The power of video blogs to reinforce learning

Lilian AustinLilian Austin is a member of the professional team of accredited consultants at eWorks. An e-learning consultant offering learning design advice and services to educational organisations and companies, she is well suited to this role. During her extensive experience working in a faculty of education, Lilian has seen the power of video blogs to encourage reflection and reinforce learning. This is her story.

Practical placement, fieldwork or work…

… are all used widely in a range of programs, to give students the opportunity to experience the real world of work and to focus on authentic learning and assessment tasks. Typically students have been asked to complete some tasks whilst on their practical placement, often in the form of a reflective diary. In the past this was a written diary that was handed in to the teacher after the placement. A placement diary can be an excellent tool to both encourage reflection and reinforce that which is learned, but a post-placement submission is too late for any in situ intervention that might be needed. With the advent of new technologies, students have often been asked to complete written electronic blogs or participate in online forums in the LMS. Unfortunately, however, many students use these blogs to merely recount the daily activities without delving into deeper reflective practice.

Personal development through personal visual media 

I worked for years in a faculty of education where students went on practical placement in schools for up to four weeks at a time. For many of these students this is a confronting and highly charged emotional time as it came only seven weeks into their Graduate Diploma of Education. Many are shaking in their boots at the thought of teaching a class of pubescent year 9s. Their fear and anxiety is palpable. For one lecturer, the process of trying to adequately support them during this time was an ongoing challenge. Together we worked on ideas which would make the reporting and reflection on their practicum more real and focussed, and an opportunity for them to start to develop their professional, teacher persona. For years she had been asking students for a regular electronic blog, but we decided to try and combine video and written blogs.

Key to our thinking was the development and critique of the pre-service teachers’ professional identities which are being formed and moulded at this very challenging time. The lecturer wanted to see if we could gain insights into how they were travelling, and how the university staff could support them better. We wanted to see if video blogging could offer us a new way of assessing practicum experiences. Lastly we wanted to see if video blogs would allow students to better integrate their cognitive, motivational and emotional responses to their roles as emerging educators.

So what happened?

Students were asked to keep a regular written journal in their ePortfolio, but to also film themselves speaking to the camera at the end of each teaching week. These three-minute videos were also posted to their ePortfolio so that the lecturer could view them. The lecturer monitored both the written and video submissions throughout the student placements, rather than finding out what happened at the end. This meant that students who were struggling with their placement for whatever reason could be easily identified and assisted before it was too late to do anything about it and the placement effectively wasted. For some students the message and story they told in both mediums was consistent. For others, however, the video blog offered a window into their emotional and very personal experiences in the classroom which had never been seen before. The lecturer watched as pre-service teachers exhibited pride, affirmation, self-doubt, fatigue, adaptation, pessimism, optimism, idealism, achievement satisfaction, affection, hopelessness, disappointment and even anger. Just as students learn in different ways, it seems that they also have tendencies towards effectively communicating their experiences using different types of media.

The tough days

One student filmed himself at his desk in his bedroom. Over the weeks, as he became overwhelmed with the experiences of the practical placement, the bedroom behind him became more and more chaotic. There was no hiding his fatigued and somewhat fragile state after the first week. The lecturer contacted him with a chatty email and some strategies for dealing with the issues he was confronting in his classes. Gradually, over the weeks of the placement, the tone of his videos moved. There was less fatigue, shock and pessimism. There were moments of joy and recognition of himself as ‘a teacher’. His voice and demeanour were telling his story in a way that he didn’t communicate in his written blogs.

The breakthroughs

But it wasn’t all challenges and confrontations! When pre-service teachers had a good lesson for the first time, they were able to video themselves celebrating this intensely enjoyable moment. The lecturer commented that:

The complexity of emotional experiences were conveyed in a more meta-analytical way in the videos. Was this due to the greater sensory representation video provides, or did the action of talking to camera, without an immediate audience, act as a kind of confidential debrief? Did they imagine me listening? Did they remember me saying we would share them?

When the students returned to the relative safety of the university classroom, they shared and reviewed some of these videos with their peers. As a group they were able to grapple with the complexity of emotions in their first teaching experiences. Using the videos to guide them, they started to cast a professional gaze over the whole classroom landscape and their role within it. Video blogs were a powerful and insightful tool for these students and their lecturer. Students were able to view themselves from a distance, to intellectually explore what was happening, and to develop resilience strategies for future teaching experiences. In other words, they became better teachers!

Credits: Mirror, mirror on the…..floor by Andrew Fysh

Video blogging: the way forward?

Video blogging offers creative opportunities for many different types of educational programs and courses. Filming of student activities within placements, interviewing mentors and key personnel, showcasing actual work or work processes and – most importantly perhaps – reflecting on their learning. All of these approaches are real and authentic ways to assess students and guide their development. For those who worry about plagiarism in online learning video blogs are also a wonderful way to ensure that the students are learning and completing the assessment themselves.

Luckily the technicalities of actually taking videos have largely disappeared with the advent of smart phones. Most student have no difficulties in filming a three-minute sequence. Similarly, most LMS or ePortfolio systems allow students to upload short video sequences for their teachers/lecturers to access. The learning for both the student and teacher can be profound. At the conclusion of the course, looking back at their earlier, novice steps, students can clearly see just how far they’ve come. Powerful, real, authentic learning.

What do you think?

About video blogs and personal visual media in general? Lilian would love to know your thoughts. Thanks to Dr Julia Savage, Deakin University, for her assistance with this topic.