by Jennifer Wiggen and David McConnell, Geoscience Learning Process Research Group, North Carolina State University

A couple of years ago, we began noodling around with the idea of adding short videos as pre-class assignments for our introductory physical geology course. We wanted to use the videos to support a flipped class teaching model that requires students to review a video and answer related questions online before attending class (for more about this process see our video about Flipping a Geology Class). We designed a consistent format so that each video would have learning objectives, cover some basic content, use a variety of demonstrations, animations or examples, and end with a reflection activity. We read up on aspects of effective multimedia design and investigated what research had to say about student engagement with videos. Consequently, we settled for relatively short 6 minute-long videos dealing with well-defined topics. The videos weren’t intended to be comprehensive, just to cover some basic content that we would previously have delivered in class.

The videos seemed to work pretty well in our course so we thought it might be a bit of fun to make them more widely available. We launched the GeoScience Videos YouTube channel in fall 2014 with an initial collection of seven videos. We continued to add to the collection and there are now 30 videos (Figure 1) that target basic concepts, including newer mini-videos (<3 minutes) that focus on single topics.

Figure 1: Videos (yellow titles) and mini-videos (green titles) available on GeoScience Videos YouTube channel (as of November, 2016).

We read somewhere that about half of all videos on YouTube were viewed less than 500 times. So we set our first goal to get 500 views for each video. We are glad to report that, with the help of colleagues and curious students, the total number of views has bumped up to more than a quarter of a million and the channel now has over 1,600 subscribers. This semester, each month brings more than 30,000 views (Figure 2). This is all pretty small potatoes compared to the titans of YouTube but it’s nice to think that more than a thousand people a day are sitting down to learn something about geology from our collection. Each new semester seems to bring in more viewers and encourages us to continue making and sharing additional resources.

Figure 2: Graph of rolling 28-day total views for GeoScience Videos YouTube channel. Note increase in views around the beginning of each semester. Green triangles indicate when we sent emails about the channel to faculty identified using the AGI directory.

Sharing learning resources so publicly has its pros and cons. The analytics built into YouTube give us great information about who is using our materials, where they are located, and what topics have the greatest appeal. For academics used to measuring success by slowly accumulating paper citations, the flood of potential data from YouTube represents a pleasant change. For example, we know that about the same number of men and women view the videos, that the proportion of people watching videos on phones is increasing (Figure 3), and that viewers are spread across the US and more than 200 nations around the world. Nearly half of viewers come to the videos from external sources, presumably provided by instructors or friends, while most of the rest find us as they browse on YouTube.

Figure 3: The proportion of people viewing the videos on their phones has increased over the life of the channel.

We also know that that videos about plate boundaries and videos about classifying things (rocks, volcanoes, faults) are among the most popular topics, essentially endorsing our objective to focus initially on basic concepts. Of course, social media provides opportunities for viewers to give us feedback on our materials, and while many comments are supportive and encouraging, we definitely get some that are less than positive. Fortunately, we have learned how to deal with such notes after many semesters of reading student course evaluations.

In addition to the GeoScience Video YouTube Channel, we created a GeoScience Videos blog to provide support for instructors using the videos (this post was originally created for the blog). The blog provides links to assessment resources and quizzes for each video as well as other related information such as in-class questions and activities for lessons related to the video topics. If you visit the blog’s Assessment Resources page, you can download a one-page pdf (Current GeoScience Videos) that lists the videos and provides links to each one. Consider sharing this document with your students to provide a quick reference guide to the available videos.

Recently, we’ve been doing some research to find out if using short video-based resources improved student performance on assessment questions compared to paper-based resources (text and static images). You can check out the full write-up in an previous blog post. Overall, we found that students who received the video-based resources scored significantly higher than those who had received the text-based resources (Figure 4).

Figure 4: Pre- and post-quiz scores on the topic of Classification of Faults. There was no statistical difference among students in video and text groups on the pre-quiz. Students who watched the video after taking the pre-quiz earned a statistically significantly higher score on the post-quiz than students who read text (video=90; s.d.=14; text=76, s.d.=23).

These findings suggest that we can improve student comprehension of basic course content by providing access to appropriate video resources. But how does watching a video compare to listening to a lecture presentation of the same material? That’s our next question. We are currently exploring student performance on common exam questions to see if students exposed to different treatments (lecture vs. video) show any difference in exam scores.

Colleagues tell us that they use the videos in a variety of ways, including as pre-class work, to support in-class discussions, as post-class reviews or homework, or as supplementary learning materials. Regardless, of how they are being used, we are glad that many other instructors in both K-12 and college settings have found these resources useful. Maybe you will be convinced to add some of them to your course next semester. Keep an eye open for new videos and please drop us a line and tell us how you use them in your classes.

Note: This contribution was originally published on 5 December 2016 on the GeoScience Videos blog and is cross-posted here on Speaking of Geoscience.