Teaching Reflections #13: Professor as a bad video-maker

This week’s reading: Academics aren’t content creators, and it’s regressive to make them so

A few quick snips from the article:

The philosopher John Dewey told us that an educational experience – what he called a community of inquiry – requires a cognitive presence (the learner), a social presence (the learning community) and a teaching presence (the professor).
By Dewey’s definition, if our professors spend their time editing videos instead of engaging with students, we cease to even be “educational” institutions. A video made by a professor for only their class is akin to the single-copy, handwritten book disseminated to just one room of people. It is regression, not progress.

I think the argument the author is making is this:

  • Dewey says good learning involves 3 elements: learner, learning community, and instructor. This is a virtuous circle. All three elements feed on each other.

  • If the instructor must spend more time making (bad) video, they have less time to spend with learners. The video is often bad, because instructors are usually not filmmakers. “Bad” may be bad production, but it may also be bad storytelling in the video.

  • If the video is bad, then the learners will go elsewhere to get content, fracturing the community.

  • Without all three elements in place for a good learning experience, university education is simply overpriced.

The practical side of this

I also make a lot of professional video for LinkedIn Learning and Frontend Masters.

In the past, I’ve tried to use these videos as the basis for my class. The students were extremely unhappy, because they could get their own subscription for pennies on the dollar of what they were paying for my university course.

They prefer my less polished, less produced, lower quality video, because they felt this was a better value for their dollar. Why?

Because they feel connected with me when I make a video for them. Students feel like they know me when I’m being my normal goofy self on camera. I have less of a personality when I’m on camera at LinkedIn. Professional polish and all that.

Video as textbook and analysis

Content can enable learning, but it cannot provide an education. Similarly, content is not our core value. There is a long tradition, going back to the printing press, of universities outsourcing their content provision to the textbook: an expensive relic, now replaced by largely free content on the internet. This is progress. Education should be better than ever, as we are now able to point at myriad incredible resources, possibly on the web, perhaps in our library, where we act as content aggregator, not creator. Creation is done when we have our researcher hats on, not our teaching hats.

In the old days, we read the book before we went to class, where the information was discussed and interpreted.

Today, video is asked to do both of these things at once: provide the information of the textbook AND provide the discussion and interpretation. The author thinks that professors spending their time making the textbook is a waste. Find other resources online, have the students use these as the textbook, and then provide interpretation and discussion in class.

What if we had some type of vetted and reviewed video that we could incorporate in our courses? Then we have an effective textbook for our courses, and again, the professor brings the interpretation and meaning to the material.

But I can’t make YouTube-style video, so my stuff isn’t engaging!

I don’t believe this at all, because the argument here is the technology should drive the content. In other words, the students won’t watch without music, jump cuts, and crazy graphics.

What if we had good content, making a reasonable video that tells a good story but with much less flash? What if we engaged students through discussion and collaboration?

Remember the original argument: If the video is bad, then the learners will go elsewhere to get content, fracturing the community. However, “bad” is not defined.

Bad video could mean bad production for sure. But it could also mean:

  • The instructor is overwhelmed trying to make technologically interesting video, reducing time to engage with students.

  • The students are not engaged with the instructor, so they go elsewhere for more entertaining content.

  • Dewey’s community of inquiry is fractured.

What if instructors instead spent their time on making a good story, recording it the best way possible, and engaging students in discussion and activities? Rather than putting so much emphasis on video, put more on the activity and engagement for a better learning experience.

Jen Kramer @jen4web