Guest post by Steve Salik, Ph.D.
Over the past three years or so, screencasting and lecture capture technology have become a hot topic in education. While the technology itself isn’t new, the discussion about how these technologies can improve teaching and learning has taken on a new urgency. The phenomenal success and growth of the Khan Academy has been the primary catalyst for this discussion and demonstrated how progress in education is so often trapped by process. Starting with nothing but screen capture software and a YouTube account, Salman Khan’s goal of helping his cousins with mathematics grew into an internationally recognized non-profit that focuses on the flipped classroom model of instruction.
Converting lectures to digital assets
Khan didn’t invent the idea of the flipped classroom, it was initially proposed by Lage, Platt and Treglia in their article “Inverting the Classroom: A Gateway to Creating an Inclusive Learning Environment.” Published in the Journal of Economic Education in 2000, they proposed that moving lectures out of the classroom could appeal to a broader range of learning styles. Inverting or “flipping” the classroom is accomplished by using a variety of media-rich technologies like screencasts, lecture capture, podcasts and video to convert lectures from a fleeting moment in the classroom into digital assets that can be played by students on demand. Converting lectures to digital assets allows them to exist independently of the physical boundaries of the classroom so that contact time with the instructor can be dedicated to discussion, hands-on activities, higher order problem solving and differentiated instruction.
The jury is still out
While there’s been significant anecdotal evidence that the flipped classroom is effective, from a scholarly perspective the jury is still out and research is ongoing. Traditionally, comparative studies are used to validate the effectiveness of one method over another and the most likely scenario of the research currently underway will be a series of articles focusing on outcomes in the traditional classroom versus outcomes in the flipped classroom. These studies may have some utility but it’s unlikely that the comparative analysis of outcomes will answer the broader range of questions confronting us across the breadth of the learning ecosystem.
The intersection between teaching, learning and technology
The flipped classroom and the technologies that drive it offer us new opportunities to examine how we can restructure learning through a process of continuous improvement. By monitoring and improving course content based on patterns of student use, we can make it more relevant and thus more effective for our students. While the traditional question of “does this equal that?” may still have some relevance, we need to redirect our focus to how the process of learning itself takes place. John Medina’s best selling book, Brain Rules, provides an example of how some researchers who examine the biological basis of learning can discuss it in accessible terms that we can apply. Technological solutions like learning analytics provide insight into how content is being consumed and can be used to make better judgments about its effectiveness, allowing us to more deeply interrogate the intersection between teaching, learning and technology.
Learning analytics itself is the collection, measurement, analysis and reporting of what students are doing in the digital environment and while discussions about analytics can grow complex and become mired in geek speak quickly, a simple example can demonstrate its potential. To set the stage for this example start with a basic question; “did my students watch my screencast?” There are several streaming video services that can help you answer this question with varying degrees of accuracy. Services like Screencast.com and YouTube give you the ability to use Google Analytics to determine if your screencast has been watched – but the metrics aren’t precise. Newer services like Wistia however, provide “heatmaps” that detail the behavior of each viewer.
The heatmaps can be used to see how many viewers watched the entire video, how many skipped ahead and how many times a specific portion of your screencast was re-watched. Consider the questions that need to be asked if your analytics indicate that the majority of your students stop watching a twelve-minute screencast at six minutes.
Is it too long? Is it too boring? Why do they play one segment over and over? Is the information unclear? Is there a better way to illustrate the information? One simple analytic can provide insight for how a given piece of content is performing allowing instructors and instructional designers to think in terms of why it needs to be modified or improved. Examining this in the context of John Medina’s Brain Rules provides some interesting insights about why content may not be working and how to fix it.
12 Brain Rules
In his book, Medina lays out 12 Brain Rules that represent 12 things we know about how the brain works. Many of these rules can easily be overlaid as guidelines for content development and address some of the questions raised by analytics. Is it too long? Brain Rule 4 states that “We don’t pay attention to boring things,” but as Medina reveals, attention span is a critical factor in determining if something is boring and like it or not, we seem to be wired for ten-minute intervals. He argues that lectures can last more then ten minutes as long as you re-engage your audience at the end of that window. Can you restructure your screencast with stories, a short movie or another component that reengages your students and brings them back and focuses their attention?
Rule 5 deals with short-term memory and states “Repeat to Remember”, and may answer the question about why they play one segment over and over. Repetition is the brain’s way of encoding information for long-term storage and if analytics show that a specific part of a screencast is viewed several times, it could reveal that students perceive the information as critical. Can you restructure your screencast so that the information is stated several times instead of once? This would allow students to remain in the flow of your screencast or video and reduce disruptions. Some research indicated that once disrupted it could take as much as twenty-five minutes for your attention to return to a specific task.
Rule 10 focuses on Vision and states, “Vision trumps all other senses.” Can the information in your presentation be structured in ways that would represent it more clearly? Authors like Edward Tufte, Garr Reynolds and Nancy Duarte would argue an emphatic “Yes” – especially in cases where numerical information is involved. Medina discussed how pictures and text follow different paths into the brain, which would indicate that presentations heavy on text might not be the best choice for supporting learning.
Do we need a new mantra?
The utility and flexibility of screen capture, screencasting and other video technologies offer significant possibilities for driving learning forward in new and exciting ways. Using these tools with “How?” and “Why?” in mind instead of “Does this equal that?” offers us the ability to better tailor course material to facilitate learning that is inline with the way that learning “happens”. Medina’s Brain Rules and learning analytics are not an absolute solution for improving learning with digital media, but they do represent a starting point for new ways of thinking about using these tools in the flipped, blended and online environments. In view of these factors, perhaps a new mantra is in order; “Record, Replay, Remember.”
Steve Salik is the Director of Learning Technology for the W. P. Carey School of Business at Arizona State University. He has worked with digitally mediated learning for more than twenty-five years and is one of the core architects of W. P. Carey’s internationally ranked online learning initiatives. He has taught courses in technology integration to pre-service teachers and teaches graduate seminars in Emergent Technologies in Education and Instructional Design in the Mary Lou Fulton Teachers College. He has more that sixteen years of experience working with and managing the Blackboard Course Management System. His research focuses on the confluence of technology and learning and his interests lie in academic self-regulation, online social presence and the neurological basis of learning in digitally mediated environments.