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Author: Robert Vetrano

Recorded video can be a great enhancement to an online course, offering opportunities for targeted instruction, personalized feedback, and content review.

Watch. Learn. Attempt.

One of the advantages of providing video is that students can replay the recordings as many times as necessary in order to fully comprehend every aspect of the content.

Prior to teaching at Springfield Technical Community College in Massachusetts, I was a consultant for Autodesk, the leading supplier of computer-aided drafting software. Autodesk requires its consultants to attend training sessions regularly and to be knowledgeable about every aspect of the product as well as about the continuous changes and upgrades. Each training session took place from 9 a.m. to 6 p.m. and was divided into 90-minute segments. The training sessions were excellent, but learning all that was taught came only through repetition and constant usage.

Following each training, Autodesk would post a webcast of the classes, which was how I learned best. I would watch each video and continuously pause it and try to do what it was teaching. When I was unable to use the indicated commands and obtain the correct results, I would watch the section again, pause the video, and try again: watching, learning, attempting, and then doing the same over until it was correct worked for me. I learned the software and all of its intricacies in this manner. When I became an online instructor, I figured what worked for me could work for others and decided to incorporate videos into my courses where appropriate.

Record live sessions.

Recorded video is not limited to asynchronous courses. In 2005, I helped create several synchronous online courses that met virtually two evenings a week. I would go online at the school and students would join in on their computers from all over. The students were able to watch my computer and listen as I spoke. They could ask questions, and I could go into their computers individually and show them how to do a particular task that they might be having a problem figuring out. I recorded each of the sessions, and the students requested copies of the recording in order to help them learn. I provided the videos and was pleased with the results of their watching. They reaffirmed my belief that repetition is the best teacher.

Several years ago, the chairperson of the Civil Engineering Department at STCC said that there were a number of students in the college with disabilities that prevented them from attending classes. They needed to take CAD classes in order to fulfill their degree requirements, and to complete these requirements the department wanted to offer them online. Knowing that I had previous experience with online training he asked me to create these courses.

The school would not permit me to put videos on Blackboard due to the amount of bandwidth it would take, so I put the videos on disk instead. I wrote a program that gave me control of the disk and control of each student's access to the material on the disk. I separated the course into 12 modules. Each module had a lecture, group exercise, and labs. Students had to submit exercises in Blackboard and receive a grade before obtaining a code that would permit them to go on to the next module. I controlled the class and was aware of the progress of each student through this process. I accomplished this using a video capturing program that I purchased. There are now such programs on the Internet that can be obtained for free.

Course instructions

The first time students sign on to one of my courses in Blackboard they are instructed to watch videos that explain the syllabus for the course, the course outline, how to submit assignments, and, most important, how to access the videos that contain lectures, exercises, labs, and assignments. I place all of these videos on YouTube and limit access to them to my students.

Each module begins with instructions on what they must read, what exercises they must complete, and what lab assignments are to be submitted. Along with each exercise, there is a video demonstrating the commands they are to learn. For difficult commands I create an additional video that gives step-by-step instructions on how to do the exercise. I require students to submit their completed exercises. There is a lab assignment at the completion of the individual module that encompasses all the commands they have learned. This lab assignment does NOT come with a video. The students must figure it out on their own, submit the completed lab on Blackboard, and receive a passing grade before moving on to the next module. I use Blackboard's adaptive release function to control when they can move on.

There are tests, midterm exams, and final exams. For each exam, I make a video with specific instructions. There is a final project to be submitted. I have created videos that address the final project and help the students with specifics. If students call or email with a problem, I have them email me their project so I can see where they need assistance. I either email a response or in many cases create a short video that better explains how to overcome the problem using the proper method. I also realize that other students could be having the same difficulty, so I usually put the video online in the event that others want to review it.

These videos have become very useful to my daytime in-class students as well. After lecturing, I give the class access to the online videos. This allows them to have questions answered in the event I am not available. Should a student miss a class, I have him or her watch the videos that reflect the missed lecture and lab.

I continue searching for methods to improve my teaching skills. Hearing from my students that the videos have helped them better understand the course makes me realize that these videos are a winning formula for education.

Robert Vetrano is an adjunct instructor of civil engineering at Springfield Technical Community College in Springfield, Mass.