‘Press Play’ Isn’t a Teaching Strategy: Why Educators Need New Methods for Video

‘Press Play’ Isn’t a Teaching Strategy: Why Educators Need New Methods for Video

My first foray into using video in my teaching involved a TV cart wheeled into my classroom, replete with a connected VHS player—and no remote.

As a teacher or a student, you may remember a holiday-week screening of E.T. the Extra-Terrestrial, or a school-wide showing of a “Stranger Danger” PSA? Whether a feature film or an instructional video, the ‘80s and ‘90s were a ‘press-play’ culture that expected students to sit still, absorb and retain, while the educator sat in the back grading. I still remember one teacher I had pointing to his TV cart and saying, “that’s the busy teacher’s best friend.”

Fast-forward to 2022, and it’s important to ask: Are teachers still pushing today’s version of that TV cart into our online and physical classrooms?

Though 97 percent of education professionals in Kaltura’s State of Video in Education annual report say that video is “essential to students’ academic experiences,” when it comes to educational video practices, many instructors are still pressing play. Perhaps this is simply because we haven’t experienced strategies that move beyond the passive video experience.

As I prepared to teach my first educational videography course earlier this year, I found that we lacked a common vocabulary for talking about how we design learning with video in mind. Since then, I’ve been advancing the term “video paratext” to reflect the myriad ways that we design educational guidance, prompts, activities or interactive elements to surround or be included within a video.

I pulled the word “paratext” from the field of poetry translation because, personally, I love the “paratext” that precedes or follows a poem—or even interrupts it. At poetry readings in particular, I lean into the words that a poet shares before or after reading each poem. Paratext helps me connect with and make sense of the poem.

Likewise, I ask educators to consider how to help students connect with videos through various prompts and activities that surround, or are included within, the video.” Might such “paratext” inspire students to take a closer look at a video they’ve watched, the way I might want to reread a poem to see how it works or what it means?

With that in mind, I ask educators this question: How can we use video paratext to advance inquiry and engagement? Given that YouTube continues to be chocked full of educational videos that are often accessible and custom-captioned, perhaps we don’t have to reinvent the wheel or become DIY videographers to find an approach to video-based learning that matches our teaching philosophy?

Introductory Paratext

Let’s consider what might ease students into video-based learning. Imagine the students with the least and the most experience using educational videos. Keep in mind that students don’t have common expectations around how to use those videos. What kind of introductory text, video or activity might lead everyone into the assigned video without overwhelming them?

Here are some ways an instructor might tee up a clip:

  • Technical Paratext: These days students have plenty of technical tools to shape their viewing experience, including running a video at double-speed (or greater). So it can be helpful for teachers to talk about what kind of viewing they expect for a given assignment—and whether it’s ok to skim, or even skip, parts of a video. I encourage educators to include the video’s title, length, linked source and a summary of any connected activities we expect students to complete.
  • Video Hooks: As students cross into video-land, the view can be disorienting. An assigned video may be a personal favorite of the instructor, but to students, it’s new, and not necessarily of interest. Teachers can begin by helping students draw personal connections with that video. Building upon what Madeline Hunter calls an “anticipatory set,” instructors can try to spark curiosity, activate prior knowledge or help students lean into learning with a sense of expectation?
  • Video Framing: While an instructor can’t constantly stop the video to note what to watch for, it is possible to plant a key question or two at the outset and encourage students to keep that in mind. I often ask students to watch with an eye for recurring themes, a specific design technique or analytical lens. It can also help to encourage students to look for problematic elements including errors in problem solving, bias, or the absence of certain perspectives (i.e. viewing “against the grain”).
  • Be Student-Centered: While the educator may still end up in the “back of the room” during a video-based activity, students don’t have to remain passive. Prompt students to jot questions before they watch and during their viewing. Ask students to generate new ideas and theories that they can share.
  • Set Clear Expectations. Regardless of the approach, make sure to clarify what is expected of students in this video-based learning experience—especially if there is a connected quiz or follow-up activity.

Closing Paratext

Too often, the guidance teachers give around videos inadvertently relegates our role as educators to what we might call, “learning compliance monitors.” In other words, too often we merely administer a high stakes exam or a pop quiz to check whether they watched a video. What closing activities might help students reflect or apply their knowledge to an authentic project or practice?

In my experiences as a K-12 teacher and now in the college setting, I’ve asked students to provide a “micro-reflection” of a video, writing three sentences or making a one-minute video explaining what they learned and what they want to dig deeper on. I’ve also asked students to explain how a video they watched is relevant to their own life or community. I’ve even asked students to imagine themselves in the director’s chair, explaining an alternate ending they’d rather see, or fleshing out the storyline of a minor character.

Body Paratext

There are edtech tools that can help incorporate these strategies even as a video progresses. For example, you can embed prompts, quizzes, asynchronous discussions and range of other dynamic activities right in the middle of videos using tools like PlayPosit, Edpuzzle and Nearpod. That means the instructor can also cut in with a note to pay special attention to some detail or theme in the next section.

These days there’s talk of even more immersive video experience on the horizon—in a proposed metaverse being pushed by major tech companies. My hope is that teachers remember to let pedagogy drive our use of the latest tech—and that our focus on sharing new kinds of “video paratext” might help ensure that innovative approaches align with our core beliefs about teaching and learning.

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