Using Video in the Classroom: Active or Passive Learning?

Posted by Mary Hendra on October 1, 2015

As an educator, when you use video in the classroom are you asking your students to be passive or active?

I can certainly appreciate the leisurely watching of movies and television shows, even documentaries. But, as a teacher, when I chose to use valuable class time to watch something on video, I definitely wanted my students to be as engaged as possible! Here are some of my strategies. 

 In a Facing History and Ourselves classroom, we often use short clips, stopping to ask students to respond to what they just saw and reflect on what they think in a journal, or by talking with a partner about the issues/content revealed. When we flip the classroom and ask students to watch video at home, how do we encourage that same level of activity and engagement?

As we noted earlier this week, this year Facing History has been collaborating with the tech startup Zaption on a pilot project to use our video content in their interactive learning tours as a way to retain a high level of student engagement, even when the teacher is not present. Zaption enables teachers to add “elements” to a video – text or image slides to emphasize or further explain something in the video, journaling prompts, multiple choice questions, even a discussion option in which students could see other students’ responses. You can see all three of Facing History’s Zaption collections here.

How To

I’ve been using Zaption to create tours with Facing History content for over a year now, and here are some best practices that I have picked up along the way:

  1. Choose your video thoughtfully. Some videos work better for tours than others. You want a video that is rich enough for close viewing. I’ve found it useful to think about videos that I want students to sit with a bit. Ones that introduce a complex situation or ethical dilemma. Perhaps one that will inspire my students to think differently or ask questions, but only if they really think about what the video shows. At the same time, since adding tour elements increases the length of the video experience, it is good to have a video no more than 10-12 minutes in length.Another way to think about when to use Zaption:
    • Is there a part of the video students always stumble over? You can add a text slide with a definition or historical context.
    • Is there a point you want to emphasize? Add a quick comprehension question.
    • Do you want students to do a close viewing to really get it (similar to a close read strategy for Common Core)? You can set it up so the video plays twice in a tour – once for students to just watch and once to interact with. On the other hand, if you really just want students to watch the whole thing and respond once, you probably don’t need to create a tour.
    • Do you use certain videos every year? A benefit of Zaption is you create it once and can use it over and over, so start with those videos you use consistently!
  2. Think about your audience and purpose. It is easy to create and clone tours, so be specific in framing the video for your purposes. Think about what you would say to your students if you were using the video in class, and use that to guide what you ask or share in the tour elements. How would you frame or introduce the video to your students? Are there words or concepts that would be unclear to them? If so you may want to supplement the video with additional information. At what points in a classroom lesson would you pause the video to emphasize a particular scene or comment?
  3. Less is more. I’ll admit it. My first tour I was so excited about the tools I wanted to use all of them! But, if the video is stopping every few seconds, students aren’t really going to have the opportunity to think deeply. Which leads to my next point...
  4. Choose the best fit “element.” I love the idea of the discussion tool, in which students can see others’ responses, but it isn’t always the best option. Discussions work best when there is a long period of time during which students can be listening and identifying key ideas, and where seeing others’ ideas can spur their individual thinking. At other times, it really may be that we simply want students to stop and write a few words, or to check for understanding with a quick multiple choice question. It’s not so different from the face-to-face classroom: sometimes we stop a video and say, "Let’s think more about this. Spend five minutes writing in your journal and then turn to a neighbor and share your response." Other times we pause the video for less than a minute to ask…
    1. What did that person just say?
    2. Who did you see in this image?
    3. Where did we hear that previously?
  5. Consider how this tour connects to the rest of your teaching. These tours do not take place in isolation. Think about how the tour itself will fit into the rest of your lesson plan. Do students need certain contextual information to be successful in understanding and engaging in the tour? Are there some things you no longer need to do in class, or activities you now can do, because students will have done the Zaption tour? Which videos with your lesson or unit might a Zaption tour best serve?

With Zaption Pro (which you can try for free), you get certain analytics about student participation in the tour, such as how many have viewed, what their responses were, bar graphs of the multiple choice questions, and word clouds for the free response questions. I like thinking ahead of time about these, and using the results the next time we meet face-to-face. So, if I know I will want to show a word cloud of their collective response to a question, I phrase the question so that I get more single-word answers. If there are some particularly reflective responses to open questions, I bring those into “class” the next day and want to make sure I allow enough time for me to read their responses to identify them.

Like many of the new tools becoming available with technology, Zaption is fun to play with. With these tips, and a bit of play, I hope it can also be a great educational tool for student engagement with video.


Next Steps:


Are there Facing History films you’d like to see us make Zaption tours for? Let us know by commenting below!

Topics: Common Core, Teaching Strategy, Tech Innovation

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