Tag Archives: online teaching

#TeachingTuesday: Some things I read about making good lecture videos

Just imagine you had written an article on “Student Satisfaction and Learning Outcomes in Asynchronous Online Lecture Videos”, like Choe et al. (2019) did. What excellent timing to inform teaching decisions all around the world!

Choe et al. compare 8 different video styles (all of which can be watched as supplementary material to the article which is really helpful!), 6 to replace “normal lectures” and two that complement them, to investigate the influence of video style on both how much students are learning from each, and how they feel watching them.

The “normal lecure” videos were different combinations of the lecturer and information on slides/blackboards/tablets/…: a “classic classroom” where the lecturer is filmed in front of a blackboard and a screen, a “weatherman” style in front of a green screen on which the lecture slides are later imposed, a “learning glass” where the lecturer is seen writing on a board, a “pen tablet” where the lecturer can draw on the slides, a “talking head” where the lecturer is superimposed on the slides in a little window, and “slides on/off” where the video switches between showing slides or the lecturer.

And the good news: Turns out that the style you choose for your recorded video lecture doesn’t really affect student learning outcomes very much. Choe et al. did, however, deduce strengths and weaknesses of each of the lecture formats, and from that come up with a list of best practices for student engagement, which I find very helpful. Therein, they give tips for different stages of the video production, related to the roles (lecturer and director of the video), and content covered in the videos, and these are really down-to-earth, practical tips like “cooler temperatures improve speaker comfort”.  And of course all the things like “not too much text on slides” and “readable font” are mentioned, too; always a good reminder!

One thing they point out that I wasn’t so clear to me before is that it’s important that the lecturer is visible and that they maintain eye contact with the camera. Of course that adds a layer of difficulty to recording lectures — and a lot of awkward feelings and extra work in terms of what to wear and actually having to shower and stuff — but in the big scheme of things if it creates a better user experience, maybe it’s not such a big sacrifice. Going forward, I’ll definitely keep that in mind!

Especially making the distinction between the roles of “lecturer” and “director” was a really helpful way for me to think about making videos, even though I am playing both roles myself. But it reminds me of how many considerations (should) go into a video besides “just” giving the lecture! If you look at the picture above, you’ll see that I’ve started sketching out what I want to be able to show on a future video, and what that means for how many cameras I need, where to place them, and how to orient them (portrait or landscape). When I made the (german) instructions for kitchen oceanography, I filmed myself in portrait mode, thinking of posting them to my Instagram stories, but then ended up editing a landscape video for which I then needed to fill all the awkward space around the portrait movie. Would have been helpful to think about it in these terms before!

Choe et al. even include a “best practice” video in their supplementary material, which I find super helpful. Because even though in some cases it might be feasible to professionally produce lectures in a studio, but that’s not what I (or most people frantically producing video lectures) these days have access to. So seeing something that is professionally produced but that doesn’t (seem) to require incredibly complicated technology or fancy editing is reassuring. In fact, even though the lecturer appears to have been filmed in front of a green screen, I think in the end it’s not too unsimilar to what I did in the (german) instructions for kitchen oceanography mentioned above: A lecturer on one side, the slides (in a portrait format) on the other.

In addition to the six “lecture” videos, there was a “demo” video where the lecturer showed a simple demonstration, and an “interview” video, where the lecturer was answering questions that were shown on a screen (so no second person there). Those obviously can’t replace a traditional lecture, but can be very useful for specific learning outcomes!

The “demo” type video is the one I am currently most interested in, since that’s where I can best contribute my expertise in a niche where other people appreciate getting some input. Also, according to Choe at al., students found that type of video engaging, entertaining, and of high learning value. All the more reason for me to do a couple more demo videos over the next couple of days, I’m already on it!

References:

Ronny C. Choe, Zorica Scuric, Ethan Eshkol, Sean Cruser, Ava Arndt, Robert Cox, Shannon P. Toma, Casey Shapiro, Marc Levis-Fitzgerald, Greg Barnes, and H. Crosbie (2019). “Student Satisfaction and Learning Outcomes in Asynchronous Online Lecture Videos”, CBE—Life Sciences Education, Vol. 18, No. 4. Published Online: 1 Nov 2019
https://doi.org/10.1187/cbe.18-08-0171

“Excursion week” in Oceanography 101 while physically distancing

My friend’s university recently decided that “excursion week” (a week in May during which there are no lectures or exercises or anything happening at university to make time for field courses during the semester) is cancelled this year. Which is, of course, not surprising given the current situation, but it isn’t cancelled as in “go have a week of vacation”, it’s cancelled as in “one more week of lectures”. Which is putting even more of a burden on people who are already struggling to provide students with the best teaching they can in a new, online setting. To help my friend out (as well as anybody else who might be teaching intro to oceanography classes right now), I’ve collected a couple of ideas of how to fill this week in a way that’s keeping at least a bit of the spirit of exploration alive.

Learning about concepts, observations, experimentation

Of course I can’t give you a solution that perfectly replaces a field course by something that isn’t a fieldcourse. But that doesn’t mean that many of the learning outcomes usually associated with field courses can’t be had in non-fieldcourse settings.

What are the learning outcomes that you care about most? Understanding of specific concepts? Then maybe those concepts, even though most impressively seen at the location where you typically go for your field course, can be observed in other places, too, if students are guided to find them. Or learning to observe following a specific protocol? Then maybe this protocol can be followed (or mostly followed) while collecting a different type of data than it is usually used on. Here are a couple of suggestions of ways to do this:

A: Field course at home

There are two different scenarios that I think can work well here: Having students explore the world right outside their home with a focus on topics from their course, or having them explore the enormous amount of available datasets on the internet.

A.1: Exploring the neighbourhood

Assuming students are able to walk around outside their homes (as they currently are where I’m at), having them explore the neighbourhood. There are different kinds of tasks that could work depending on your learning outcomes:

A.1.1: Find examples of specific science concepts

The tasks can be very specific (“find examples of hydraulic jumps“, “observe tidal flows in a river by watching moored structures move“) or not so specific (“pick a topic related to our class and find a way to observe it”). I think this is a really nice task because it helps students discover how prevalent the concepts are in their daily lives, rather than being something that only exists in books and lectures and really far-away locations that field courses would go to. Careful, as you see with my wave watching, this can get addictive!

A.1.2: Explain something you know for sure they will be able to observe

If you know where your students currently are, you can also ask them to observe specific features and explain them (“Make a time series of positions of that moored structure in the tidal river and relate the positions to the tidal cycle“, or for tons of ideas in Bergen see #BergenWaveWatching on Elin’s blog). This is also a really nice task, again because it brings concepts from the lecture into students’ real lives. It’s also maybe a little easier to relate to the rest of your course since you have a better idea of what they will be observing and interpreting.

A.2: Exploring the interwebs

This is just a quick side note, but of course there are TONS of data available on the internet. From observations of salinity, temperature, pressure mounted on seals in Antarctica, to winds and waves observed from satellites. Many of them even come with interfaces ready to do easy plots. And I’ve been a big fan of the lovely people on Twitter (shoutout to @aida_alvera and @remi_wnd particularly, I always love your posts!) that post interesting features from recent satellite images. So much to discover! Trying that for myself has been on my to do list for quite a while. You’d think I would find time for it during Corona isolation, wouldn’t you?

A.3: Ask others for observations that students can work with

Kinda like what I do with #friendlywaves where people send me pictures of waves and I try to explain the physics I see (while dreaming that it’s me on that ship in Lofoten…). This would be so much fun if students took pictures of interesting features they saw (or went through their old pics) and then shared them and asked each other for ideas what might have happened there. Or if you asked people to take pictures for you, or accessed webcams (like this one, looking at Saltstraumen, the strongest tidal current!), took screenshots and analysed those. I’d totally be in!

[Edit 13.5.2020: Here is a cool example of a virtual field course that was done at UNIS, using videos of field sites and discussing them in groups]

B: Kitchen Oceanography

Of course, #KitchenOceanography is my solution to everything. Need to make a class more interesting? Bring some #KitchenOceanography to the classroom! Can’t teach in-person classes but want people to still have hands-on experiences? Let them do #KitchenOceanography at home! Feel down in isolation and need something to cheer you up? Do some #KitchenOceanography!

So here are a couple of ways to have students do #KitchenOceanography while physically distancing.

B.1: Following my 24 days of #KitchenOceanography

If you haven’t seen my 24 days of #KitchenOceanography yet, you might want to check it out. If you want to give your students a recipe for kitchen oceanography, there is probably something in there that works with your Oceanography 101 class! You could ask them to do one experiment that you find most relevant to your class, or pick one they find most interesting, or distribute all 24 experiments over all the students and have them report back.

And even though I’m so depriciatingly talking about “recipes” and structured activities, be assured that for most students things won’t end after they’ve done the experiment. There is ALWAYS something they observe that they still want to figure out, so there will be more experimentation going on than you expect!

B.2: Problem solving

This is a little more difficult to do if you and your students only communicate electronically and you can’t give them physical samples to investigate (but if you can place samples somewhere where students can easily and safely pick them up, you could for example give them salt water samples and ask them to figure out the sample’s salinity, or give them a fresh water and a salt water sample and ask them to figure out which one is which only using ice cubes). But there are still tons of ways problem solving can be practiced, for example by asking students to figure out ways to measure temperature, salinity and density.

B.3: Open-ended investigation

This is the most fun way to do kitchen oceanography, but depending on whether students have ever done these kinds of experiments before or not, it might be worth starting with a more guided kitchen oceanography experiment. But ultimately, this is where you ask students to figure things out in their kitchens. Currently on the list of things I want to try when I get the time (again, how is Corona isolation not the time for this kind of stuff? But somehow it isn’t): Can I actually see a change in the refraction of a spoon in a glass of very cold salt water as compared to warm fresh water? How big is that density effect? Would I be able to see the spoon bend where it goes through a density stratification in my glass? I bet you, once I start playing with this, that’s that for that evening!

C: Bonus idea: Ocean podcasts & books

There are two oceanography-themed podcasts that I really enjoy listening to (and I’m not a podcast person!): Climate Scientists and Treibholz. Both would be great to listen to interviews with super cool scientists while dreaming yourself away to expeditions to the Arctic or Antarctica. There is so much to learn from other people’s experiences in the field — why not ask students to listen to other people’s experiences with a focus on either the science, or the methods, or anything else?

And of course there are tons of books that would lend themselves to that, too, for example xplorer’s diaries. Nansen’s “Farthest North” (1897) for example fits super well if you wanted to talk about the discovery of dead water

Bringing it all together

The big question is: Once your students have done the tasks of finding/producing and describing phenomena, what do they do with that? It might not come as a surprise, but I think that they should be encouraged to publicly share them on the internet. Both because it’s a good opportunity for them to build their scicomm profile, but also because there are surpisingly many people who get really excited about (read here how Prof. Tessa M Hill‘s student Robert Dellinger posted a video of an overturning circulation on his 70-ish follower Twitter account, and the video has, as of  April 16th, 70 retweets and 309 likes!) and that’s such a motivating feedback for them!

Of course, the sharing and excited reactions could also happen within your university’s learning management system, but honestly … no. Ask them to share it via social media! I, for one, am definitely more than happy to comment and ask questions and share my excitement there! :-)

A tool for planning online teaching units

Nicole Podleschny & Mirjam Glessmer, 2015

In our recent workshop on “supporting self-organized learning with online media”, Nicole Podleschny and I came up with a morphological box to help plan online teaching units. The morphological box is basically a list of criteria that we thought might be relevant, and then we suggest different values for each of the criteria and leave plenty of space for participants’ own ideas. By providing a very broad overview over the many parameters and possibilities, we hoped to get participants away from the prevailing understanding that “online learning” is necessarily the same as multiple-choice e-assessment, and to get them think more broadly about what options might be most appropriate for whatever their goals might be.

The very important first step in planning of any kind of teaching unit has to be — as always! — to think about what learning outcomes the instructor wants to achieve. Only when this is really clear, appropriate methods and tools can be chosen!

Then we can have a look at the morphological box:

morphological_box

Morphological box for planning of online learning units (Podleschny & Glessmer, 2015)

Now we can go through the different criteria and have a look at what value seems to make sense. Of course, there are many more options possible than those we suggest here – please feel free to fill in whatever suits your needs best!

Sometimes it is really helpful to just be aware of different options. Even though you might not want to pick any of the options given in the morphological box, maybe just reading them and deciding against them will spark an idea of what actually works best for your case.

The morphological box can also be used to design different scenarios and discuss them against each other in order to figure out which criteria are more relevant to you than others.

If you would like to give it a try, you can download our morphological box below.

Morphological box [pdf English | pdf German]

P.S.: This text originally appeared on my website as a page. Due to upcoming restructuring of this website, I am reposting it as a blog post. This is the original version last modified on December 26th, 2015.

I might write things differently if I was writing them now, but I still like to keep my blog as archive of my thoughts.

Asking students to take pictures to help them connect theory to the reality of their everyday lives

— This post was written for “Teaching in the Academy” in Israel, where it was published in Hebrew! Link here. —

Many times students fail to see the real-life relevance of what they are supposed to be learning at university. But there is an easy way to help them make the connection: Ask them to take pictures on their smartphones of everything they see outside of class, write a short sentence about what they took a picture of, and why it is interesting, and submit it on an electronic platform to share with you and their peers. And what just happened? You made students think about your topic on their own time!

Does it work?

Does it work? Yes! Obviously there might be some reluctance to overcome at first, and it is helpful to either model the behaviour you want to see yourself, or have a teaching assistant show the students what kind of pictures and texts you are looking for.

Do I have to use a specific platform?

Do I have to use a specific platform? No! I first heard about this method after Dr. Margaret Rubega introduced the #birdclass hashtag on Twitter for her ornithology class. But I have since seen it implemented in a “measuring and automation technology” class that already used a Facebook group for informal interactions (see here), and by a second class on the university’s conventional content management system. All that is required is that students can post pictures and other students can see them.

Do you have examples?

One example from my own teaching in physical oceanography: Hydraulic jumps (see figure below). The topic of hydraulic jumps is often taught theoretically only and in a way that students have a hard time realizing that they can actually observe them all the time in their real lives, for example when washing your dishes, cleaning your deck or taking a walk near a creek. But when students are asked to take pictures of hydraulic jumps, they start looking for them, and noticing them. And even if all of this only takes 30 seconds to take and post a picture (and most likely they spent more time thinking about it!), that’s 30 extra seconds a student thought about your content, that otherwise he or she would have only thought about doing their dishes or cleaning their deck or their car.

hydraulic_jumps

Collection of many images depicting hydraulic jumps found in all kinds of environments of daily life

And even if you do this with one single topic and not every single topic in your class, once students start looking at the world through the kind of glasses that let them spot the hydraulic jumps, they are going to start spotting theoretical oceanography topics everywhere. They will have learned to actually observe the kind of content you care about in class, but in their own world, making your class a lot more relevant to them.

An additional benefit is that you, as the instructor, can also use the pictures in class as examples that students can relate to. I would recommend picking one or two pictures occasionally, and discussing for a minute or two why they are good examples of the topic and what is interesting about them. You can do this as introduction to that day’s topic or as a random anecdote to engage students. But acknowledging the students’ pictures and expanding on their thoughts is really useful to keep them engaged in the topic and make them excited to submit more and better pictures (hence to find better examples in their lives, which means to think more about your course’s topic).

Does this work for subjects outside of STEM, too?

Does this work for subjects outside of STEM, too? Yes! In a language class, for example, you could ask people to submit pictures of something “typically English [or whatever language you are teaching]”. You can then use the pictures to talk about cultural features or prejudices. This could also be done in a social science context. In history, you might ask for examples of how a specific historical period influences life today. In the end, it is not about students finding exact equivalents – it is about them trying to relate their everyday lives to the topics taught in class and the method presented in this article is just a method to help you accomplish that.

P.S.: This text originally appeared on my website as a page. Due to upcoming restructuring of this website, I am reposting it as a blog post. This is the original version last modified on October 1st, 2016.

I might write things differently if I was writing them now, but I still like to keep my blog as archive of my thoughts.