It was a confronting result: one-in-three students failed the research report.
Applied Social Research (ASR) is, according to counselling students, ‘a different planet’. It’s a third-year research unit and students often struggle with the concepts. The research report is a challenging undertaking, requiring a different format to the common essay structure and amounting to 50% of the total grade.
Despite my best efforts of providing support for this assessment in Term 1 – including detailed posts on assignments, discussion forums, and six recorded synchronous sessions with step-by-step instructions – one-in-three students had failed the research report.
How do you break through the confusion?
There are many potential explanations for how a cohort of students perform. But, I focussed my thinking around the elements I could control, and honed in on the clarity of instruction. I started looking for a new approach or format that would help students learn the ‘foreign language’ of ASR and improve grades through better and clearer assessment instruction.
To this end, I thought of video learning.
Clear, just-in-time videos
Inspired by learning material used in a Navitas course and a MOOC I recently completed, and also by research on video learning, I created nine brief educational videos for the research report in Term 2.
What did the videos add?
- The information provided in those videos was the same as the information conveyed during recorded synchronous sessions, however, the total viewing time for the nine videos was one hour (as compared to three hours of recorded synchronous sessions).
- Dedicating a brief video to each section of the report meant that students could easily review a video when they were stuck at any point during their assignment. They could watch a friendly face take them through relevant information just-in-time when they were ready to start that part of their report.
- The format lends itself to clarity of instruction. Working to the constraints of explaining concepts in a matter of mere minutes helps eliminate both extraneous detail and sentences that are very confusing when spoken. In terms of overall efficacy, video instructions versus text-based instructions have been found to increase learner satisfaction, enhance attention towards learning content and make the content more memorable.
The results were very promising:
- The video views ranged from 28 to 72 times per video, which may indicate which parts of the assessment were most challenging.
- The percentage of students who submitted Assignment 3 and failed the assignment reduced by over 50%; and,
- Student feedback was very positive (via email and Week 11 feedback). Comments like this were echoed by many students: “The nine videos have been invaluable, very helpful. I’ve watched them several times and every time I get stuck I watch them again!“
These are encouraging results to continue using instructional videos.
These days, the process for making a simple video like this – where you capture your screen and talk through what you’re doing – is very straightforward. You can simply start a meeting in Zoom and click Record.
Below, you can see a sample of one of my videos which covers one of the most complicated tasks students struggled with. Interestingly, although I had demonstrated exactly the same procedure during the recorded synchronous session in Term 1, few students successfully completed their graphs. In Term 2, most students had terrific graphs. Providing this scaffolding, which students can pause and review exactly when they need it, appears to have had a huge impact on their performance.