This March, Abi and Tom of OLS had the opportunity to attend the Northeast Regional Computing Conference (NERCOMP) in Providence, RI. We presented a “sort-of” literature review on using video to reach all types of students. Here’s an abridged version of our talk.

Encountering specific challenges with teaching online? Apply UDL to your video content!

We know that there are certain challenges with online learning, such as being unable to informally assess whether or not students are understanding your lecture based on “the blank stare.” If you can’t see your students, you can’t see if they’re losing the thread of the lecture! You may also feel that your students are less engaged or less motivated to complete work on time, or that your students are unable to learn from their peers due to distance in time and space. You might feel that it is harder to accommodate a varied number of learning styles in the online classroom – doing more than “watch this and write that” requires quite a bit of flexibility and creativity. If we now know that online learners are all different, it follows that treating them as though they’re all the same won’t lead to their individual success.

The solution here is UDL: universal design for learning (learn more at the Center for A Teaching’s UDL website). By approaching your course with UDL in mind, you can meet student needs and learning modalities preemptively by removing potential barriers. This is different than a traditional disability “accommodation” because it’s proactive, not reactive, and because it’s an approach to the entire course, rather than removing a barrier for one specific thing (like putting captions on your videos). Think of an accessible picnic table: it’s set up so everyone can enjoy it without needing to ask for anything.

A picnic table with ample space for a wheelchair on the end.

Captions are for everyone!

As we’ve written here before, a 2016 study out of Oregon State University found that 98.6% of all students (not just students who were d/Deaf or hard of hearing) found captions helpful. Our research found that captions have three main uses for all learners: information retention, increased focus, and information retrieval.

Information Retention: the National Research Center for Distance Education and Technology found that students used captions to help them focus and to improve the accuracy of information they retained.

Increased Focus: Data from EDUCAUSE’s annual student technology survey, annual Learning House surveys, and our own Saint Rose student technology surveys indicate that students prefer learning on mobile devices. Captions are a response to this trend – think of the videos you see on Facebook or Twitter. They’re muted by default, and they often have captions right on them so you don’t have to turn your sound on to engage with the content. Students in places like cubicles or libraries without headphones can still access captioned video content. Not only does captioning your video allow your students to “access” it even when they can’t play it with sound, but our research suggests that reading the captions, even in an otherwise loud or busy place, helps students hone in on the message.

Information Retrieval: TechSmith Relay captions, in particular, are searchable. This means that students can search the captions for specific keywords to find moments in the video they might need to watch again, or to review later in the semester. If students remember a particular phrase or significant person from your lecture, they can search for that keyword rather than hunting through the entire video to find the content they need when they need it.

Video analytics: Who’s watching? Watching what? How is this useful?

TechSmith Relay makes it easy to make use of viewing analytics and video data, even for people without degrees in data analysis. We suggest the use of viewing analytics in a few specific ways:

For assigning participation points: If you make your Relay videos “assignments” within Canvas, a score will be assigned based on the percentage of the video that the student watched. Some faculty like this as a baseline “participation” grade in online courses.

For establishing the “drop-off” point: You can download your video’s analytics file to generate a quick chart in Microsoft Excel that shows how much of the video students are watching. If you lose a bunch of people around the middle, like in the below example, you might want to investigate why. Could the video be too long? Could the audio be bad at that point? Is that point of the video confusing in some way?

A histogram of the point where viewers stop watching video. There are large spikes at 0-5%, 50-55%, and 95-100%. 

In-video quizzing

When you’re in a face-to-face classroom, you might ask your students questions during your lecture if you noticed the blank stare. When you’re not in a face-to-face classroom, you can use quizzes in your lecture videos to try to pre-empt the blank stare and get your students to re-engage.

Quiz questions allow you to:

  • Regain student attention
  • Send students backwards in a video if they missed a key point
  • Decide what to spend time re-covering later (if you notice a trend in incorrect answers)

Next Steps: Student Videos?

Some of our faculty have noticed that VoiceThread or Zoom let them see into the lives of their online students more, and help students make valuable peer-to-peer interactions in online classes. Perhaps through use of more student-generated video content, we could allow students to bridge the gap in an asynchronous way!