Interactive videos help students with selecting the right unit

Have you ever wanted your students to be able to better judge at the start of a semester if this is the right unit for them? At the University of Sydney Business School we’ve been experimenting with using interactive videos to give students an indicative preview of their units either before they enrol or in the first few weeks of class.

Often, when people think about adding interactivity into an educational video it means putting ‘check your understanding’ style multiple choice questions at key moments in the video to help ensure that students engage with key concepts. Our research demonstrates that interactive videos can fit a far more flexible set of teaching and learning objectives than just ‘check your understanding’.

The work builds on preparatory videos developed by the London School of Economics under the leadership of Associate Professor Peter Bryant, for disciplines such as public affairs and sociology that require students to have specific literacies before starting study. It fits a gap in the existing literature as most prior research has focussed on clarifying students’ expectations of their program as a whole rather than for individual subjects.

About the interactive videos

The interactive videos were around 6-8 minutes long, and engaged students with 2-3 core learning experiences they would have in the first few weeks of the unit. The videos followed a standard format, starting with a senior academic giving an introduction and talking about how the unit relates to the profession and the course as a whole. It was followed by the Unit Coordinator and/or Head Tutor providing an overview of 2-3 core concepts or skills punctuated with interactive elements for students. Finally, the video finished with a closing from the senior academic who provided a summary and wished the student well in their studies.

Developing the videos

To start with, it is worth noting that each video was a substantial piece of development.

Co-design teams for each video were formed with at least two academics (such as the Unit Coordinator and Head of Discipline) along with an Educational Developer, Learning Designer and Media Producers from the Business Co-Design team.

A five-step process was used, involving planning and concept development, scripting and storyboarding, video filming and post-production, creation of the interactive elements, and then go-live. Each video was released within the Canvas site for the unit as well as a more open webpage that was accessible to all students who could potentially enrol in that unit of study.

How were the interactive videos designed?

When looking at the different videos, we realised how diverse they were.

Some of the units were focussed on quantitative approaches, with different techniques for helping students understand certain algorithms and, more importantly, how the algorithms were useful in the discipline and related professions. One interactive video even provided a downloadable data set for students to interrogate using Excel.

Other units had a conceptual or case-analytic focus, and so spent more time on helping students understand the required mindset for success in that profession or the context in which the disciplinary problems were meaningful. These videos had creative ways of using multiple-choice interactive elements to create ambiguous questions, in which there was no one right answer. So how you justified your response was as important as what the response was.

Analysing the videos

Drawing on Laurillard’s taxonomy of media forms (narrative, interactive, communicative, adaptive and productive) and learning types (acquisition, inquiry, practice, production, discussion and collaboration), we’ve performed content analysis on the videos to break down and identify the component parts that combine to provide students with an indicate experience of the unit.

What this has shown is that interactive videos are very versatile, and much more than just ‘check your understanding’ activities.

Intended learning experiences:
  • deepen understanding of a concept through examples;
  • relate concepts (vertical/horizontal integration);
  • demonstrate and explain skills/procedures (e.g. calculations);
  • define and contrast mindsets.
Application and practice:
  • perform calculations and data analysis;
  • case/scenario analysis;
  • apply a mindset to solve a problem.
Pedagogical techniques used in interactive questions:
  • ask a question, student responds, give answer and explain why;
  • explain concept or calculation, ask a question (with/without data), give answer and feedback;
  • ask an ill-structured question about a contextual issue, then discuss how this issue provides context for the unit;
  • mini-scenario with an ill-structured question, then discuss viability of the different possible responses;
  • describe a mindset and then ask a question to help illustrate how this operates in practice.
Interactive elements:
  • Multiple choice questions – single correct answer/multiple correct answers;
  • HTML links – additional content of interest, and University student support services;
  • File downloads;
  • Drag and drop activity.
Analysis framework
Analysis framework

Looking across the videos, we found that units with a focus on computational thinking generally used single-correct-answer multiple choice questions and spent more time defining concepts and going through worked examples. On the other hand, units with a focus on case-based and contextualised analysis more often used multiple-correct-answer questions which afforded opinion-based questioning, and spent more time framing the questions and explaining context and mindsets.

This research is ongoing, and will be presented by Dr Andrew Cram, Dr Sandris Zeivots, Dr Dewa Wardak and Associate Professor Peter Bryant at the 2021 Australian Association for Research in Education (AARE) conference in late 2021.

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Educational developer and digital learning generalist.

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