Image above is a snip from the welcome video created by Karol Binkowsi – Lecturer/Convenor in Statistics.

Faced with having international students unable to come to Australia to study in 2022, FSE set about finding a way to make studying what were ostensibly face-to-face units less of an alienating experience for overseas students.

Although we were back teaching on campus at the beginning of 2022, in FSE we recognised that there were still going to be international students who would not be able to ‘make it into the country’. The question that was asked of the Faculty’s Learning Design Team was how to make studying online a better experience for those international students.

The solution we came up with was to try to improve the “teacher presence” in the online space.

The idea is based on the Community of Inquiry model (Garrison, Anderson, Archer 2001) in which the presence of the teacher is considered one of the key elements for student engagement.

A two-phase plan to improve teacher presence

1. We created a weekly video for each unit

Fifteen units across the faculty were identified as having a significant international student cohort. The convenors of those units created video scripts – one for each week of delivery (so they wrote 12 short scripts), and each script was 400 to 600 words long with the aim of ending up with a 4–6-minute video. The Learning Design Team supported the production of the videos with example videos, scripts and written guides. We also checked all scripts before shooting to assist with any issues.

Some of the larger units had 2 co-convenors so whoever was giving the lecture for a particular week did the video.

Those videos were then deployed in iLearn each week, so that when a student went in, they saw the face of their convener/ lecturer talking to them and telling them what they needed to know and what was going to happen.

Welcome video for COMP2300 Applied Cryptography featuring Les Bell.

2. We added a weekly ‘to do’ list for the students

We added learning design keys to every week where there were significant things required for delivery by the students. Every time there was an assessment due, or anything that needed to be completed in that week, the Learning Designers went through and, at the beginning of each section or module, added exactly what had to be completed by the student in that week to keep ahead, to keep on time and to keep across what was necessary.

Screenshot showing the iLearn page with the video and what’s ‘due this week’.

What the student engagement data showed us

We obtained student engagement data for each video using video analytics.

Viewing stats exceeded expectations

We knew not everyone would view these videos because they weren’t lecture content. They weren’t even required content. They were just there to give students a sense of the presence of the instructor. And yet, the percentage of the students who viewed those videos was 51% to 93% of the total enrolment in these units (ALL enrolled students, not just international students).

We’d be lucky to have 50% attendance at most live lectures, so these videos were achieving better than live lecture attendance, in terms of the numbers of students who engaged with them.

Graph showing percentage of students who viewed the video for each unit.

Videos were viewed multiple times

Many students went back to each video two, three, four, five times. For example, the unit COMP2300 Applied Cryptography had the highest viewing time, with an average view time of 6 mins 11 secs. This means that the 4-minute videos were watched all the way through which is fantastic considering they were not required viewing.

We found that we had some students who just looked at them fairly casually, and some who came back several times, almost certainly to view them as revision material.

Return views of videos in COMP2300 – 179 students out of 199 enrolled viewed the videos. The X axis is the number of times individual videos were viewed. The Y axis is the number of students who viewed the videos, I.e. 409 students watched a video once, 64 students returned to a video twice, and so on.

Students found them a useful summary of key information

The qualitative data based on students’ comments indicated that they appreciated the videos, and thought they were useful as summary information to use at the end of the session.

Here’s what students said in response to the question “What do you think about the videos and extra guidance in this unit?”

Very helpful because it briefly summaries the content as well as lecture materials every week.
Helpful to watch and straight to the point.
They are very helpful.
Extra guidance is very helpful for navigating the weird interesting hiccups sometimes encountered with some of the more challenging tests to pass.
I think it gives a very good overview of what we are going to face in the weeks!
The videos are good for giving a summary regarding the course.
They are informative as in informative to give an idea about the course before the lecture starts. Like a heads up but not so much informative regarding the details within the lecture.

Why we chose to do scripted videos

Our aim was to create a polished video product so that students could make optimal use of them. The approach we took was to insist the videos had to be scripted, and they had to be filmed in a studio. We provided faculty support to enable that.

We felt that this approach would achieve a better result where the Unit Convenors could engage with our Learning Design team, where we could talk about best practice and identify what they were trying to achieve.

With video, it’s always a balance of production quality and time versus engagement. You want it to be time and effort well spent. But if you don’t make it good, people don’t engage with it as much, so it’s tricky.

And people’s expectations about video have gone through the roof. They think that if Tik Tokers can do it, why can’t everyone!

DIY videos are not – in the vast majority of cases – desirable from the student perspective. Students have been voting with their feet regarding poor quality video throughout Covid, and now on campus delivery has been back for a year, there’s a lot of data showing staff unhappy that their home-made videos are going unwatched. A video when boiled down is a text, and a polished script provides a distillation of thought and intent no ad hoc video can provide. This is why most ad hoc videos fail, and why scripts are essential.

Resourcing for this project

We made use of the centrally available studio space (managed by Nathan Sollars, Educational Media Producer, Learning Enhancement and Student Engagement Team). At one point, we had 6 people in our faculty learning design team and all of us were editing videos, so we were able to churn them out pretty quickly.

What we created are a series of re-usable learning objects. But we should mention that since a big part of it is the instructor presence and getting students to really connect with that community of learning and the person leading the unit, if the unit convenor changes in the future, we’ll re-do some of those videos.

What’s next:

It’s been so successful that the faculty wants us to do a bit of a refresh on a couple of the units and is considering making this an option in some other offerings. We have a new dean and new leaders in the faculty. A lot has changed since this project was first proposed back in 2021. It’s not clear yet where exactly our priorities will be going forward. We have plenty of data that shows this is something students respond well to and find value in.

Image credits: All images and graphs provided by Fiona Thurm.
Acknowledgement: Post edited by Kylie Coaldrake

Posted by Fiona Thurm

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