10 September 2014

"Teaching with Technology"? Oh, Wait: You Meant "Delivering Content." Never Mind.

I've been sucked in again--a one hour brown-bag hosted by the university's "Center for Innovation in Teaching and Learning."
Best Practices for "Back Pocket Video Production
Video pros and experienced faculty share their tips and tricks for producing video content for course enhancement and student assignments with only their phones and other "back-pocket" devices.

Sounds pretty innovative, and why not?  Most students carry around with them the capacity to shoot video; so do I.  They live in a world replete with screens and moving images; so do I.  They document their lives relentlessly with their hand-held devices, and I was born too early to understand how this unlimited capacity for self-expression across a variety of media platforms shapes how they understand the world.  I ask them to delve deeper into the printed word by writing about what they read--how might I harness their use of another media form?

I have some ideas, myself, but there are a lot of things I don't know about how to make them work:

  • Like many non-tenure-track faculty with no research budget, I have to rely on a shared office computer or technology I've purchased for my personal use.  Where and how should I store video files that I create (or ask students to create) for a class?
  • What are some rookie mistakes to avoid when using a handheld device to shoot video that's going to be viewed by strangers, rather than an audience of sympathetic family or facebook friends?
  • What are the best platforms for making student-made videos available to their classmates?
  • What FERPA and copyright issues should I be worrying about when using a site like YouTube for educational purposes?
  • What kinds of video-centered assignments work well in a class where video production and visual media are NOT the main focus of learning?
  • How have instructors successfully prompted students to exploit the communication possibilities of hand-held video?  What do students do better with video than with more conventional kinds of assignments?
So I went to the brown bag lunch.  Here's what I learned.
  • Shooting video with a smart phones can capture ephemeral moments and otherwise undocumented voices.
  • You can deliver course content effectively via three to six-minute videos that explain and reinforce key concepts.  
  • Students like short home-made videos a lot, learn from them, and stop asking their instructors to repeat basic information in office hours.
  • Production values matter: here are some cool toys we have to help make your videos more professional (turns out that "back-pocket" in the course description referred specifically to little backpacks full of gadgets that instructors can check out of the library).
  • Editing your videos makes them better: here's how iMovie works on your handheld device.

There's nothing particularly wrong with any of that, only I don't teach big lecture classes, and I try to minimize the amount of time I spent talking at my students.  The bulk of learning takes place in my class when students discuss and interact with texts with my guidance.  Learning about a different way of talking at them doesn't help me guide that process more effectively.  Yet every time I trot hopefully off to an event that promises to help me innovate, I find myself talked to as if delivering information is the only thing I might want to do in the classroom.  "Innovation in Teaching and Learning"?  It looks suspiciously like draping Freire's banking model with enough cords,  dongles, and screens that we can make it unrecognizable and scalable.


  1. We should continue our post brown bag discussion. You are dead on.

  2. Gaaah stupid commenting system deleting my long and thoughtful comment.

    Uh, short version, I work for an ed-tech vendor, and agree that most "innovation in teaching and learning" talk boils down to making large lecture classes less like large lecture classes. I think there's value there, in that large lecture classes are kinda awful, and make up SO MUCH of the higher education experience. So. Much.

  3. Hello Professor. My name is Rashid V. Robinson, and I come to your blog by way of Prfs. Cris Mayo (my dissertation director) and Stephanie Foote and their recommendation of your response to our latest campus controversy. This past August I began a graduate assistantship at ATLAS, Applied Technologies for Teaching and Learning in the Arts and Sciences. I guess what I'm getting at is, if you like, I can try to get answers to some of the questions you posted above. If you're not interested, that's fine too. I will share your comments neither in pure nor filtered fashion. But I will suggest, to those that will hear, that prior to the next brown bag, perhaps a solicitation of topics of interest from faculty might be useful, if it's not already being done. Best regards, Rashid V. Robinson (robinson@illinois.edu)