The opposite of strategy is expediency. The default behavior in natural systems is to go with the flow, to follow the entropic muse
and do what seems easiest and least complicated given the facts at hand. Strategically driven
behavior is to invest work into rerouting the flow
at the guidance of a perspective that transcends
situational intelligence. The current trend in online education is for video to serve as the primary or even sole method of content presentation.
While educational media production is my livelihood, I believe that instructional video is being
overused and that we should strategically diversify our curricular presentation tactics.
With each new video technology, educational
products will hit the market to explore and exploit its limits. With notable exceptions, such as
exercise videos, it is unusual for a curriculum to
stay all-video and it will naturally evolve to use
video only where it proves most effective. The all-streaming-video online course has proven unexpectedly resilient over the past few years and
has arguably established itself as the new norm.
Several factors have led to this state of affairs.
The most prominent are the limitations of the
extremely popular modern MOOC platforms,
which support little more than video playlists,
forums, and quizzes. That the major MOOC platforms rely on video as the principle means of instruction is not surprising: They originally spun
off from computer science and engineering departments at MIT and Stanford. At the introductory level, those topics lend themselves well to
instruction by video, involving frequent demonstration, much like workout videos.
Another factor is the improvement in DIY
video software. Anyone can make a video and
find a streaming site to host it. Many products
support educational media production by accepting PowerPoint files as a video source, for
better or worse.
This is where expedient decision making be-
gins to cause problems for teachers and learn-
ers. Because we have tools that make it easy to
turn a PowerPoint file and a short recording ses-
sion into a video, it’s expedient to exclusively rely
on this technology to build a course. That’s not to
say that good instructional video cannot be made
using these tools, just that all curricular materi-
als should not be produced using them merely
because it’s easy. We’re so caught up in the nov-
elty of the tools that we’re using them to make
substandard, ill-conceived curricular materials.
Let’s pick on a most egregious, yet unfortunately common, case—the use of video to deliver
narrated, static slideshows. On a purely technological basis, there may be no worse online delivery mechanism than video for this sort of content. In order to support adaptive rate-switching
and efficient seeking, streaming video requires
a keyframe at a fixed interval, where all pixels in the frame are fully specified, at most every 4 to 8 seconds, but usually more often. If a
slide stays on screen for a long period of time,
the keyframe depicting that slide will be needlessly sent many times, wasting bandwidth and
often causing a perceptible flicker. The motion
picture content in a video is opaque to assistive
technology as well: A student who is blind would
not be informed about any content presented in
the slides since we threw away the markup of
the PowerPoint file when we treated it as a camera source instead of a starting point for something interactive and engaging.
Watching mandatory video can be a fatiguing, unpleasant experience for both teacher
and learner. Producing an entire curriculum
of dull slideshow video would be a demoralizing, demeaning drudgery unbefitting a creative teaching professional. Consider that the
only other situation where students would experience mandatory video is the forced advertising that’s shown before a webpage will load
or that is interspersed in a listicle.
Cisco predicts that 82% of internet traffic by
2020 will be video. Between now and then, let us
think strategically about what we can do to make
more of it worth watching by developing better
content presentation tools for those topics that
do not lend themselves well to video instruction.
And we also need to deliberately vary the way
we present content by being sensitive to how students might most effectively absorb its lessons.
More Than Enough Is Too Much
Liam Moran ( email@example.com) produces curricular digital
media and manages the servers to store, process, and deliver
it at the Center for Innovation in Teaching and Learning at the
University of Illinois–Urbana-Champaign.
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