Students who do not have the opportunity to travel can still experience the geography of other countries through the use of interactive video.
Last spring, Erica Smithwick, an associate professor of geography at Penn State University Park, used HapYak to create interactive video quizzes for students in an online course (GEOG 001 (GS) Global Parks and Sustainability) as part of a Research Initiation Grant funded by Penn State’s Center for Online Innovation in Learning (COIL). Next semester, she has plans to modify her approach a little, as the course will go from an online offering to a hybrid one.
The idea for the study arose from Smithwick’s previous experience working with a study abroad group in South Africa, which is also where she taught the online course during the spring semester as part of a Fulbright scholarship. In South Africa, the study abroad students got the opportunity to experience being in an area of the world where conservation is very important, but yet is also an issue that is highly disputed.
“It was a transformative experience for the students and it was a transformative way of teaching for me,” Smithwick said. “I wanted to bring that experience back home, recognizing that not all students could go and study abroad, and I began to ask how could we allow them to go there virtually? Video seemed like the best way to do that.”
Initially, Smithwick said she pursued a grant from the Sustainability Institute’s Reinvention Fund for the residential version of the course. The grant allowed for some product development and some initial video footage.
However, she said she wanted to bring it to the next level, and the next level meant working with WPSU.
“There’s lots of documentaries about conservation; I wanted that kind of quality of conservation documentary, but in the learning environment,” Smithwick said.
With the COIL grant, she was able to have a WPSU film crew accompany the study abroad program in South Africa, where they collected video content. Next, she wanted to look at how to add interactivity to the video content, so she sought out Penn State’s John A. Dutton e-Education Institute, experts from Teaching and Learning with Technology (TLT), and other faculty experts. The team worked with Smithwick to help her look at how she could make the video content more interesting and engaging for her students.
“We don’t want education to be like going to the theater, by any means, but we want to take the best pieces of that storytelling approach and bring it into the educational context,” Smithwick explained. “So that interactivity was what we were exploring to do that.”
For the video quizzes, Smithwick said she interspersed questions throughout the video, where the video would pause and the question would pop up. In order to continue the video, students had to answer the question. Other videos also allowed for tagging of thematic words she had provided, where with each tag she could get a sense of what information students were extracting from the videos.
After each video was complete, students could select a button called “Generate Map,” where they could see the magnitude of each of their clicks. Smithwick said that some of the keywords were on the social science side and some were on the ecological side, while others intersected.
“This was getting students to be seeking information from both perspectives,” she said. “They would notice if all they clicked was the social side or if all they clicked was ecological, and it was helping them to develop what I call a concept map, which shows how complex ideas fit together thematically.”
Ultimately, Smithwick’s students would use a concept map for their final project that was based on a parkscape that they independently researched, where they had to develop their own videos. For this project, Smithwick said she had her students split into small groups and use WeVideo to collaborate on the video creation.
To make sure that her students were on the right track with their projects and to provide feedback, she met virtually with them through the Big Blue Button videoconferencing tool within Canvas. According to Smithwick, Canvas made this process much better than it would have been in ANGEL, as the ability to communicate through Big Blue Button and the discussion forums was very intuitive and simple to use.
In the end, Smithwick said she felt the interactive element was very successful in her course. On a scale of no gain to great gain, preliminary results regarding interactive video effects showed that the majority of students experienced good to great gains when it came to increased abilities to maintain interest and to monitor their own understanding of the subject matter. The majority of students also reported great gains when it came to increased abilities to keep on track while they were watching the video, to focus on the information that had been presented to them, and to learn the information given through the video.
Next spring, Smithwick will be playing with different approaches of interactivity in the hybrid form of the course. She said she believes it will be a useful exercise to engage more with her students directly on their project and provide more interactivity in the classroom. Most likely, there will be more video learning online, with more exploration in the physical classroom.
“I’m proud that we got it to this stage, in which we were able to develop very high quality video content, use it in an educational context, and improve learning. I’m thrilled. I think there is much work to be done to compete with the kinds of interactivity that students are experiencing through social media and gaming.”