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Using video to aid teaching: a case study

22 March 2012

Douglas Guilfoyle, Senior Lecturer in the Faculty of Laws, tells Ele Cooper how he’s using 15-minute video clips to enhance his students’ learning experience.

Douglas Guilfoyle, Senior Lecturer in the UCL Faculty of Laws

What initially gave you the idea to start using film?

I was seeing an increasing number of online presentations which I thought were great acts of public communication – for example, I came across the TED talks, which are short public lectures on Technology, Education and Design by real leaders in their field, and I found it incredible how much thought-provoking material they could get across in 10 minutes.

I began to ask myself what I could do in 10 or 15 minutes that would lay out the framework for a topic – not necessarily all the detail, but enough to demonstrate the key points if a student or even a member of the public was interested.

Was there a specific subject that students were having trouble with that you wanted to target first?

Not in particular; I was just interested in doing something that I could develop incrementally and scalably. I was concerned about the significant number of students who think that they have to transcribe literally every word you say in a lecture, which is obviously not the point or I’d just issue written lecture notes and save myself the trouble of turning up! My vision of a good lecture is something that communicates a framework for the area of study; a lecture conveys the ‘big picture’ then it’s up to the students to go away and fill in the detail through their coursework and reading.

So what exactly have you filmed?

I’ve made a pre-lecture video for more or less every Public International Law class. Not all of them are screencasts; some are very short, audio-only podcasts. I thought that at least some students might be assisted by seeing the lecture in outline first, so they knew what the key points to focus on were, rather than worrying about whether they’d written down every single word that came out of my mouth. These clips can be used in different ways: they can be used before class, after class or in revision.

Sometimes, because topics don’t always naturally fit into 50-minute blocks, there will be one point I haven’t covered in a lecture and, rather than losing time from the next session, I’ve captured a 15-minute mini-lecture on my iPhone and uploaded it to Moodle.

I’ve also created 15-minute induction talks for each Master’s course that I teach, so that if a prospective student has missed the relevant presentation on an open day, or if a member of the public is interested in what, say, International Criminal Law is about, they can find out on the Laws website.

In addition, I’ve made six videos on academic legal writing because I find myself giving the same advice on essay-writing to students year-in, year-out, so now when a student emails me I’ll say, “Yes, you can come to me and speak about your essay, but before you do that would you mind watching these two 10-minute clips online?” That means that we can spend the face-to-face time discussing issues of unique concern to their essay rather than more generic points.

Another positive aspect of the videos was highlighted this morning, when a student told me that she liked being able to go back and look at the clips because in a meeting you can have a detailed discussion with a lecturer or tutor but then promptly forget 50% of what you were told!

Making videos must require quite a significant initial investment of time. Does the process save you time in the long run?

Certainly with things like essay-writing advice it does. My aim with all of this is to make clips that are reusable. Making a 15-minute video takes the better part of an hour – but if it can then be used year after year without much modification, why not?

I also think video can be a way of promoting both your own teaching and the university in unexpected ways. Everything I do goes out on a personal YouTube channel. I once received an email from an American student studying International Relations in Paris, who had had a series of lectures on International Law that they found difficult to follow. Apparently they’d stumbled upon my clips on the Law of State Responsibility and their entire class had begun watching them!

What equipment and software do you use?

I use CamStudio, which is freely available online, to capture and edit my videos, then all you need is something like a Skype headset in order to capture the audio at the same time. I actually tend to record the audio tracks with my iPhone because the microphone’s slightly better, then I stick the two together using QuickTime, but it doesn’t have to be that fiddly – if I could just be bothered to get a better microphone that plugged straight into my computer I could skip that step entirely! With a fairly basic free piece of software and a £10 headset you can be under way with very little effort.

Did you already have an interest in making video?

Not especially; the first experiment I conducted was when I got a new iPhone and realised that I could literally make a YouTube clip sitting in my armchair at home.

I spend a lot of time working with Prezi, because it allows me to draw ideas out as a map, unlike PowerPoint where you have to go through things one step at a time. In Law you’re often faced with a decision-making tree: is it this or that? If it’s that is it ‘a’, ‘b’ or ‘c’? If it’s ‘c’, is it governed by case number one or case number two? Again, using Prezi to map these ideas out visually may take more time than using PowerPoint, but it’s worth doing if it’s something I know I’m going to be able to reuse. Then if I’ve already got those slides done, why not lay a voice track over it?

So for me it was all quite incremental; I didn’t think, “I’m going to spend the next week of my life trying to come up with a teaching package,” it was more, “What can I do that I’ll be able to build on term after term and year after year?”

Do you know of colleagues at other universities using video in a similar way?

Some universities have been rather more prescriptive than UCL about using this sort of technology and they expect lecturers to deliver a large chunk of content for every class before the lecture. I’m not sure that approach always works as well as one would hope. It depends very much on the individual subject matter and the teaching style. I would like to persuade people that making video is not hard and can have benefits by example rather than force.

What would you say to someone who’s interested in experimenting with video but is worried about how they’ll come across on camera?

I’d simply say have a go. I think a lot of colleagues feel nervous about committing to an indelible record of their teaching, but at least when it's you doing the recording, you have the ability to edit yourself or to do a couple of takes.

Students are increasingly taping everything on their phone or digital recorder then going home and making laborious transcripts of the entire lecture – I can’t imagine anything more dull, but a terrifyingly number of students think it’s necessary – so why not make your own recording and take control over what part of the message you emphasise?

Are you able to see how many students are watching your videos?

Yes; if you post anything to Moodle you can follow usage statistics for it, at least in a rough way. I have tended to find that students seem quite keen on videos at the very beginning of the course, then towards the middle point interest appears to tail off, then there’s suddenly a big spike just before exams where they’re using the clips for revision – but a scattering of students will use things consistently all the way through the course.

My vision in doing this was very much to create something additional. If even 25% of students use it regularly, as far as I’m concerned, that justifies the effort. I suppose if you want 100% usage perhaps you have to think about inverting the classroom – prerecording the lecture and then using class time only for a discussion. That faces certain challenges according to the size of class you’re dealing with: I think in large subjects, or at least in law, students are generally quite happy with saving interaction for the small group tutorials that run parallel to the lecture.

I think that if I had any message based on my experience of all of this it would be to experiment, see what happens, and if it doesn’t work or if it is used in a different way than you expected, you just have to be open to that. Everything we’re doing with technology in education now is an experiment. Some experiments work, some don’t, and some have completely unexpected results. There’s very little to be lost by trying.

If you'd like to learn more about the benefits of using video to complement your teaching, contact the Centre for the Advancement of Learning and Teaching (CALT) or, for technical advice, talk to the Learning Technology Support Service (LTSS).

Page last modified on 22 mar 12 16:00

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