In spring 2013, North Carolina State University chemistry professor Maria Gallardo-Williams finished teaching a late afternoon lab in infrared spectroscopy. After a long, tiring day she felt as if she hadn’t given 100 percent to the lesson and apologized to her students, telling them she hoped she covered everything they wanted to know.
In response, a student jokingly suggested that Gallardo-Williams record her lab presentations and post them on YouTube so that the information would always be there -- whether she was having a good day or not.
Gallardo-Williams, a proponent of open educational resources, seized on the idea and asked the student to help her do just that. Along with a second student, they sent out a social media-based survey to gauge what others in the class would want the video to cover.
With no experience in shooting or producing high-quality tutorials, the professor and students educated themselves by watching dozens of YouTube videos about topics ranging from how to change a tire to the best way to boil eggs, in order to find of the best format. Based on their research and the survey responses, the group established several guidelines for the video. (See How to Create Engaging Videos at the bottom.)
During the summer the trio wrote, filmed and edited a two-minute video about infrared spectroscopy using free cameras, software and other equipment available from the university's library. That fall, they made the video available to students in Gallardo-Williams' organic chemistry course.
In evaluations of lab sections that used the video compared to those that had the material explained to them by a teaching assistant, “we found that watching the video was a lot better than listening to the TA,” said Gallardo-Williams, the 2016 recipient of NC State’s Gertrude Cox Award for Innovative Excellence in Teaching and Learning with Technology. “The students really liked that it was other students narrating the video.”
While Gallardo-Williams has not studied the effect of the video on grades, her research showed that groups using the video completed the lab in less time than the control groups and were less dependent on explanations from their TAs in the subjects covered by the videos. Follow-up survey results show that 80 percent of respondents found the videos to be valuable when completing the lab.
24 More Videos
Since the first video was produced, Gallardo-Williams and student volunteers have produced 24 more Student-Made Audiovisuals Reinforcing Techniques (SMART) videos, thanks to a $24,000 grant from DELTA, the university’s learning technologies program. With an Alt-Textbook grant from the NCSU Libraries, Gallardo-Williams’ students created a website to host the videos and make them available to students and professors worldwide. Topics include vacuum filtration setup and gas chromatography.
She has received comments from as far away as Turkey from students and professors who appreciate the tutorials. “There are many small schools using them and some big ones, too,” she said. “That’s what ‘open’ means.”
All the videos are created by students, which provides many advantages, said Jeremy Jordan, an NCSU student who helped write, edit and narrate videos in 2015 after taking the organic chemistry class.
“The advantage of peer-generated videos is you're much more likely to connect with another student's perspective,” he said. “When I was writing scripts for the videos, it was still very fresh in my mind what parts of the subject I struggled to understand and what intuition helped make things click for me.”
Jordan said preparing the videos also helped further solidified his understanding of the concepts he learned in the class.
At NCSU, the SMART videos are embedded into an ebook for a lab class. In addition, all instruments in the lab have bar codes that students can scan with their smart phones to access the applicable video on how to operate each piece of equipment. Since incorporating the videos into the organic chemistry lab, Gallardo-Williams no longer requires the $200 textbook that she used to require for the lab, instead using a smaller $30 book with less detailed drawings.
A $200 textbook can mean the difference between staying in college or dropping out due to lack of funds, said William Cross, NC State's director of copyright and digital scholarship center.
“It’s really important to reduce that cost,” he said. “It helps allow all students to compete on equal footing.”
For the past three years, Cross’s department has funded several projects to decrease dependence on printed textbooks with grants of between $500 to $2,000 for faculty members who are making a difference with OER, including Gallardo-Williams' videos.
The videos are focused solely on how to use the lab equipment or model set, not about chemistry, Gallardo-Williams said. “The chemistry discussion happens because you no longer have to worry about how to use the equipment,” she said, adding that she has noticed that students ask more advanced questions after watching the videos.
“Now the students have extra time to ask questions about the chemistry of what they’re doing, and we can go a lot deeper into the lesson,” she said.
The beauty of the video format is that the students can pause, slow down or rewatch difficult parts of a lesson before, during or after lab time, said Jordan. According to Gallardo-Williams: “It’s like having a really, really smart virtual lab partner.”
Although Gallardo-Williams thought the videos would be popular mainly with millennial students, she said that older non-traditional students rave about them, too. “There isn’t a limit to what age group is going to respond to them,” she said.
As for the future, Gallardo-Williams wants to explore ways to enhance the videos, perhaps with virtual reality technology. She has started using videotaped lessons in her non-lab chemistry classes and foresees incorporating them into subjects beyond her department.
“These are appropriate for any class where you have skill building,” she said. “And what class doesn’t require that?”
How to Create Engaging Videos
NC State’s SMART videos adhere to a set of guidelines to ensure that they are relevant and student-focused. Maria Gallardo-Williams said her instructional videos are:
+ Short, between two to five minutes in length.
+ Written and produced by students, preferably those with little experience. “They don’t have to be [the] majors,” she said. “The best situation is with someone who is really new to chemistry and just finished taking course because they know best what will help other students understand the material.”
+ Straight to the point and don't contain music or jokes. “The survey respondents said they wanted the videos to simply tell them what we’re going to do and then show them how to do it,” she said.
+ Show the equipment or materials that students use in class. “If somebody gives a vague idea of how to do something that’s not a very good tutorial,” she said. “If you look at YouTube to find out how to boil and egg, you want to see what size pot, how long to boil the egg what’s it going to look like when it’s ready.”
-- Include voice-overs with a male and female voice to make them balanced and applicable to all viewers.