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Video (and Soapbox) for Education: A Tale of 2 Universities

For educators, the demands of catering courses to the modern classroom have created an enormous challenge. The once-traditional lecture format is a thing of the past at many schools and universities, and teachers are scurrying to adapt their teaching methods to cater to a new generation with diverse learning styles.

In order to cultivate an idyllic learning environment that’s as stimulating and adaptable as the students passing through the lecture halls, many educators have turned to video.

“If [teachers] aren’t already using video, they’re way behind,” said Justin Harding, Online Learning Manager for EdPlus at Arizona State University.

But there’s still hope for those who haven’t been as quick to adopt video inside—and as we’ll also see, outside—the classroom. Especially now that Soapbox exists, enhancing teaching methods through the medium of video has rarely been this simple or convenient.

To give you a better idea of how Soapbox and video in general are coming to the aid of education institutes across the country, we spoke to faculty and staff members at Arizona State University and Wayne State University to see the impact Wistia and Soapbox have had not only on professors, but also on students.

A game-changer for educators

For Richard Lerman, Director of Computing Services at the Mike Ilitch School of Business at Wayne State University, video—and Soapbox in particular—has been a game-changer.

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Richard has been a champion for using video and Soapbox as part of his curriculum, which includes high-level courses like Digital Video Creation and Analytics.

“In terms of how we collaborate and communicate both in and out of the classroom, video lets us explain and demonstrate so much more than we used to be able to,” he explained.

"In terms of how we collaborate and communicate both in and out of the classroom, video lets us explain and demonstrate so much more than we used to be able to."

His colleague John Heinrichs, who serves as WSU’s Associate Professor of Information Systems & Management, is an expert in inbound information technology and counts video among his specializations. John's classes are heavily video-focused not only in the course content itself, but also in how he interacts with students.

Wayne State University has been using Wistia to host hundreds of videos related to their course content, but when Soapbox was introduced in June, Richard and John started thinking of new ways to incorporate video into their teaching, as well as brainstorming how their students could use it.

“Because I was teaching web development classes when Soapbox launched, I immediately thought, ‘Wow, I can now use video to quickly explain something to my students [over email], and they can do the same instead of having to type a long, detailed reply back to me,” John said. “If you can show them something [with video], they understand it much more easily.”

Incorporating Soapbox into the classroom

Because part of John’s course material includes analyzing video in conjunction with data, using Wistia was a must in order to get access to viewer stats. But Soapbox became an even better tool in some ways, because it gave his students the chance to actively make videos themselves instead of simply analyzing the data.

The 2 professors even went as far as assigning students a project that mandated using Soapbox in their Business Information Systems course. “We live by the ‘Use what you teach, teach what you use’ philosophy,’” John said.

Take for example a project they assigned in their Business Information Systems class. Students were asked to pick a career they’re interested in and create PowerPoint slides to detail the type of skills they’d need to be successful in that job. Then, they compiled their presentation and recorded it as a Soapbox video to submit to their instructors. And if they needed any production tips along the way? “We pointed them to Wistia resources, which do a great job of clearly laying out the process,” Richard said.

Humanizing the online classroom

At a university with some 30,000 students enrolled in online classes, Justin Harding has the daunting task of coordinating digital media across a host of mediums and platforms at Arizona State University.

EdPlus at ASU, the digital teaching and learning unit within the university, puts out myriads of videos each year (Justin puts the estimate around 4,000 produced videos, in addition to another 4,000 webcam and screencast videos). Whether they’re studio-produced with higher production values and longer shelf lives, or informal webcam videos from instructors, these videos are key to ASU’s education strategy.

Justin said video has been a fundamental part of the EdPlus structure, because it frees up instructors to have more time. Ultimately, once they’ve produced a recording, it can be used multiple times in an online course. “There’s a big difference between what can be done with video in the classroom, versus what can be done online,” he explained. “It’s a completely different environment.”

For university faculty who work with EdPlus staff, video has had several advantages, including engaging students visually and aurally. Some have even tested other video components like using slide decks to create narrated presentations in conjunction with Soapbox.

But video also includes a social aspect that’s fundamental to learning. And that’s an important point to emphasize for Justin, who said an astonishing percentage of ASU’s online courses use video—more than one-third, in fact. “The reality that students can see their instructor and their facial expressions is important for enhanced communications and social connections in an online learning environment,” he said.

A new way to present information

Still, educators like Richard acknowledge that video is just one essential component of grabbing students’ attention. “Different students learn different ways, so I always like to have a variety of types of content,” he said. “Some enjoy video more, some enjoy reading more, so I think it’s important to give them a few different avenues.”

Especially in the courses he teaches where technical subjects are heavily emphasized, Richard believes video has been a huge asset. “There are some topics that you really can’t explain without video,” he said. “There’s so much of a visual component to complex subjects, so using video is critical to get [students] to wrap their minds around them.”

"There’s so much of a visual component to complex subjects, so using video is critical to get [students] to wrap their minds around them."

John himself is already looking for future ways to incorporate Soapbox at the Detroit-based university. “We’re going to encourage faculty members to create short video bios with Soapbox to host on their course pages,” he said. “Students want to know if they can relate to or understand who’s teaching the course they’re considering, and a picture and a 2-paragraph bio don’t cut it anymore.”

The proof is in the feedback

A popular point of feedback that Justin often sees in end-of-semester course evaluations is that students appreciate being able to see their instructors. It might seem like a small or even insignificant point, but in an online environment, those types of reactions are noteworthy. Not only that, but Justin has also seen students comment that the quality perception of courses increased because the videos were so valuable to the learning experience.

For their classes, Richard and John have even seen students using Soapbox videos in PowerPoint presentations for projects where it wasn’t even required. “It’s become a brand new way to easily give information in those sorts of presentation contexts,” John said.

Even if he admits video doesn’t make or break a course (“it’s never just the technology—it’s the content,”) Justin repeated his advice to educators who aren’t already using video. “If they’re still considering it, they’re already behind the times.”

Richard agrees. “Getting students to use and create video, and seeing the value of it, is going to give them a leg up,” he said. “As we move forward, video isn’t going away. The more comfortable they get using it, the better.”


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