Videos in the Classroom: Tool or Distraction?

by Lawrence Nylund

Remember the days when an in-class slideshow presentation brought magic to your class? The images were fuzzy and the tape was scratchy, but instead of hearing Mr. Jones/Smith/Johnson drone on you had the chance to sit back and watch the lesson come to life before your eyes, while one lucky soul got to push the — BEEP!—projector button between the —BEEP!—slides.

Audio-visual presentations in schools today are, of course, a far cry from these stop-and-go slideshows of yesteryear. Nowadays, teachers around the world are using DVDs, videos and the internet to replace one-sided lecture classes with interactive multimedia extravaganzas. Yet two questions remain: How exactly are videos being used in the classroom today? Can videos indeed be used effectively?

Videos are being used in a variety of different ways, for a variety of different classes around the world. Matt Harris, an English as a Second Language (ESL) teacher in Fukushima prefecture, uses video clips from YouTube to test student listening skills, as well as to show kids how learned phrases can be used in real-life situations. He also uses specials such as Charlie Brown Christmas for giving cultural lessons about American holidays.

In her article Video in the Classroom as published on history teacher Debbie Wei writes how she uses documentaries to illustrate difficult historical events, such as the Vietnam War, while an article posting on the website mentions how videos have been used to teach and encourage good health, physical activity and even reading skills in different research studies.

Few teachers, however, seem to use video as a tool as much as Jonathan Yaffe. Vice-Principal of the Kikokushijo Academy International School in Tokyo, Jonathan told Weekender that his alternative American school used videos in a multitude of classes: YouTube clips of people in Thailand brought the region to life during a recent Social Studies unit; An Inconvenient Truth was shown in an effective class about global climate change; The Simpsons will be used in an upcoming class on stereotyping. With a founding principle “to incorporate technology into every subject”, students not only watch an extensive number of videos in class, but they even make many of their own videos, sharing with others what they have learned.

Study after study shares Yaffe’s enthusiasm, asserting that videos are indeed effective teaching tools in the classroom. An extensive article entitled “No Child Left Behind: Scientific Research Indicates that Using Video in the Classroom Improves Learning” published by asserts that “video in the classroom improves learning, retention and test scores.” According to the paper, these results are possible because videos spark student interest and, by thus engaging learners, “allow for absorption and processing of information” more so than traditional lecturing techniques. A theorist in the same paper stated that lecture-style learning was strictly a ‘linguistic approach’ to teaching, and thus only effective for teaching some, while videos “reach more students and provide more opportunities for neural development and learning’”. Furthermore, a TV Ontario survey cited in the document revealed that a majority of teachers (66 percent) believed that students learned more when a video was used in the classroom.

On a different note, Wei states in her article that videos are effective as a tool that “unlocks voices, opens worlds, taps emotions and reveals issues”, by allowing minority voices and perspectives to be heard much more so than in standardized American textbooks. She adds that, by hearing first-hand accounts of past events on a video, listeners can pick up on nuances and tones used in the verbal language, which are otherwise missed in text.

But do videos in the classroom of today really have the same ‘magic effect’ on today’s tech-savvy kids as the slideshow projections of yesteryear?

Harris certainly thinks so. He agrees that videos are indeed useful in his rural Fukushima classrooms, and that it is “fun for the kids” to watch a video in class. “When you bring a TV or computer to class, they [the students] get more receptive,” he said. “But you can’t use it all the time, or it loses its appeal.”

When asked how his students reacted to the video usage, Yaffe replied “They really like it. They like [videos] because they are moving, they are more interactive than books.” With internet videos in particular, students “can go on and see what life is like, see how people interact. There is no way to compare” videos to pictures in a book, he stated.