Search form

About The Blogger

Liz Sarles's picture
I fell in love with the subject of history when I was a sophomore in high school and that love has guided my professional development for the last 25 years. As much as I enjoy reading, researching...
Back to Blog

Teaching with Open Source Video Lectures

One of my favorite aspects of the Internet as a conduit of information is that I can enjoy video lectures made available by varied universities. I regularly take classes via Coursera or consume lectures open sourced by professors. Watching a lecture over a cup of coffee in the morning or listening to one at night when I am making my kids’ school lunches is now an established and beloved part of my routine.  

I started using video lectures in my American History classroom two years ago on a trial basis. I enjoyed the lectures immensely as a teacher and general lover of history, but that did not mean the lectures would transfer well as pedagogical tools. Given our students’ increasing access to technology and multimedia entertainment, I decided it made sense to supplement readings with video lectures on occasion. A few weeks into the class, I assigned them a video lecture comparing and contrasting life in Britain and in the American colonies during the 1760s.

I knew after using this first lecture (from Joanne B. Freeman’s American Revolution class at Yale University) that I was onto something. While I can’t say that all of my students enjoyed the lectures, they did get a lot out of them and felt some sort of strong emotional connection – be that excitement, inspiration, annoyance or disagreement. Their textbook readings never revealed the same passionate response. I went on to use two more of Professor Freeman’s lectures of her American Revolution class and four from Yale’s David Blight when we studied the Civil War and Reconstruction. I will use video lectures like these in my future classes to be sure.

After using two sets of lectures over the course of this junior class, I felt like I could accurately assess their value as a teaching mode. Our students are accustomed to listening and watching via their computers or devices. That said, they do not often watch lectures and so while there existed some level of comfort with the modality, the delivery was foreign to them and thus provided a challenge. Watching these lectures also prepared students for college, as they will certainly have more live and video lectures once they matriculate to university.

The lectures provide pathways to both content knowledge and skill development. Professors share an incredible amount of information in their 50-minute classes, but they also push students to think critically about this information and assess the arguments delivered. The lectures, while by no means a dialogue, provide an excellent platform for discussion. The students reveled in picking apart facts, assessing the sources Freeman and Blight used, comparing the professors in terms of style and explaining what they liked and disliked about the given lecture.

What is more, the students also gain a level of insight into future career paths. I had two students who really loved Professor Freeman and repeatedly told me that they wanted to be like her in their later professional lives. Finally, the lectures help students develop better public speaking skills. They watch and then assess teachers who are well-versed in the art of speaking cogently to large audiences. All in all, these video lectures served their purpose and then some.

Here are some pointers about how best to use video lectures:

  1. Identify Purpose: As mentioned before, the lectures offer so much information and do so quickly. If the students lack a sense of direction or reason for watching, they might get lost in the facts and stories. Come up with a central question for the chosen lecture.
  2. Ask for Student Response: The students would watch a lecture for homework and complete a Top 10 List. This list asked them to write down and then recall the ten most interesting statements made by a given lecturer. Such an assignment urges the students to stay hooked for the duration of the lecture and to pull out what is relevant to them.
  3. Allow for Discussion: We would start each class after the students watched a given lecture with an open discussion about likes and dislikes, interests or lack there of. I found that the students really liked to do this and opened up about what they remembered and what connected to them.
  4. Identify Argument and Bias: Before each lecture, we talked about the fact that the professor would offer an argument as part of her/his lecture. I told them that they needed to come into class the next day ready to identify: a) the professor’s argument, b) at least 3 pieces of evidence utilized in defense of this argument and c) if and where they might see bias on part of the professor. We would then critique the argument and evidence in small groups.
  5. Encourage Use of Lectures as Evidence: I wanted the students to understand that the information provided by the professors could be used readily in their own writing and argument construction. They worked on finding quotes and sourcing them, and then examining their value to larger themes explored in the class.

By no means should video lectures replace readings altogether. Reading textbooks and primary sources is important within the history classroom, both as a tool for collecting information and a vehicle for skill development. But taking out some readings and inserting powerful, organized and thoughtful lectures instead enhances one’s class and makes students better historians. Overwhelmingly, the kids enjoyed the lectures, learned a lot and felt more connected to the class and to their teacher.