Using faculty videos in required courses to engage students at all levels

November 26, 2018

This post is republished from Into Practicea biweekly communication of Harvard’s Office of the Vice Provost for Advances in Learning

Pinar DoganLike many instructors of required courses, Pinar Dogan, Lecturer in Public Policy and SLATE Faculty Liaison for Pedagogy, teaches her section of Markets and Market Failure to students with significantly divergent levels of prior knowledge of microeconomics. Seeking a way for students “to end up at the same place even though they started at very different places,” Dogan partnered with SLATE to develop videos of Harvard Kennedy School (HKS) faculty experts explaining the relevance of math-intensive or potentially dry concepts (e.g., fixed costs or price elasticity) to public policy.

The benefits: Because the videos show how concepts in microeconomics play out in real-world contexts (e.g., healthcare for low-income patients or cash transfers in developing countries), students’ engagement with the materials and understanding increase. “Suddenly they can see how it’s real and transferable, and they’re ignited to ask about applications to other fields. I’ve never had those kinds of questions come up before.” Students with more advanced knowledge of microeconomics are likely to learn the policy relevance of a concept like price elasticity while those without prior knowledge may come to understand why the concept is important in the first place.

The challenges: Developing effective videos requires an understanding of the challenges and misconceptions students face, and seeking examples that illuminate those concepts. It also takes time to recruit and collaborate with faculty colleagues for the interviews, and to edit the video footage into a coherent narrative.

Takeaways and best practices

  • Focus on core understandings. Dogan prioritizes concepts connected to the course’s central goals, and ones on which students often have misconceptions. She then searches for colleagues working in policy areas that are particularly compelling to her students and in which these concepts play out in important ways. That connection forms the basis for the video interview.
  • Create the context for learning. Dogan shows the videos in class, though students have access to them later through Canvas, and often conducts pre- and post-surveys. For example, before watching former editor of TIME Nancy Gibbs discuss magazine production, students identify what its fixed and variable costs might be, which builds motivation to learn from what they hear.
  • Keep the project manageable. Dogan received professional support from Patricia Garcia-Rios, video and multimedia producer with the SLATE team, but it’s also possible to create useful videos at a more basic level. In fact, Dogan first experimented with this idea when she asked a colleague with international trade expertise some questions on a concept she was teaching and recorded the video on her iPhone.

Bottom line: By developing short videos of faculty colleagues discussing real-world applications of core concepts, Dogan creates a tailored learning resource with flexible uses: “they’ve changed how I teach dramatically, because they reach students with so many different backgrounds.”