Customizing Videos for School

Claire Miller explains how TED-Ed enables teachers to turn almost any video into an engaging learning experience

Sometimes what we see and what our students see can be very different. When I think of showing my students a video in class, the image in my head is idealized. I believe they are actively making meaning through the language with the aid of visual clues, as well as experiencing new cultural realities, all while absorbing native Spanish. Many students, on the other hand, see the video as a time to turn their brains off and passively be entertained.

While we do want our classes to be fun, we also want meaningful learning to happen. There are a lot of wonderful videos available, presenting useful resources to language teachers who want to take advantage of their unique multisensory exposure to new languages and cultures. With TED-Ed, we can now have an engaged video experience from which students walk away with more than just a nap.

Videos can enliven a lesson. Not only can teachers use TED-Ed to facilitate learning through digital media, but it can also help students focus on using technology in a responsible and productive way. This technological accountability is a very valuable skill for students to practice. TED-Ed can be a great way to hook students into the content and wanting to learn more. This site allows them to have intellectual peer interactions and discussions that foster skills such as respect to build connections in and out of the classroom. Technology is often novel and exciting; why not leverage that to create a community in the classroom that is enthusiastic about learning in a new way?

What is TED-Ed?
It is a free online tool that allows its users to turn any video into an interactive learning experience. It pairs video watching with helpful tasks so students are not just watching but remembering, evaluating, and extending their thinking beyond the video. You need to sign up for an account to create and participate in these video lessons, but once they are signed up, the program keeps track of students’ participation in questions and engagement in discussions. It creates an opportunity for learning that allows students not only to go beyond the four walls of the classroom but also to interact more thoroughly with the language and culture they are being taught.

When users “flip” a lesson, as TED-Ed calls making a lesson on their site, they can customize it using the sections provided: “Let’s begin,” “Watch,” “Think,” “Dig deeper,” “Discuss,” and “And finally…”

• “Let’s begin” and “Watch” are an introduction and the video itself. They are the first steps to creating and participating in a lesson.

• “Think” is where multiple-choice or short answer-questions are tailored to the video. In the moment, students can check their progress and try again. The teacher can see the scores and how many attempts each student makes.

• “Dig deeper” is a space to link to external resources to deepen and broaden students’ understanding.

• “Discuss” is a forum where anyone can add a topic for the whole group to weigh in on. When someone comments on a discussion, all participants are notified and the conversation stays active.

• “And finally…” is a place for final thoughts and bigger questions for students to ponder and extend their learning.

The format of the website makes it easy to navigate through multiple layers of thinking and provides an easy starting point to making a more collaborative classroom. The online space is alow-risk way for students to both present ideas and take part in a conversation. Although the work is theirs, there is more structure in the guided lesson-planning process, and the website also helps students to move up from lower- to higher-order thinking tasks as they move through the lesson. In the “Think” area, students can test how well they remember and understand the materials and concepts directly addressed in the video. As they move on to “Dig deeper” and “Dis­cuss,” they will be pushed to analyze the new material in relation to what they already know and to evaluate new ideas and perspectives.

Shorter videos can be packed with content and are perfect for use in mini-lessons because they better capture students’ attention and can help users teach more efficiently. Flipping lessons with shorter videos is ideal because the focus is not on the video itself but on the learning, curiosity, exploration, and discussions that it can incite. Not only can a three-minute video about Chichén Itzá reveal some specific facts about Mayan architecture, but it can also make an interesting jumping-off point for exploring how astronomy and mathematics are intertwined, or provide the basis for comparing religious rituals across time and culture. The transmission of culture through video can be especially rich because of the multisensory output, which allows students to get close to the experiences of others. If a topic keeps the conversation going, it keeps students curious, which is one of the keys of engagement. Videos can be starters for more basic comprehension questions as well as work towards deeper perspective-building experiences in class.

There are many ways video lessons can be used in world language classrooms. The motivation that comes with interacting with a new sort of technology and experiencing video lessons in a novel way draws students in. Videos can supplement learning both inside and outside of the classroom, allowing teachers to reach students of all levels and build classroom communities of curious and involved learners. From differentiated lessons to flipped lessons students watch at home, TED-Ed allows teachers to pique the interest of students and get them working toward deeper understanding through videos and online peer interaction.

Using videos during class is especially beneficial if scaffolding is required and students can collaborate or work individually. In a jigsaw, students work collaboratively in two different groups. First, they become experts in one area. Then, they move to a new group consisting of one expert from each area and they share their knowledge. For example, in a world language classroom, it could be interesting to watch historical or cultural videos from several different Spanish-speaking countries. Students could start by watching a short video, then, working together with their expert groups, they can check they’ve understood by answering questions, having a conversation, and digging deeper to answer any remaining questions. By the time they get to their second groups, students will know their topics well enough to use their knowledge to talk about the similarities and differences they find, as well as about what surprises them.

TED-Ed’s potential can be maximized by encouraging students to use it at home. Students can then come into class with prior knowledge so they are ready to move more quickly towards higher order thinking. As their teacher, I can gauge understanding through the responses, make instructional decisions for the next day, and decide whether to review or not before moving on to new material. If students are watching the videos and doing the lessons at home, the scores on TED-Ed can offer a good meter by the next morning of where their understanding of the material has reached. Based on that knowledge, I will tailor my instruction to their needs. If most students missed a basic comprehension question or are having trouble understanding an important concept, I will be able to clarify the confusing points, making more effective use of my class time.

Using videos to learn or review content at home can also benefit students who are absent, learning in a second language, or struggling to keep up, especially those who find it difficult to move newly learned material into their long-term memory. Flipping the classroom changes the structure in which material for a class is learned and processed; it moves the learning of new content through videos to the home and brings deeper inquiry, exploration, and understanding to the classroom, where teachers can offer more personalized guidance. Another plus of these mini-lessons is that they are so easy to flip and share that differentiation can occur through reflipping a lesson a few separate times for students who need enrichment, as well as for those who need more basic understanding of the material.

Students Become Teachers
The most powerful way to use this tool, in my opinion, is to leverage it to give the instructional power to the students. As John Dewey once said, “Give the pupils something to do, not something to learn; and the doing is of such a nature as to demand thinking; learning naturally results.” This has merit in a variety of contexts, because it allows students to develop their own intellectual inquiries and make connections between their learning and their lives. Students own this part of their education, thus creating an urgency of communication and sharing of ideas among peers. Lessons created by students will enable them to teach other classmates. Furthermore, they will lead to discussions and engagement with the material through media, an opportunity that most students are not afforded on a regular basis.

Before the creation of the video lessons, students need to have some knowledge that will help them become more metacognitive about the way they approach learning in general. They have to think about what the most important aspects of a video are and how to research and select resources to share with their classmates. In the world language classroom, there is also significant writing and grammar practice embedded within this process because of the need to learn how to ask good questions as well as create compelling conversations.

Of course, there are drawbacks to any tool. It may be hard to find a video specific to the material and class level being taught. On a similar note, all of YouTube is a resource for TED-Ed and is unfiltered. However, I think it has incredible potential for helping teachers put some of the power of students’ own learning back in their hands, either by allowing them to have more meaningful interactions with digital media or by letting them be the creators of instruction.

Ted-Ed takes learning beyond the four walls of the classroom and allows it to become a fluid process of inquiry, negotiated meaning, and interaction in an online forum from school or at home. Students will be drawn in by their classmates, and intellectual community-building can start taking place in the online space. When a student starts taking ownership and sees that what he/she said or did is recognized by peers, it creates a positive self-image. As students feel validated and see themselves as part of an intellectual community, they help build an in-school climate of positivity and high expectations in which students are more willing to take risks.

Claire Miller is currently working on her master of arts in educational studies with secondary teacher certification at the University of Michigan, with a concentration in Spanish.