Teaching Politicson 1 August 2013
By 2015 it is predicted that one million minutes of video will be watched online every second! Increasingly students have grown up with the new technologies that make this possible. The technological possibilities of video use and delivery have had dramatic impacts on teaching and learning in higher education, especially in disciplines such as Politics and International Relations. Lectures may be recorded and hosted online for students to access outside of the classroom; module delivery now frequently makes use of streamed current affairs video-clips, from video sharing websites such as YouTube; and Module Leaders may show or recommend films and documentaries to add value to and complement core module content.
As somebody who makes use of all three of these types of video in my teaching at the University of Surrey, it occurred to me that while we know why a lecturer might use videos in the classroom, we don’t always know how students actually make use of them, as part of their broader learning experience. Therefore, at the end of the semester, I conducted research using questionnaires and focus groups, to explore how students were making use of these three different types of videos – (i) lecture summaries, available outside class; (ii) current affairs clips, streamed in-class; and (iii) fictional television programmes, shown in non-compulsory ad hoc screenings.
First, although students reported making use of lecture summary videos in a variety of ways (enabling revision, preparing for assessment, completing lecture notes etc), the greatest reported benefit was the role they played in facilitating classroom discussion. Students reported that they felt far less anxious about remembering and recording material in class, as they knew the summary videos could be revisited at a later stage. The impact of this assurance was to enable students to participate more freely and actively in lecture and seminar discussions than they otherwise would have done. This was even the case for one student who was alone in not watching a single lecture summary video, but nonetheless confirmed that he still felt liberated to engage in discussions, because he knew the resource existed!
Second, students noted two distinct types of benefits from their engagement with current affairs clips. The first of these benefits concerned the greater understanding and engagement that a visual resource generated, as an alternative means of conveying course material. Students reported that videos had literally helped them to visualise the course material. The second benefit students noted was that current affairs clips enabled students to develop analytical skills by applying theory to empirical reality. However, this benefit was only noted by higher-range students, working broadly at a 2:1 level. Mid-range students, working broadly at a 2:2 level, tended to report that they found these videos useful additional information to be learnt and consumed, rather than an opportunity to develop a key skill. Here, we begin to see evidence that different students use videos in different ways, related to the development of distinct skills.
Third, many students reported that fictional television screenings had the least educational impact. Students generally felt that fictional television was further removed from their course material than other types of video. However, amongst top-end students, working broadly at a First Class level, the opposite was true. Top students reported finding fictional television a particularly useful resource for developing critical and evaluative skills. And, importantly, students reported being able to transfer these skills outside of the classroom, as they successfully went from collaborative analysis and critique in lectures and seminars to an independent development of these skills at home.
The main finding of this research, then, is that students do not all make use of videos in the same way, with regards to their learning experience. Different students make use of videos in different ways, with mid-range students benefiting most from the freedom lecture summary videos can bring, higher-range students deriving the most substantial gains from the analysis of current affairs clips, and top-end students benefiting most from the development of critical skills through the deconstruction and critique of fictional television programmes. It is possible to generalise these findings, by mapping them onto the SOLO/BLOOM taxonomy.
There is a lot of good existing research that shows how videos are often used to negative effect in the classroom. It is therefore crucial educators help students to become critical, informed, and literate viewers. Given the evolving learning ecology that technological transformations have wrought, fostering ‘visual literacy’ – through the collaborative development of strong analytical and critical skills – is and should be a key feature of studying Politics and IR in higher education. Of course, this is not just about ‘better’ or ‘deeper’ learning; rather, it is about engagement with key political and cultural resources, which students are regularly confronted with in their everyday lives and through which they ‘experience’ politics. Fortunately, it’s an area of interest that is receiving increased attention in Politics and IR research, with strategies for visual literacy now taken increasingly seriously as a core component of curricula.
Jack Holland is Lecturer in International Relations at the University of Surrey. He tweets @drjackholland. This article is a summary version of my recently published ‘Video Use and the Student Learning Experience in Politics and International Relations’, currently available on First View in Politics.