigenous music, cute children, pretty women, and exotic food and animals. There would be much to discuss in the construction of the image of the "other" but what I wanted students to get specific content and imagery -- what do houses look like and why do they take that form? who attends and participate in the funerals? how else do they commemorate the deceased? what world religions do they practice and how are they combined with the indigenous beliefs? I told students I would be putting the link on the course webpage and that they should watch it before class on Friday, as Wednesday I would not be meeting them as a class. I thought it would be a good introduction to island cultures of Southeast Asia, and would allow us to move further more quickly on Friday. I sent them a link to the class page from which they could access the video, and made sure it was available in plenty of time for them to watch it on Tuesday, Wednesday, or Thursday. It was only an hour long, so the same length as the class itself.
On Thursday night I decided to check how many students had taken advantage of the link to the video and was, not surprisingly (but disappointingly) informed that only eight students had used the link to access the video. I have several colleagues who have been trying short quizzes over readings on a weekly basis, quizzes that are set up on line and have to be taken before coming to class to discuss the readings. I have not done that, as it seemed a combination of hand-holding and punishment, but those who do it are happier with the discussions in class if students have had to do these short quizzes. I should have done that myself, I think, and I will do it next time. But I have built into the syllabus pop quizzes, so the quiz on Friday was largely based on material in the video I had assigned to them. I am going to grade it this afternoon, and I have misgivings about what I will find. We will see what the results are.
I probably will not be doing a video again this semester, but I will instead be rethinking how I will use them next year. I do see value in the variety of material I use to teach a class, and videos no longer need to take up class time that can better be used for discussion or content not available through readings or other methods. But I cannot do even some elements of what is currently termed a "flipped class" if students do not prepare outside of class.
In a literature or drama class, I cannot imagine that videos would be a necessity of classroom work, but not an important outside-of-the-classroom assignment. I did that this semester as well in my interdisciplinary class, in which an assigned text was World War Z. We had talked about how it was an unfilmable book, so after having them read the book I assigned the film. It was not extensively discussed in class, but it was a component of our conversations on the book, and the choices the filmmakers made were ones that we went over as part of the broader review of the novel. I think that was a more successful assignment, but there I was not trying to get them to pull content out of a video, but to get an understanding of translation from one medium to another before they attempted their own creative work based on the book.
How do you use video or other media in your classes? Do students enjoy it, and do they pay attention? or do students do the multitasking, half-attention thing they might when watching videos at home? If you teach in primary or secondary school how are things different? I welcome suggestions how I can manage this better next time around!