Improving Teaching Effectiveness: The Digital Approach
Philip Jones was a program director at Canterbury Christ Church University, teaching Computing BSc degree modules such as computer programming, systems analysis and design, computer systems and multimedia systems. While teaching lectures at the university, Philip realized that a digital teaching initiative that blended online video courses with the traditional lecture format would help reconcile the varying skill levels that existed amongst his students and improve student engagement outside of the lecture hall.
Leveling the knowledge field
With students from all ages and backgrounds joining his lectures, Philip noticed that his undergraduates had varying degrees of understanding when it came to learning foundational topics such as math and coding. In particular, some of Philip’s more mature students, who hadn’t studied at an academic institution for a number of years, admitted they needed a refresher course. It was evident that his students needed to be brought up to speed before they could begin to understand the core modules.
Additionally, Philip noted that sometimes knowledge gaps existed amongst his students that needed to be filled. He comments, “Even the most engaged students have a difficult time retaining all the information they are receiving. When teaching a challenging subject matter, there may be parts of a lecture that take more time to comprehend.”
Adopting the same approach that he used when developing his multimedia presentations, Philip created videos that could better engage students and support traditional learning. This formed part of a blended learning initiative for his department; a mix of online video courses and the traditional lecture format. In doing so, he enabled students to watch and learn the topics that they struggled with, in their own time.
At first these videos, which focused on relevant topics and modules, were created on an ad hoc basis and shared online for his students. Now, Philip has made more than a 100 videos with the majority receiving approximately 10,000 views on average per month from students across the globe. In fact, students from across the globe use Philip’s videos as part of their exam revision.
Visual learning on-demand
Philip used Camtasia Studio, a screen-recording tool from TechSmith, to create video learning materials. Also known as screencasts, these videos were used to firstly bring his students up to speed on foundational topics and secondly, to provide additional support for students outside of the lecture room. Philip made videos of his PowerPoint presentations, from his computer screen, whilst providing a voice-over to explain what was happening during the presentation. By incorporating visual effects such as arrows that highlight parts of the mathematical equation or code on the screen, Philip was able to visually draw attention to the most relevant parts and keep students engaged.
The screencasts were then uploaded to the university’s Blackboard, an internal portal for students, YouTube, Vimeo and his own website johnphilipjones.com, so that his students could stream without having to download the video content.
“Using screen capturing tools has enabled me to mimic a traditional lecture in a way that better suits my students.
I was able to create a series of short videos that introduce students to the most important core concepts, but in digestible pieces. Chunking the information in this way made the learning more accessible and meant that my students didn’t have to forward through 10 minutes of video to find the information relevant to them. I also made the materials available online, so that students can watch the information again and again until they understand a concept or theory, at a time that suits them,” Philip commented.
Continuing to spread the word on video learning
As a result of this work, in 2012 Philip and his research peer, Dr. Emilia Bertolo - who works in the Department of Geographical and Life Sciences - decided to launch an entire research program into which software is most effective in creating digital tools to support face-to-face lectures. The three-year research program is still in its infancy but Philip hopes that this blended learning approach will continue to evolve and spread across the Faculty.
Philip explained: “One of my computer science students mentioned that he found my videos were also useful for his science course. As a result, we decided to see if our degree programs had any overlap and discovered similar course elements. We’re now creating videos to help share knowledge across departments.”
Believing that blended learning extends beyond the walls of higher education, Philip looks forward to working with a number of local secondary schools to train them on creating screencasts.
* Philip is now a visiting lecturer at the university and continues to conduct research into which software is most effective in creating digital tools to support face-to-face lectures.