Giving teachers the media they want


Rudbeckia Hirta at Learning Curves is not impressed with the 16-hour (!) series of videos that comes with the Stewart Calculus book and is thinking about what she could really use for her course instead of yet another lecture put onto a video. She makes this request about how such videos really ought to be done:

Well-done video lecture-ettes on key concepts from the course. These are only useful if the presentation is compelling and engaging; I’d rather see them hire a professional actor teaching math from a well-written script than to have a math professor who understands what he’s saying. Every video of this sort that I’ve even seen has been “hosted” by a man; I bet you that most of the students in engineering calculus would much rather have, say, Angelina Jolie lecturing them about the chain rule. Videos should be in a format that plays nice with Quicktime, and they should be licensed in such a way that institutions that have adopted the book can distribute them to students to have on their iPods.

Since I am going to be doing some screencasting this summer, this point hits home particularly well with me. I don’t know if I can hold an audience as well as Angelina Jolie — well, OK, I know I can’t — but it’s a fact that a well-designed video lecture can’t be done off the cuff. It needs to be well-scripted and well-executed. It’s a lot harder work than it looks.

The other point here is echoed in some of the other requests — namely, that the media being used needs to be freely available and easily implemented in a variety of formats. If you do video, make it Quicktime-compatible (and compatible with everything else people use too). I don’t know if a lot of my students use video iPods — the ones that have iPods at all tend to have nanos — but it’s easy to export video to an iPod-ready format, so there’s no reason not to do so.

For that matter, it’s easy to take any media you create for a publication and put it into formats that everybody can use. Why don’t publishers just do that in the first place? It’s not like the diagrams in a textbook are state secrets.

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