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Tips from the Pros: Use Mistake Detection Videos to Improve Learning

Teaching Strategies and Techniques

Tips from the Pros: Use Mistake Detection Videos to Improve Learning

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Mistakes are an important learning device, and good teachers will actually induce mistakes as a teaching device. Military training often puts recruits into situations where mistakes are inevitable so that the recruits can learn from them. Similarly, NFL rookies are often told to not worry about making mistakes in practice because that is how they learn the game.

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Yet higher education often forgets about the power of mistakes for teaching. Some math instructors often only demonstrate the correct way to do a problem, but students also should be shown the common mistakes to avoid. Plus, student mistakes are often generally preserved in terms of a bad grade that carries all the way to the final grade, making students mistake-averse. By contrast, I know a math instructor who intentionally made mistakes in working out problems in class and offering extra credit to the student who first sees it.

Myra Luna-Lucero and Kristen Elmore did a study on the effects of using mistake detection videos to teach math (2017). Students from fourth grade to adult were given videos of math problems being solved with embedded mistakes and were asked to identify those mistakes. The results were improved learning and students' ability to detect their own mistakes.

The investigators used multiple iterations of the videos to improve the outcomes in light of lessons learned. For instance, the investigators found that “adults in the first iteration struggle to identify multiple mistakes in a single video” (128), and so they adjusted the videos to only contain one mistake each. Also, the first iteration introduced the videos with the prompt, “Please watch the following videos.” They later framed the videos as the work of a hypothetical student named Sarah, and asked participants to identify Sarah's mistake. Putting the work in terms of a story seemed to motivate students more by activating a teaching instinct. Finally, the original prompt, “Do you see a mistake?” turned out to be too open-ended as some students identified non-math mistakes in areas such as penmanship. The investigators thus changed their prompts to “Did Sarah solve this problem correctly?” as well as “Did Sarah solve this problem as you would have solved it?”

Mistake detection videos are ideal for teaching students common mistakes to avoid in processes. These videos are simple to make for quantitative areas. The faculty member can use a tablet or touch screen computer with stylus to write out the problem while recording the screen. But mistake detection videos can be made in other fields as well. A foreign language instructor can record themselves speaking to another individual with mistakes in their grammar that students are asked to identify. A program such as EdPuzzle would be ideal for this exercise. The instructor can upload a video with various errors in it, and then have the video pause after each error to ask the student to identify the error with a multiple choice question.

Another option is for instructors to use students to act out scenarios with errors in them for students to identify. The University of Vancouver Medical School shows students a video of a doctor breaking the news to a patient that she has cancer. The doctor's manner was full of errors, such as him repeatedly saying, “I'm so sorry,” which would make the patient think that the situation was hopeless. Students were then asked to list the mistakes that the doctor made and how he could have done it better. A law course could do the same with scenes of a lawyer presenting arguments in court. A negotiation class can use negotiation scenarios, while an education course can use scenes involving a teacher handling a discipline problem.

Mistake detection videos can improve student learning in nearly any field, and with today's technology these videos are easy to make and combine with assessments. Consider the common mistakes you see students make in your courses, and consider making videos that teach them to identify those mistakes before they make the mistakes themselves.


Luna-Lucero, M & Elmore, K. (2017). Mistake Detection Videos to Improve Student's Motivation in Math, International Journal of Designs for Learning, v. 8, i. 2, pp. 124-36.