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A Course That Engages Without Video – Prof. Lorena Barba Explains Her Experience


Video is a great teaching tool, but sometimes you don’t need it in order to create an engaging and successful online course.

Take Prof. Lorena Barba’s “Practical Numerical Methods with Python” course at George Washington University (GW), which was designed around a set of IPython Notebooks.

This GW instructor [disclosure: IBL works for GW] has written a controversial, although enlightening article in Class-Central, later reproduced in edSurge,  titled “Why My MOOC is Not Built on Video”, that states that “expensive, high-production-value videos are not necessary to achieve a quality learning experience.”

Here is a summary:

  • “The fixation with videos in MOOCs, online courses and blended learning is worrisome. At the edX Global Forum (November 2014), it was often mentioned that producing a MOOC is a high-cost operation, with an estimated average expense of $100,000 per course. This is probably a somewhat overindulgent price for appearance, rather than substance. There is no evidence justifying the “production value” from a learning perspective. In fact, as far back as 1971, Donald Bligh concluded that “there is not much difference in the effectiveness of methods to present information.” In this sense, a video—however nicely produced—is not better than a lecture.”
  • “Videos are nice, they can get you exposed to a new concept for the first time in an agreeable way, but they do not produce learning, on their own. Students need to engage with the concepts in various ways, interact with ideas and problems, and work through a process of “digestion” of the learning material.”
  • “Despite their popularity in MOOCs and flipped classrooms, “lecture videos” have the same pitfalls as regular lectures: they provide a false sense of clarity and are utterly forgettable.”
  • “Unfortunately, most of the video I see in MOOCs is not very effective, despite the so-called production value. I question the rationale behind spending large sums in making documentary style videos and placing emphasis on the amount of time students spend watching.”
  • “The problem with making videos “central” to the student experience is that it comes at the expense of higher-order learning activities. More worrying is that students will spend almost all their time watching videos, as if that could magically elicit learning, without the hard work.”
  • “Videos can be one device for building a MOOC or a small online or blended course, but not generally the most important one. We need to acknowledge the limitations of video and place emphasis on authentic learning and not just “engagement” (time watching, # of clicks).”
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