Flipping the chemistry classroom series: part 3

You’ve got to love moms. I think that’s a rule. When I told my mom, a retired elementary school teacher, that I was teaching using videos, her response was something like: “Oh honey, the best part of teaching is interacting with the students. You can’t teach them through a computer!” Sigh. You’ve got to love moms.

This seems to be a pretty standard response (minus being called “honey”...most times) when I bring up that I am teaching through videos. However, I have found that video-based flipped learning can actually increase the opportunity to have meaningful interactions with students, and on a more regular basis. Of course, a necessary component to this process is creating an effective video. My videos are typically under 10 minutes.

Let’s get the nuts and bolts out of the way. These videos can be simple — your voice over a recorded presentation for example. I would strongly recommend that you include video, as it adds another layer to the experience, further building your relationship with your students. I have found most students like to put a face to a voice and have something else to focus on aside from text or pictures. To do this, you will need screen capture software that will capture anything you do on your computer screen, but will also allow you to embed audio and video. I can only speak to two, Camtasia and ScreenFlow. Both are fully functional screen capture software packages and relatively easy to use.

In terms of additional hardware, both a camera and a microphone are necessary, but if you have them embedded in your laptop or desktop, that will suffice. Should you wish to include written text, look into an external tablet like the Wacom Bamboo, which is effective and easy to use.

As for any good lesson, preparation and planning are key. Initially, each video I filmed evolved from PowerPoint presentations I had created on that subject. I then worked through the presentation, often in one take, while using the tablet to underline or circle anything that I thought necessary. The videos, from conception to uploading, probably took in the neighbourhood of 1-2 hours to make. Each.

However, in many regards, I am a perfectionist. It’s alright, I have come to grips with it. As I progressed with the implementation of flipped learning, and my comfort level in making these videos, I came to a point where I wanted to elevate the quality of the viewing experience. So I purchased a green screen, external lighting and a lapel microphone, and started having fun with them. Naturally, as I started to have more fun with the videos — improving the viewing experience — the level of viewer engagement went up, and the feedback I got from the students became more positive. That said, these videos did take a little bit more of my time — from conception to upload, typically 5 hours or more. Overkill? Possibly.

I know, I know. 5 hours? Each? Well, initially I made the assumption that the students would LOVE watching videos to learn. Heck, they watch YouTube all the time, right? The thing that I learned above all else is this: the novelty of watching videos to learn, well...it wears off quickly. Educational videos will hold their interest for only so long. An effective video is no different than an effective lesson — you must walk the line between entertaining and informing. The hope is that the more engaging your videos are, the more the students will buy in, and as a result, the more they will take away.

At this point, you may be asking why we must reinvent the wheel when there are already some excellent videos out there? I used to be a big proponent of making your own videos. Remember, these videos are another means of connecting with YOUR students. However, I have recently been made aware of sites that allow you to turn any existing video into your own lesson. You can embed quizzing — requiring a student to answer before continuing — or add text, even your own voiceovers. Sites like these allow you to still impart your own personality in the lesson, with less effort and time.

While we as teachers seem to lose focus, I like to think the key for effective teaching has always been, and hopefully always will be, fostering a healthy, safe, and memorable learning experience for our students. These videos, while a major component in the flipped classroom, are only a means to an end. That end? To use class time to interact with my students on a more regular basis. That is, after all, the best part of being a teacher. On that, Mom, we agree.

Note: This is the third in a series of articles on Flipped-Mastery learning in the high-school chemistry classroom. In the next article, I will share how class time is used, and how my students begin to take ownership over how and when they learn.