September 4, 2017

Yesterday we had the first in our series of chats with other people who are also using technology to teach. 

Dr Gareth Arnott is a lecturer in the Department of Chemistry at the University of Stellenbosch. Over the last few years, he has started to use video clips to augment his courses. He made it very clear at the beginning of our conversation that the purpose of the videos is not to replace the lectures or even be the primary form of instruction. He creates them to add value to his courses. 

Gareth started his own channel on Youtube because did not want to just give students the memos to tests, but there was no contact time to discuss the test with them. Especially in chemistry, the process of answering a question is just as important as the final answer.  A printed memo can only give students the final answer. So he started to create memo videos, using only a webcam, a tripod (borrowed from the lab) and some free editing software. He placed these videos on Youtube (at first using a private setting) and shared the links with the students. 

After 3 years he is incorporate videos in his courses in a variety of ways. 

There were a few things that I took back from this conversation:

  • You don’t need a big budget to do something. Start small, use what you have and see how it works. 
  • Do not attempt to recreate things that work, but use technology to fill gaps. Gareth explained how first-year students have very little contact with the professors in the department, so he started to film the professors doing the pre-pracs (which was usually done by post-grad students) and adding a little introduction and a bit about their research to the video. Not only could students watch the pre-pracs as many times as they need. But they also got some exposure to the senior faculty and the work they are doing.  
  • Video should not replace contact time. Using a video during a lesson is not a very effective way of going about things. 
  • Making videos does take time, even if you do not attempt to be a professional editor. You also should not attempt to create universal videos that will work for everybody. There are lots of those already on the internet. The point of creating your own videos is to show your students, how you want them to do something. 
  • You are never finished. Every year he re-do some of the videos, either because there are changes in the course, the research or because he thought of a better way to do it. 
  • Youtube is very easy to use and it even includes some editing tools now. 
  • There is always a place for a little bit of fun. 

Video was never a medium that I have considered. Mostly because I hate watching myself on video. But after listening to Gareth, I am inspired to short instructional videos. Just imagine, if I create a database of examples that learners can refer to whenever they can’t remember something we did in the previous year. 

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