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Interactive Tools Make Classroom Video More Active Than Passive
New offerings from both young and established companies let educators create elaborate personalized videos, and students learn in a more natural way.

A phase shift appears to be underway in the realm of educational video technology. On one side of this transformation, the central challenges of educational video are basic and existential: How do I make it and where do I put it? On the other side are questions pitched through the wheelhouse of a professional teacher: How do I present the material in a way that captures the students’ interest and encourages them to think their way through the instructional video?

Start-ups and established vendors are cooking up clever solutions to enable interactivity with educational videos. It is helpful to categorize them in terms of those that are teacher-driven and those that are student-driven. Does this solution require a visionary teacher to painstakingly anticipate student needs while preparing a lesson around an instructional video? Then call it teacher-driven. Does that solution require students to put themselves out there in the platform enough to drive that most powerful force in all schools—peer pressure? If so, it is learner-driven.

One time-honored approach is to allow teachers to construct choose-your-own-adventure-style lectures. These provide students with branching paths through the material that depend on how they answer questions that the teacher posed within the lecture to probe for common misunderstandings and to guide students through remedial materials they need to cover before they proceed. Two platforms are notable for taking that general lesson-construction idea and building a video experience that can support it: Eko and Rapt. Eko is an impressively powerful and free-to-use platform for making infinitely complicated, choose-your-own-adventure, interactive videos and for showcasing its stable of solid-quality entertainment programming using it. Eko doesn’t target education, however: Its primary income stream moving forward is rumored to be a partnership with Walmart to build an online video service to compete with Amazon and Netflix. Rapt is similar in functionality and significant in that the company was acquired by Kaltura, a hosting platform with a large footprint in the educational video market.

Taking a step down in sophistication, there are in-video quizzes that provide a similar experience for the student, but without any branching logic. Everyone sees the same video regardless of how they answer the questions, although they usually will get some feedback from the in-video question tool. Questions are typically used to prime students to be mindful of what comes next or to assess understanding of what came before the question. PlayPosit and Edpuzzle are two companies specializing in tools for adding in-video quizzes to YouTube or other videos. Many video hosting platforms used by schools natively support in-video quizzes, including Kaltura, MediaSite, and Ensemble.

The trend in the learner-driven approach is to take cues from how students interact socially online and attempt to incorporate those behaviors into how students watch their instructional videos. A prime example is Arc Media, the video hosting platform built by Instructure, the company behind the Canvas learning management system (LMS). Arc implements interactive capabilities akin to Soundcloud and Facebook Live: Every video incorporates a time-based chatroom, with threaded discussion posts by the class popping on as the video progresses. Since Arc was designed by an LMS vendor, it was made with the needs of the classroom in mind. An example of a detail the company got right is in making it easy to cloister comments within each term that the video is used: A video including annotations and chatter from a previous years’ students would seem inauthentic and stale.

Finally, there are the Snapchat-for-education platforms that leverage short videos to facilitate online video class discussions. In these, the teacher prompts students with a topic and the students respond with video. One example is Recap, offered for free by the makers of the Swivl camera platform. Flipgrid is another such platform, also available for free since its acquisition by Microsoft. Both are useful in offering your students a chance to connect with you and the material closer to their terms and comfort zone.

I’m agnostic as to whether either approach is superior. All classroom technology delivers the most benefits when both teachers and learners are deeply invested, but each will suffer when one or the other is taken away. It is fortunate is that these specialized tools are now available for teachers to reach different types of students with video.

[This article appears in the October 2018 issue of Streaming Media magazine as "Setting the Focus Back on Teaching and Learning."]

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