Video and synchronicity in online courses #wweopen13

This week's reflections for #wweopen13 are coming a little early. The activity asks for us to create a two minute video on some content for a MOOC. One of the big benefits of the hyped MOOC has been the encouragement to innovate in online classrooms. For me personally, MOOCs have encouraged me to try the use of short video clips in my online classes. They have shown that videos don’t need to have high quality production values to be effective teaching tools. 

Now, I have used screencasts in online learning for several years. I used to teach an Advanced Microsoft Word course online, and I found that quick how-to screencasts were really effective for demonstrating how to do things. The huge advantage to this approach, was the second year I taught the course, most of the learners questions were already answered in the videos I had created the year before. An example of the most popular videos is available here: complex document layout in MS Word ( (note, all my screencasts are on YouTube). 

In an upcoming course, I’m going to experiment with video – however, I know that research has shown that learners prefer conceptual issues to be presented using text and images, as it allows them to better control the pace of the presentation. Video is better used for demonstrations and sharing of stories – things that are not communicated as well in flat text. So I will probably choose to use a rapid eLearning tool (Articulate Storyline) to create re-usable learning modules containing conceptual content (e.g. a basic mobile technology) and save the video for my introduction and other activities where personal stories are useful.

One area that I have yet to see value is in the synchronous activities. I don’t have the patience for the synchronous sessions, as in my experience they have not proven to be an efficient use of my time. In the context of the online course, I find that they remove the advantage of “anytime/anywhere” education. I’d love to hear from those of you who participate in synchronous activities – what value do you get from them? What draws you to attend? Why should I consider adding a synchronous activity (e.g. Google Hangout) to my course? Note that my students may use synchronous tools for collaboration during group assignments – it is just that I don't provide sychronous "office hours" or do synchronous presentations.

2 responses

  1. jennihayman Avatar

    Hi Rebecca, it’s a great question, about the value of synchronicity. I agree it detracts from the anytime, anywhere component of fully online asynchronous courses. The value in it for me as both an instructor and a learner is in the social and “real” connection with others (some or all) in my course, the opportunity to ask questions and hear from those who don’t like discussion forums, there’s always a diversity of preferences in a course group.

    At least once in a regular higher ed term (best at the beginning of the course) there is value for me in hearing learner voices, interacting in text chat and audio, using some sort of collaborative tool (e.g., liveslides), and acknowledging the diverse sounds and styles of as many interested in exploring that together.

    The thing I shy away from in this paradigm is recorded sessions, I have no patience for watching a session I didn’t attend, unless the presenter and slides are really key to my own learning. Course participants have different views of this and like them, so I post them.

    I believe the keys to success in using synchronous sessions are: keep them to an hour (respect your own time and the learners), let learners know that there will be synchronous opportunities with as much notice as possible, keep sessions voluntary (i.e. do not cover required material in them) and, if possible, provide learners with access to the synchronous tool to organize groups for themselves (especially if group work is a course component). Synchronous tools can be used for “office hours” on a regular basis, a good practice is to shake up the days/times that that happens (every other week is probably often enough). If the course is formal, credit-based learning with mid-term and final exams, learners appreciate the opportunity to come together before exams.

    1. Rebecca - @rjhogue Avatar
      Rebecca – @rjhogue

      Hi Jenni,

      Thanks for the reply. I am strongly considering a sync session for the start of a course a may be teaching in January (just waiting on confirmation). I do have the option of having the first class face-to-face but I’m not sure students would actually show up. I’ll need to look into it – as it would one face-to-face session would be a good way to make those initial connections and get a lot of the questions about the course itself answered. I would then not need a sync session. I do office hours on request. In the past, I’ve had the occassional person request a skype call, but for the most part my students are happy with my async replies, as I usually answer them the same day (even on weekends – actually I’m usually more responsive on weekends, as that is when my students do most of their work). I’ve also learned to have assignments due mid-week and ensure that I’m extra available the two days before assignments are due … although this year, I’m thinking of “best before” dates rather than “due” dates … 




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