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Cornell Student Articles on Topical Affairs

Video Educational Tools: An Overview

Have you heard of Crash Course, Khan Academy, or EdX? Over the past decade or so, there have been many interesting new applications of educational video technology popping up around the web, and while you may have heard about one or two of those cases, you might not have put together what they mean for the future of education yet.

Here’s what video is already doing to improve education online and around the world. You can expect more examples like the ones given below to appear in the next few years, as the tools behind them become cheaper and more accessible.

Video as a teaching tool

There used to be a time when music could only be enjoyed live, and if you wanted to see a movie, the best you could do was to go see a play. There was no way to record sensory input for posterity — if you wanted to see and hear a person, you had to be in a room with them.

The evolution of recording and distribution tools gave rise to a market of mass consumption. A movie isn’t bound by the audience of a single theater — it can be enjoyed by billions of people across hundreds of different devices, for potentially centuries after being released.

Recording technology also changed how creators approached visual storytelling. In a play, all parts of the performance need to be repeated every night, which limits the play to only using scenes that actors can reenact consistently.

In a movie, however, actors only have to get a scene right in front of the camera once, and they might have hundreds of chances to try and execute a perfect performance. It made many types of complex scenes possible.

Similarly, with video, there is no longer a need for teachers to teach the same class over and over again every year. Why do that, when you can write a script, record a great class, edit it with professional tools, and add animation and other art assets to make it more interesting? Why limit yourself to what you can get done in person, if you can turn on a camera and explain something in ten different ways, then pick the explanation that sounded best to put in the final product that students will watch?

That’s exactly what Crash Course is about. The YouTube channel was created by John and Hank Green. The channel has many long series of 10-minute classes following specific topics like history or psychology. Each of the videos is well-scripted, edited, and made visually appealing with the use of graphics and animation. Started in 2012, the channel now has over 10 million subscribers and has accrued 1.2 billion views worldwide.

Not every educator can afford the high production value of Crash Course, but producing simple videos can be very cheap, and even straightforward lecture recordings can benefit from the perks listed above. Recordings can be edited, with notations added, and they can reach a wider audience than just those in a classroom.

Of course there will always be students who prefer a class that is taught in person, with access to textbooks, math worksheets, and papers, but plenty of students will be happy with watching classes in video form and only going to the professor when they have questions.

Professors, on the other hand, may want a physical classroom in which they can try out different teaching approaches. Once they master teaching a course, then they can record the best version of their lecture for the class. This is the approach that is currently used by stand-up comedians—they practice their material every night with different live audiences, and once they have an hour of pristine material, they record it and release a special.

Gamifying learning progression

Right now, the only reasons students have to watch series like Crash Course are (a) genuine curiosity or (b) studying for the tests they’ll face at their regular schools. However, Khan Academy adds an extra layer of motivation by expanding and gamifying the video learning process.

Created in 2008, Khan Academy’s mission statement was always to make learning tools available online. Today the platform offers lessons in both video and written form covering many topics, but its math education suite may be the most famous learning tool on the site. Here’s how it works.

Upon joining, students are asked what subjects they would like to start learning first. After they make their choice from topics ranging from basic counting to differential calculus and beyond into more complex mathematics, the site will give students a clear path forward to learn and master those topics.

The Khan Academy curriculum includes video lessons on the topics, interactive exercises complete with instant feedback, tips, and answers, as well as some gamification elements like levels, experience, and rewards for progress and good work. Khan Academy also has an overview page, where students can see an achievement board with every math topic they have mastered on the site, and get a sense of how close they are to reaching their goals, as well as how close they are to understanding every math subject taught by the site.

According to a survey by Kaltura, 98% of students expect videos to be important in education and anticipate a rise in self-paced curriculums. Khan Academy offers a look at what the future of self-paced curriculums could be like, where students are given access to a platform like Khan to learn on their own time in parallel to their regular school journeys.

Massive open online courses

One platform that is pushing the limits of using video as a self-learning tool is EdX. Born as a result of a partnership between Harvard and MIT, EdX is the world’s largest provider of Massive Open Online Courses (MOOC). While Khan is there to aid learning and exploration, EdX offers full-fledged college courses online, complete with certified accreditation.

EdX courses follow a simple system: you can enroll in them at any time for free, and once you join, you’ll receive weekly video classes, with activities to help you review or deepen your understanding of the lecture’s contents. Overall, the site has fewer interactive tools than Khan Academy, but that also makes courses easier and cheaper to produce, which is one of the reasons why EdX is packed full of free educational content.

Here, teachers can make not just the lectures, but entire courses—including evaluations—freely available for massive online audiences. Getting a certificate costs money, but you can get very far in many careers without official certification – employers often care more about what you can do than where you learned those skills. And while Khan and Crash Course work great as a supplement to traditional education, EdX actually works as an alternative for people who don’t have easy access to higher education.

The takeaway

It’s too early to say for sure, but it does seem like we are moving in a direction where videos will be as important to education as textbooks, papers, and math worksheets are today. This means that the educators and professionals of tomorrow need to stay on top of video tools and practices, or they’ll risk lagging behind the competition.

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