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Effective K–12 Video Strategies

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Motion picture instructional materials have been in use in K–12 schools for as long as the technology has been available. Carts with filmstrip projectors would have been wheeled into my parents’ classrooms. Many people of my generation, me included, watched the tragic explosion of the space shuttle Challenger in real time on wheeled-in TVs.

Students today watch educational video in class on smartboards, Chromebooks, and tablets. The revolutionary change over the past 10 years has made production technologies accessible to teachers and even students. And 4 years ago, of course, almost everyone was forced to rely on educational video to keep schools as functional as possible. Today, we can identify several use cases of teacher-produced educational video that are particularly effective.

The greatest failure of COVID-era emergency remote teaching was the expectation that teachers and students of all ages would be able to approximate the classroom experience using videoconferencing tools. This was realistic only for advanced discussion seminars or extremely self motivated students. It was perhaps the best of the bad options available given the amount of time everyone had to plan lessons over a week or a few days in late March 2020, but it was an unrealistic and unfair expectation. Online learning is very rarely a group activity, and it’s most effective in a self-paced and individualized setting, which makes sense for something students do at home by themselves. The better approach is to think of online teaching as more akin to providing topical office hours that students schedule when they’re ready to benefit from them rather than fixed blocks of contiguous activities to endure while constrained by a physical or virtual classroom.

The most impressive example of highly effective online instructional video I’ve seen is a series prepared by my daughter’s sixth grade math teacher starting in 2019. Her video series walks students through each of their homework packets in a one-on-one production style, delivered directly to a camera placed at a front-row seat in her classroom and cutting to still inserts of camera-phone close-up shots of the worksheet pages to focus student attention on specific details when illustrative. Each video lasts roughly 4–6 minutes and covers everything needed to understand generally how to solve each question in the homework packet and what the expected answer looks like, without the repetition necessary for a live classroom where student attention ebbs and flows and replay is not an option.

This production approach is a model best practice. These videos are helpful for students who may have zoned out during class time or missed it entirely due to illness. But they’re necessary for parents from the filmstrip era who learned math very differently from contemporary approaches. Without the insights into what certain figures students are expected to draw to assist them with a calculation, parents would have difficulty helping their children with their homework—and parental involvement is a strong predictor of academic achievement.

Synchronous education in a similarly one-on-one, individual tutor format is also effective, especially for neurodivergent students who often struggle in physical classrooms. A good example of this is Fusion Global Academy, the online campus of the Fusion Academy chain of private schools. Fusion Global Academy is built around a “traditional” asynchronous online curriculum with frequent, high-engagement, one-on-one sessions to assist students with progression to the best of their abilities.

Something discussed for many years in this column is the coming extinction of the “snow day”—not due to climate change, but because
of the mainstreaming of online education. That trend and the blowback against the non-stop asynchronous day have led many school districts
to adopt an approach exactly like Fusion Global Academy, where students have a combination of practice and challenge work in their various subject areas coupled with periodic, optional access to their teachers throughout the day for live guidance.

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