Technology

Video Assignments Are the New Term Paper. How Does That Change Teaching and Learning?

This semester I’m teaching a graduate seminar on education and technology for Georgetown University. Over the next two months, I’ll share the experience and highlights in a series of columns for EdSurge with highlights from the course. This is part 3. Read part 1 and part 2.


Digital video has taken the world by storm. Netflix is busy changing television and movies. YouTube may be humanity’s largest collaborative cultural project, aggregating an astonishing amount of user-generated content. The Google-owned service is widely used that it may already soak up more than a third of all mobile traffic.

Unsurprisingly, we increasingly learn from digital video. The realm of informal learning is well represented on YouTube—from DIY instruction to guerrilla recordings of public speakers. Traditional colleges now rely on digital video, too, as campuses have established official channels and faculty regularly turn to YouTube for content. And new kinds of educational institutions have emerged, like the nonprofit Khan Academy, with its thousands of free educational videos on a wide range of subjects.

This was the topic for one week in my course. We were already thinking in terms of one dynamic: the shift from consumption to production.

“We might imagine a video avatar answering campus questions in the shape of a college mascot or historical figure.”

—Bryan Alexander

We might imagine a video avatar answering campus questions in the shape of a college mascot or historical figure.

On the consumption side, the uses of video were quite clear: digital video is another channel for educational content; one that allows time-shifting and scrolling through clips. And that has led to new teaching practices, mainly flipped classrooms where professors require students to watch video lectures for homework and use class time for more active discussions or hands-on activities.

On the production side, other pedagogies cropped up, as teachers can now assign video assignments that turn students into the creators, letting them find their voices and learn technical skills that could apply to jobs. Video also has greater “bandwidth” for communication, than text discussion forums, adding images to audio.

We also explored the rise of teaching via live video. More colleges are using it for online learning, since it can make students and instructors more present to each other than most other media. We also saw videoconferencing’s usefulness in connecting students and faculty when separated by travel, illness or scheduling challenges.

Video can interact with other technologies, too. For example, telepresence robots could give remote students more options for expression in class when they can’t be there in person. Artificial intelligence may soon be able to render bots (like Siri or Alexa) into human-like visuals that will feel more like companions. We might imagine a video avatar representing a software tutor or answering campus questions in the shape of a college mascot or historical figure.

Our readings—Zac Woolfitt’s “The effective use of video in higher education,” and Michelle Kosalka’s “Using Synchronous Tools to Build Community in the Asynchronous Online Classroom”—and discussion identified a range of limitations to video’s utility. Videoconferencing requires robust internet connection that not all students have access to, and even downloading video clips can be challenging on some connections. People are not always comfortable appearing on camera. And some content is not well suited to video, such as mostly audio conversations or still images.

Our discussion of video naturally led us to reflect on its uses within our class. Some of us had had to participate in class through Zoom at several points in the semester, and we had adapted the on-site class experience to maximize interactions. I also quickly demonstrated basic video editing in iMovie to give students new to the topic a glimpse of it, and pointed them to the campus library’s excellent Gelardin New Media Center for further instruction and resources.

Looking back on that class, digital video is now covering a lot of ground, from faculty-generated instructional content to student-generated works, videoconferencing and the possibility of automated videobots. Pedagogies are ramifying, as are support strategies. If these trends persist, video could become the leading digital technology used in education.

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