Why video assignments?

All, Teaching, Technology

Slide3This blog post is not about making my students create videos, but rather the videos that I create for my students. The video assignment is my solution to one problem (maybe two) faced by many online teachers. I teach online a lot – almost exclusively for the past several years. There are many things I love about teaching online, but one aspect that has always troubled me is the assignment sheet. I quickly learned that the one-page assignment sheet that worked very well for face-to-face classes just couldn’t cut it for online classes.

When you hand out a typical assignment sheet you can utilize a number of tools including lessons, activities, and questions to cover the essential points and emphasize key areas. However, students (for the most part) don’t seem to understand that you can’t treat an online assignment sheet the same as an assignment they receive in a traditional class. They skim through it and rarely read thoroughly. The problem is further compounded by the fact that your online assignment sheet (in my case anyway) ends up much longer as you add in the details and explanations that you might have shared verbally in a face-to-face class.

video-assignmentsI do break assignments up and provide extensive scaffolding using a variety of activities just as I might in a traditional class, but you still need a resource to guide students as they work on an assignment. One day as I was discussing digital storytelling with some other educators it stuck me that this was a tool I could use to solve my assignment problem. In the end, my video assignments don’t actually look or sound much like a digital story and may appear a lot more like Powerpoint with voiceover but it does allow a more visual presentation of the information with the added benefit of my verbal explanation. In addition, they can watch the video over and over again if necessary and I provide a PDF of the slides and my script notes as an additional resource that they can access when I am not available. Fall 2012 was the first semester that I used video assignments and students responded very well. At the end of the semester when I asked students if I should continue to use video assignment, two-thirds agreed that I should and the remainder were simply neutral rather than opposed to the practice.

There are many nifty tools out there that you could use to create videos – including straightforward video capture applications or screen capture applications (I have used these in the past but often find there are post production complications that require workarounds – I want simple and fast). I have played around with some of them but as time always seems to be a problem for me I didn’t want to learn a new tool and I certainly didn’t want to buy an app or hardware plus I really didn’t want to spend a lot of time post production.


I tend to use either Powerpoint or Haiku Deck (I love this app!) to map out my video – both the visuals and the script/notes. Sometimes I use a combination of the two (although I may be able to use Haiku Deck exclusively now that it supports notes). I tend to write an actual script because I’ve found if I just have notes I ramble and the videos become longer. Then I use Photo Story to create my video and upload it to Youtube for easy sharing with my students. What I love about Photo Story is that there is no work involved with producing the actual video and unlike some programs I don’t need to convert the file. Also, because you record your audio file for each visual separately you do not need to start over from the beginning every time you make a mistake. I could build my video directly in Photo Story but it feels easier to me to do it in two steps. I use Youtube because most devices have a Youtube app which makes those videos widely accessible to my students as they need them (unlike anything I build in Blackboard). Most of the time I am able to produce short video assignments (2-3 minutes) in less than an hour.

megaphoneI was never much of a lecturer and teaching online has moved me even further from that. I prefer to have discussions which I prompt with questions and seed with information which we conduct weekly throughout the semester. In addition, students keep a weekly self-assessment journal which becomes a private conversation with me. My students, therefore, do have a great deal of interaction with me even though we do not meet in person and often communicate asynchronously, but I think adding my voice to the explanation does offer another way to connect and as the video tends to be a little more informal than my old assignment sheets I think it helps bridge the gap as well.

Video assignments solve a number of communication problems for my asynchronous online classes. I would love to hear how other instructors have addressed these issues.