Smart Classrooms | Feature

Instructional Video for the Budget-Constrained Classroom

A Texas college taps into YouTube as a teaching aid and saves money and time in the process.

On any given day at Panola College in Carthage, TX, you'll find Deborah Edwards using YouTube videos to provide her nursing students with "visual" interpretations of her lectures, or Freddy Mason videotaping his speech class, uploading the best speeches to YouTube, and then using those clips as classroom teaching tools.

On the other side of the school's campus, Cheri Lambert might be using a mix of YouTube and podcasting in her occupational therapy course, while Curtis Odom is supplementing his history class discussions with online videos and PowerPoint presentations.

These instructors' affinity for online videos and other tech-based visual tools dates back about 2-and-a-half years, when their institution introduced a curriculum tool focused on how to locate "good YouTube educational videos online," said Ann Morris, dean of distance education. "Our goal was to show professors how to find those videos and then incorporate them into the curriculum."

At the time, Morris said, she was lured in by the "free" nature of YouTube and wasn't really looking to pioneer a trend that would grow by leaps and bounds over the next two years. In July, for example, roughly 178 million Internet users in the United States watched online video content for an average of 14.7 hours per viewer, according to Internet research firm comScore.

"The service was available, and it was free, so we went for it," said Morris. Also making YouTube attractive was its user-friendly interface and its vast library of educational videos. "There are literally tens of thousands of videos out there that we can use," she said. "Why reinvent the wheel when someone else has already created content that our instructors can use with little time or energy investment?"

To get its online video initiative rolling, Panola College needed no additional equipment, but it did institute a training program for instructors who needed help finding the most appropriate videos for their courses. The institution's business learning department handled the training, most of which was administered by an individual in charge of professional development and training.

Morris said the training component played an important role in the initiative's success. "We've always prided ourselves in delivering a high level of faculty support," said Morris, "knowing that you can't just create a new program, throw it out there and let the instructors flounder around in it."

During the training sessions, faculty learned how to identify quality videos that would be most applicable to the educational environment. Additional Web resources were also introduced as "excellent tools that teachers could incorporate into their curriculums," said Morris. Once a few instructors got back to class and started experimenting with online videos, word quickly spread to the rest of the campus.

"We had a few early adopters who started using the videos and telling others about the free, online resources," said Morris. "Things just spread from there."

Lambert was one of those early adopters and today employs YouTube and podcasts for most of her lessons. She uses YouTube videos of occupational therapy sessions, for example, and has her students practice writing therapy notes based on those videos. Lambert said the online videos provide a bridge between offsite fieldwork and the related documentation that students have to prepare.

"We used to try to make sense of and give students feedback about the documentation for fieldwork that was occurring offsite, but we never knew exactly what each of them was seeing," said Lambert. "With the videos, we can now all look at the same treatment session."

In Lambert's class, students are also required to incorporate YouTube videos in their presentations of various diagnoses to help peers get a visual for how the condition affects the person's everyday occupations. "There are so many personal testimonials and occupational therapy treatment sessions on YouTube," said Lambert, who allocates some of her time to sorting out the most relevant of those videos.

"Some of the videos are good, and others are not so good, but they are all useful," Lambert explained, noting that the "not so good" ones help sharpen students' critical thinking skills, "as they are challenged to identify what could be done more effectively."

Morris said the school's use of online video also helps it get on the same page as its students, most of which are already using YouTube and other online video portals on their own time. "Students are already accustomed to social networking and are comfortable using YouTube and watching videos online," said Morris. "By adopting it in the classroom, we're able to bring a part of their world into the educational experience."

Nearly three years after the first YouTube video was used in a Panola College classroom, Morris said the service's "free" nature continues to be its biggest advantage. The fact that school budgets have shrunk since 2007 makes the online video resource even more important for Texas' smaller colleges, which have seen "funding taken away after it was awarded to us," said Morris.

"The great thing about integrating online video into the classroom is that you don't need a large budget to do it," she said. "You can get these IT projects done with freeware and/or inexpensive software, and by taking the time to search around for resources that can help you get these initiatives rolling."

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