Educational videos may boost number of passing students

27 November, 2020

By Jordi Conesa, Victor García and Antoni Pérez-Navarro

A study carried out by the UOC is analysing the acceptance and impact of different types of video in several university Introduction to Engineering Physics courses, both in online and on-site environments. 

Educational videos have featured as part of many learning experiences for years, especially since the debut of handheld devices with quality video-capturing capabilities. The use of videos in education has become even more widespread since the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic, both in terms of videos made for specific purposes and the recording of online classes to replace their face-to-face alternative. 

Reflecting on video use in educational settings, several questions come to mind: are videos a good learning resource? Are they a primary resource or are they better suited for rounding out text-based learning? What format and length make them most effective? Do teachers need to appear in them? And if so, does it matter which part of their body we see (their face, body, hands, etc.)? How much effort does it cost teachers to make such videos and what does their learning curve look like? These questions are among those raised by Dr Antoni Pérez Navarro years ago, becoming the object of study for our team, made up by Dr Pérez Navarro himself, Víctor Garcia and Dr Jordi Conesa. 

In this post we will share some of the lessons that we have learned during our research, which we have also recently published in the journal Multimedia Tools and Applications. Our research focused on several Introduction to Engineering Physics courses at two universities, one which operates completely online (the Universitat Oberta de Catalunya, UOC) and one traditional on-site university (the Salesian University School of Sarrià, EUSS). This approach has allowed us to gauge student perception of the usefulness of videos, as well as assess the level of impact that environment type (i.e. on-site vs. online) has on the usefulness of videos and students’ perceptions of them. 

Do teaching videos have a positive impact on the courses they are used in?

Our findings show that videos have a positive impact on student satisfaction. Specifically, students perceive videos as a useful and valuable resource, regardless of whether they focus on theory or practice. This perception is observed in both online and on-site settings, thus suggesting that complementary videos may be highly favourable in traditional universities, too. 

Furthermore, the use of videos boosted student performance and lowered the drop-out rate seen in previous semesters. Nevertheless, as this may have been a random occurrence, we will need to continue studying this effect in subsequent semesters and in other contexts, in order to reach a firmer, more generalized conclusion.

Videos that are useful for students and easy for teachers to make

Producing videos can be a time-consuming activity for teachers, given that most lack experience in the matter. Many hours can go into achieving even a few minutes of video content. For this reason, we must be familiar with the types of video we can record, the amount of effort required to make each type, and students’ perceptions of their usefulness. We can then harness this knowledge to choose videos that strike the best balance between being useful for students and easy for teachers to make.

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Image 1: Video created using a virtual whiteboard.

In order to explore the matter, we had teachers produce 142 videos on different theoretical topics and practical problems covered in the courses. The videos were created using two systems that should be rather straightforward for seasoned teachers, as they mimic how boards are used to deliver in-person lessons. Specifically, videos were made using applications that capture the notes or drawings made on a virtual whiteboard (see Image 1) or by filming teachers’ hands as they wrote and explained a lesson or problem (see Image 2). We have dubbed the latter type, which has won the favour of many children thanks to the programme Art Attack, “videos of hands”.  

It is worth mentioning that other types of videos were also produced: by filming teachers in front of a board, showing teachers’ faces as they gave explanations, and using a pen that recorded what was written and said. Nevertheless, the first of these two formats were discarded as a viable option for teachers for reasons that we will discuss later on. Similarly, although the recording pen might seem like an especially practical option for teachers, it caused many issues that led us to reject it as well. 

By having teachers create over 50 videos of each type, we were able to gain insight into how much effort they require. In addition, we asked students to compare these formats with each other and with more traditional formats where teachers film themselves delivering a lecture, which students are familiar with thanks to other platforms. As expected, the students favoured videos featuring their teachers in some way, e.g. their face or upper torso was visible or the teachers’ hands were accompanied by a voice-over. Overall, videos of hands such as the one shown in Image 2 were rated the highest. 

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Image 2: Video of hands

Videos of hands, besides being the most popular among students, are quite easy for teachers to make. This is because what they film does not differ so much from what they do when a student comes up to ask a question and they provide a visual answer on paper. This is crucial because video-making can be highly time-consuming, and even more so when it is foreign territory for teachers. In fact, it is not uncommon for them to pour eight or nine hours into producing ten minutes of content on their first attempts. Thus, lowering production time and flattening the learning curve are key to encouraging widespread video use. 

As explained above, we singled out this type of video after conducting trials on several types. But why is it so important that videos feature the teacher’s hands? Beyond the fact that we believe these videos are easy for teachers to make, their hands help to direct the viewers’ gaze without having to edit in arrows or other graphic elements. Students also agreed with this aspect, stating that the teacher’s hands allowed them to see what was important at all times, while also acting as a tether to the emotional bond with their teacher. This effect can also be achieved by filming a teacher in front of a board, but this entails bearing other aspects in mind, such as lighting, facial expression, appearance and clothing, which lie outside the scope of teaching and can be a source of distraction. On top of that, valuable screen space is taken up by the teacher’s body in this type of video. 

Points to consider when designing and recording videos

Videos have been one of the most widely used resources since lockdown, which forced teachers to move their traditional classes online. Videos must be distinguished from recorded online classes, however. Although the end result is a video in both cases, students are meant to view online classes in real time and may also participate alongside the teacher. Moreover, they are usually longer than teaching videos. Here we will focus solely on teaching videos, or those which are intended and made to be videos for subsequent viewing.

During the emergency situation, most videos were created without any prior planning. As a result, many teachers who lacked online teaching experience and the necessary support found themselves making their first videos with no time to learn.

A common misconception is that, and we quote, “if [students] can make it through two hours of class talking, they can sit through a two-hour video”. This could not be further from the truth. The video medium and the different settings displayed in videos work against our attention span. In fact, it has been proven that short videos lasting only a few minutes perform better in educational settings. Think for a moment about the films that you stopped halfway through or that all but bored you to death. You can probably come up with a few titles. Now remember that, behind every film, there are professional scriptwriters who know how to grab our attention, a potentially intriguing plot, expressive and attractive actors, music composed to draw us in and keep us on the edge of our seats, special effects, and more. It is a bold thought, therefore, that an hour-long video of us explaining a lesson will be able to hold our students’ interest from start to finish. Nevertheless, our findings showed that it is important for videos to be consistent with their purpose. In other words, if solving a problem requires 10 minutes, the video should last for 10 minutes. In this case, it would not make sense to split the content into three three-minute videos just because they are shorter that way, as we would end up with three disjointed clips. 

The first step in engaging students is to carefully map out the required videos, their content, and other complementary content that we might also be able to use. When making a plan of our video content, we must keep in mind what needs to be covered. Likewise, we also need to determine what subjects will not be most efficiently conveyed in video format. Indeed, videos are not the only resource at our disposal, but rather another tool in the kit. Our research showed that students find videos to be extremely useful for their learning. However, when asked if they thought videos were enough to stand on their own for the whole course, they said no. The general consensus was that videos are a necessary resource, but should nonetheless be used to complement other resources, such as books or notes. While videos are useful for improving comprehension, they are not enough for students to thoroughly grasp a topic or take in knowledge.

There are also technical aspects to bear in mind. While lighting may be extremely important, it is the sound that makes the difference. Everything must be perfectly audible. Otherwise, it is very difficult for students to follow along. 

Teachers also need to be self-aware, to understand their strengths and weaknesses when it comes to handling this task and, above all, they need to practise. One’s first videos are usually a massive failure. On a personal note, when one of us first began to dabble in this type of resource in 2007, it took four to five hours just to produce two minutes of video. Everyone has a learning curve to go through, but if we are familiar with the format, the material we are using and the environment in which we are working, the curve will flatten, and the flatter the curve, the better the videos we make will be. 

We are not professional actors, scriptwriters or musicians, nor do we have a production team to rely on, but highly engaging videos are not out of our reach. We need only to keep them short and to the point, do our best to make them visually attractive, and work them well into our students’ learning experience.

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About the authors
Antoni Perez-Navarro obtained a PhD in Physics from the Universitat Autònoma de Barcelona in 2000. He obtained his bachelor's degree in physics, also from UAB, in 1995. He currently holds the position of Deputy Director of Research at the eLearn Center of Universitat Oberta de Catalunya (UOC), is a member of the Faculty of Computer Science, Multimedia and Telecommunications (since 2005) and is the director of its Technological Observatory. His teaching activities cover the fields of physics and GIS in telecommunication engineering, computer science, multimedia and industrial engineering. 
Victor García earned a European PhD in Chemistry in 2011 from the University of Cadiz (UCA), in collaboration with Cardiff University and Bodycote Ltd. (material technologies) in Birmingham, where he worked and carried out research. He obtained his bachelor's degree in Chemistry, also at the UCA, in 2005, having studied the whole of the third year as an Erasmus student at Kingston University London. He has held the position of Quality Engineer at Oetiker Spain S.A. (automotive industry) in El Puerto de Santa María, Cadiz, since 2009. Previously, he held the position of Quality Engineer at Rymsa S.A. (aerospace industry) in Madrid (2008) and Quality Projects Coordinator at Bodycote Ltd in 2008. He has occasionally worked as a Physics and Chemistry teacher at Botánico high school in San Fernando (2019). He collaborates with the University of Cadiz's Simulation, Characterization, and Evolution of Materials research group. He is currently completing the doctoral programme in Education and ICT at the Universitat Oberta de Catalunya. He has published research articles, conference papers, and software in the field of quantum chemistry, software development, and education of science.
Jordi Conesa holds a PhD in software engineering from the Universitat Politècnica de Catalunya and a master's degree in Computer Science from the University of Girona. He has been a member of faculty at the Universitat Oberta de Catalunya (UOC) since 2007. He is currently a member of the SmartLearn research group. His research interests focus on the areas of Conceptual Modelling, Data Science and e-Learning. His long-term goal in research is to develop methodologies and tools to enrich e-learning experiences by using semantics and analytics. As a result of his research, he has authored over a hundred research papers, participated in numerous research projects, including European-funded projects, and contributed to the organization of international conferences.