How Student Video Presentations Can Build Community in an Online Course (CHE)

October 2, 2015

It may sound pretty routine to convert a course to an online format, but doing so presents many unexpected challenges and can even challenge a professor’s assumptions about the nature of academic coursework.

Giving a timed test, for instance, is something that’s almost trivial in a face-to-face course but approaches impossibility in an asynchronous online course. How do you give a timed test when you don’t have fixed meeting times? (There are ways to do this, but they are almost all creepy.) You, the professor, simply have to rethink everything.

This summer I got to experience this axiom-bending experience firsthand when I taught my department’s first fully online course — a version of our Calculus 1 course. I had taught this class dozens of times in the past but never online. Our calculus course has many design aspects that make it readily adaptable to an online environment, such as a free online textbook written by our faculty, aYouTube playlist to go with the book, and an online homework system.

But other elements of the course seemed not to have any analogues in an online setting. In particular, one feature of the face-to-face version of the course is student presentations of their work — typically work done in groups during class and then presented at the board for a whole-class discussion. This is an aspect of the course that I’ve always felt was particularly valuable for all the students, whether they are presenting or listening. But how could that possibly work online, when we don’t even meet?

Enter the video presentation.

There was no way we could simply replicate in the online course the presentations that happen in the face-to-face version of the course. But wecould use the online setting to do certain things that are uniquely suited to the online environment. So instead of having students present their solutions to problems in class, students presented their solutions to online homework questions by filming themselves and then posting the videos to YouTube.

Here’s how this worked:

  • Online homework was due every Sunday evening. At the start of each week, students selected two problems either from the week just ended or the week before. The choices for problems were posted on our Blackboard site, and they were first-come, first-served.
  • Once the problems were selected, students were given one week to prepare a video in which they gave a complete presentation of the solutions for the problems they chose. They already knew that their answers were correct (presumably they chose problems they had gotten right), so their job was to show the work and give a complete, persuasive argument for their answers at a level suitable for their classmates.
  • The main rule for formatting the video was the student’s face, voice, and handwriting must be present in the video all at the same time, at all times. This was to ensure that the student was truly doing the presenting. (If just the voice and the handwriting were present, I couldn’t be certain that it wasn’t somebody else doing the work and the student doing a voice-over.)
  • Another rule that had to be followed was that the presentations must be under six minutes in length. This is simply good practice for presentations, since the attention span of the average viewer is probably going to be around that length.
  • The student making the video was responsible for uploading it to a YouTube channel made especially for the class and then notifying me that it was ready. Then I would review it and evaluate it on its quality.
  • The presentations were graded on a “Pass/No Pass” basis. A “Pass” mark was given to presentations that had correct final results, clear and persuasive reasoning, no serious issues with video or audio, and in which no major errors — and no more than a few minor ones — were made. If a student received a “No Pass” mark, the student was informed and given three more days to fix the issues.

Each student needed to pass three video presentations to earn an A, two presentations for a B, and one presentation for a C — so completing one presentation was considered part of the evidence for baseline competency in the course.

I wasn’t entirely sure how these presentations would go when I designed the course. I only knew that this was a way to leverage the online setting of the course to do something that I know from face-to-face courses is helpful for students. While I was uncertain at the beginning, in the end these video presentations were one of the biggest successes I’ve had as a teacher.

[more of the article here.]

About Ryan C. Fowler

Ryan is a curricular fellow at the Center for Hellenic Studies in Washington D.C. He also teaches at Franklin and Marshall College and Lancaster Theological Seminary.
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