Archive for May 4, 2011

Students in CS like videos of Java coding

This semester, I did a couple of new things in my Media Computation data structures class (as mentioned in a previous blog post). I started using Ubiquitous Presenter so that I could ask in-class questions, let students see the results, discuss, and re-vote.  I also created out-of-class video quizzes.  Each week, I created one or two short screencasts (almost all less than six minutes), then created a quiz where students had to answer questions about the videos: What was going on when I typed X, what would happen if I typed Y, and what data structure was created?  Only a couple students in my class are CS majors.

I ended up creating 30 videos.  To be frank, these are crappy videos. It’s just me using DrJava, simply capturing the screen and my voice.  I did them in the basement (to avoid kid, cat, and dog noises) on Sunday afternoons in one “take” (okay, I started over if it was really bad, but I kept in my mistakes and confusions) with no editing.  My pedagogical point was to give them a set of questions (an advance organizer), and a video where they could read the code and rewind/pause/fast-forward as they needed. I wanted to give them more worked examples, with the opportunity to review at their pace.  I wanted audio+code because of the Modality Principle.

First piece of data: They used it.  I hooked up Google Analytics.  Visits showed that everyone visited, but not for every quiz.  Quiz grades aren’t great, and as you can see, there was a time during the semester when many students ignored the quizzes.  The semester got hard, and the quizzes weren’t worth that many points.

Second: They re-watched the videos. Average time per visit over the semester is particularly interesting.  Remember that these are 4-6 minute videos on average.  Every spike over 5 minutes means that students are reviewing the video.  I took this graph 1 Jan through 1 May. Our final exam was 2 May. Students decided to review the videos a lot on the night before as a way of preparing for the final.

One of the latter quizzes included some questions about the videos themselves:

How useful are these out-of-class video-based quizzes? Do they help you learn?

Do they help give you insight on lectures? On homework assignments?

Is the video good enough?

Third piece of data: The students really liked the videos!  I was shocked!  I honestly expected answers like, “Well, the videos are awful, but it’s useful to be able to review, and I think I’m learning something from them.”  Instead, I got things like these:

These videos are extremely useful and supplement class very well. It is very helpful to see the code being worked on in Dr. Java after seeing the concepts and more static implementations in class. They have come in handy on homework assignments when I want to refresh my memory on how a certain class or method was altered or created. The video quality and content is good enough and has definitely helped cement the knowledge from the book and lectures.

They do help me learn and I do find them useful on homeworks. I like doing quizzes before the actual class because then I can ask questions about it. The videos are short and give plenty of info about the lectures.

They are very helpful. They go into more actual coding detail than in class discussions of topics, and they are easier to follow, since there are no interruptions. They are also good because they can be watched again at any time. They are useful when completing homework assignments, because they are more focused on one topic than a class lecture, which has to give a lot more background information before we see any real implementation of what we’ve just learned. The video quality is good; it is easy to hear and see.

I think the videos are very useful. I know sometimes when I read the book, I am still unsure about a topic, but being able to watch a video about the topic with the professor talking is a lot more engaging. Being able to get the material from three good resources (class, book, quizzes) really helps me get a grasp on the concepts.

Not a single student said that he or she disliked the videos.  Not a single student said that the quality was bad.  Would you have guessed that of a class of 30 students, watching videos of Java coding?!?

Now, these responses were on a quiz.  The answers were not anonymous, so they might have been telling me what they thought I wanted to hear.  We also did an anonymous end-of-class survey, which we are just transcribing now.  From a brief skim of those, the videos again turned up really high on the list of useful interventions. Students perceive the videos as being one of the most valuable features of the class in terms of helping them learn.

I have lots of follow-up questions.

  • Did the videos really help with learning?  There are lots of ways in which they might have helped with learning, e.g., more learning can result from just spending more time-on-task, trying to make sense of code and interactions and program behavior.  But I can also imagine a student, used to watching YouTube, who finds videos more “natural” than reading or coding, and so perceiving more learning, when it didn’t really happen.
  • I’m curious about the interaction between the videos and the lecture and textbook.  Notice in the quotes above that the videos are seen as providing more than the “more static implementations in class.”  Really?  In class, I use Powerpoint and DrJava.  In videos, I just use DrJava. Why is DrJava in class more “static” than DrJava in videos?  Even more interesting is the student who perceived that the video (watching somebody code) added more than the textbook, that s/he used the video when “unsure about a topic.”  How are they using the videos to supplement the textbook?
  • I’m wondering what the role of the quiz questions are.  I asked them on the survey if the quiz questions changed how they watched the videos (e.g., directed their attention), or if the quiz questions helped the students actually learn from the videos, rather than just let the videos wash over them.
Already, the new intervention is a success for me, in the sense of raising questions, getting results I didn’t expect, and having students engaging with the intervention. I want to try this again, and really study what’s going on.
Important caveats:   I have the students’ permission to share what they wrote.  These are not research results.  These are the results of a teacher evaluating his new intervention and sharing how it worked.  As a researcher, these are pilot results that inform later studies.

May 4, 2011 at 10:17 am 10 comments


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