Are Video Lectures effective in Online Courses?

  “The instructor-made videos helped me understand the material better.” (Rose, 2011).

100% of the students taking an online course indicated some level of agreement with the above statement. Though the research study was small, the findings are consistent with what we discovered when surveying our own students in an anonymous end-of-course survey that asked a similar question. In my previous post, Mobile or Not? How students watch video lectures I reported the viewing patterns of our students when watching the prerecorded lectures inherent to each credit course within our program. In this post I’ll share the student response results to a question asking about the effectiveness of video lectures in communicating course content. I will also discuss factors that institutions should consider when implementing video lectures within their own online courses.

Our college uses prerecorded videos in two ways, 1) for course welcome messages, a 2-minute clip where the course instructor introduces the course and gives an overview, and 2) (the topic for this post) as the primary method to deliver the course content to the student. To put this into context, each of our courses has between 20 and 30 prerecorded lectures.

What the Students Say:
The following question was part of the recent student survey, and I’ve included the results after each choice in blue text. Though the goal of this question was to identify how effective the lectures videos were in facilitating content delivery, we acknowledge that this method is one-dimensional, that there are multiple methods and approaches to assess effectiveness of prerecorded lectures. An accurate and efficient method is an assessment in the form of a quiz, given to the student immediately following the lecture. This is the method used by Coursera, which I’ve experienced while taking a course this summer. Our program is not capable of implementing this method currently, though I do like this option and plan to explore this at a later date.

Question: The video lectures were effective in communicating the course concepts and content. [Student Respondents n = 76]

Strongly Disagree: 0%
Disagree:  6%
Neutral: 4%
Agree: 33%
Strongly Agree: 57%

Even more helpful in determining lecture effectiveness, are the responses to the following open-ended question which followed the above question. Record any comments about the video lectures below (Optional).

  • I liked that there were notes and power points that could be used to follow along with the lectures.” [Students seem to appreciate either an accompanying note packet or copy of presentation slides]
  • “I found the lectures to be very relevant and interesting! They addressed important issues and made me think!” [Mission accomplished!]
  • “No matter how good my internet connection was, it paused a lot or sometimes just started back at the beginning randomly…this caused frustration!” [This comment illustrates how technical difficulties have the potential to negatively impact student learning. Having a technical support system in place when offering media rich courses is essential. We also began offering lectures for download which partially solves this problem, though we are still working on other alternatives]
  • It would be nice to have higher quality video to download. The new iPads have very high-resolution and iPhones and iPads can be plugged into HDTV’s. Watching low res on any device is not as nice as watching good quality.[Another example of the technology ‘demands’ of students. Institutions need to be responsive to new technological devices and student consumption capabilities. On the other hand, higher quality videos are large in size, posing a problem for students with low-bandwidth. No easy solution]

Other Content Delivery Options
There are other options for delivering the ‘content’ or the ‘meat’ of the course, in addition to prerecorded lecture videos. The online courses I completed as a student at GWU used primarily text-based materials, though often these were supplemented by other methods, which included:

  • Prerecorded audio lectures streamed, or available for download
  • Recorded interviews
  • Live lectures using Elluminate Live. An interactive platform with professor lecturing in real-time, or prerecorded. Presentation slides are used. Students could ask questions in the live lectures. Lectures were two-hours in length, and recorded for later reference, or for students not able to participate.

Other online programs use media in innovative ways to enhance the program and engage students. One such program, developed by Douglas Hersh at Santa Barbara City College, called the Human Presence Learning Environment is quite interesting.  I’ve included the link below of the article describing the program with further details.

Video lectures are one tool of many for delivering course content, as mentioned in this post. It is during the process of creating a comprehensive instructional strategy in the course design phase, where the instructor will select the best content delivery method. However, not to be ignored is the value the video has when the course instructor is featured and ‘speaks’ to the student. It is a visual image which makes the instructor a real person – a person that the student is able to make a connection with. Research does support the effectiveness of the video in creating a sense of presence, which further supports social and cognitive presence which are critical components to a successful learning experience.

Resources:

Mobile or not? How students watch Video Lectures

Mobile learning in education is a hot topic. What really is mobile learning? In the context of our college’s online program, ‘mobile learning’ means offering our prerecorded lecture videos to students in a mobile friendly format. Though I hesitate to call this mobile learning, I see this format as a way to allow our students to learn ‘anytime and anywhere’.

This week we are analyzing student feedback through the anonymous course surveys we collect at the end of each undergraduate [for credit] course within our online program. One area of focus for this sessions feedback is the prerecorded lecture videos. How do students watch the lectures, i.e. via a mobile device or streaming video? How effective are the lecture videos in delivering content?

Our plan for gathering this data was to determine how students watch the prerecorded video lectures we have for each of our general education classes, and how effective the videos are in delivering the course content (from the student’s perspective).

The purpose of gathering this data was to find out how our students interact with the content – in order that we can be more effective in reaching our students and delivering content that uses a meaningful and relevant medium.

In this post I’ll share what our analysis revealed with respect to our students viewing patterns and in a future post I’ll explore how effective the lecture videos are in communicating course content.

Background
To put this data into context, the majority of our courses have prerecorded lectures, (filmed 3 to 4 years ago) which feature traditional face-to-face class room lectures that have been edited for sound, color contrast etc. Each video is approximately 45 minutes in length. Our more recent model for filming [within the last 2 years] uses shorter videos, 20 minutes on average, and features the lecturer speaking directly to the camera, not within a live class.

Options we offer students for watching
One of our goal’s for 2012 is to meet the needs of students seeking to learn ‘anytime and anywhere’ by offering more convenient lecture delivery formats. About one-third of our courses now provide the student with 4 options to choose from for watching the lectures, (described below), while the remaining courses offer 2 options (streaming and downloadable files).

The Feedback: This question was included in the end of course survey – “Please tell us the most common format you used to watch the video lectures for this course“. The options students could choose from are listed below. I’ve displayed the compiled responses after each, though we’ve included only the results from classes that had all 4 options available [n=48].

  1. I watched the lectures on a computer/laptop without downloading the lecture files. [students need a high-speed Internet connection]  –  48%
  2. I downloaded the lecture files, and then watched them on my computer/laptop. [once downloaded an Internet connection is not required] –  25%
  3. I watched the lectures on a smart phone/tablet device without downloading the lectures. [lectures can be viewed on a web-enabled iPhone or Android device]14.5 %
  4. I downloaded the lecture files, and then watched them on my smart phone/tablet device. – 12.5%

Student Comments: I’ve included a selection of student comments which were gathered from the open-ended question, “Comments about the video lectures (optional).” My own observations are in blue.

  • A lot of the video’s we couldn’t see their presentation and was a weird angle instead of just leaving the camera facing the center…” [quality is important, the critical aspect is a non-distracting setting. See  the article below by EDUCAUSE for helpful video recording tips].
  • Being able to make the lectures portable GREATLY helped me to get my work done with my schedule. Thank you so much for making things so much easier!”
  • The internet where I am for the summer is slow, making it slow for me to stream the videos. The ability to download the videos improved the experience greatly.” [one significant drawback to offering the streaming option only – the student’s bandwidth capabilities. This is the main reason for offering the downloadable format].
  • “The lectures were very brief and didn’t complement the readings that related to the quizzes very well. They seemed to cover random topics that weren’t followed up on. There were some good aspects of the lectures but overall seemed not very beneficial” [this comment illustrates the importance of a well designed course strategy, when the course is not following a cohesive instructional strategy, the course can appear disjointed which may fail to engage students].
  • “It was very helpful to see some notes during the lecture, so I could pose [pause] a minute and write them down.”

Conclusion
The mobile format has great potential for making learning more accessible for students. Though the majority of our online students use the streaming video via desktop/laptop, this format has limitations for students without access to high-speed Internet and adequate bandwidth, which drives the need to provide alternate delivery formats. Our goal is to provide options that will help students learn anytime and anywhere, and by offering these options, and obtaining feedback from students, we can determine what works and doesn’t work for students so we can provide relevant and viable delivery formats. Mobile is a viable choice which our college will continue to explore and research. In a future post I’ll address the effectiveness of video for delivering course content.

Resources:
Cool and credible Web video: Old Rules, No Rules, or New Rules? EDUCAUSE. Peter J. Fadde and Patricia Sullivan

Read the follow-up post, Are Video Lectures effective in Online Courses