Little did SAIT instructor Paul Norris imagine the lecture videos he started posting to YouTube three years ago would rack up 40,000 hits and counting from viewers in 162 countries.
Or that they'd help earn him an Excellence Award last year from the National Institute for Staff and Organizational Development (NISOD) and the 2012 Award for Innovation in Teaching from the Alberta Colleges and Institutes Faculties Association (ACIFA).
Norris, who teaches in Architectural Technologies, has presented at NISOD and ACIFA conferences and to several SAIT audiences on the success of his new teaching tool (the session is titled Wanna Be Cooler Than Your Students? Using Screen Capture and YouTube to Post Lecture Information Online).
"Students understand my lectures more quickly and request more information than ever before. As a result, I now provide them with more material and ask more challenging questions, and the response has been impressive," Norris says. "Last spring, my class completed the most work of any in my time at SAIT — about 10 per cent more — and with an 84 per cent class average, the highest ever."
A masterful match of technologies
Norris' breakthrough back in 2009 was to use low-cost (about $50) Snagit screen capture software to record video summaries of some of the more difficult concepts he was teaching in his AutoCAD classes (software for computer-aided design and drafting), and then post them to YouTube.
"AutoCAD can be difficult to learn, and we can't expect students to learn at the same pace or have the same level of previous experience," says Norris. "Before I started making the videos, some students found my teaching pace too quick while others thought it was too slow, causing frustrations for almost everyone. This also meant I was having numerous one-on-one meetings with students, often having to answer the same questions."
And why YouTube instead of, say, Desire2Learn, SAIT's online learning management system?
"The students are already on YouTube so why not put the videos where they are instead of having them come to me?" is Norris's rationale. "They can access YouTube anytime, anywhere."
Norris says the whole process — from starting to record a video to posting it on YouTube—- takes about 20 minutes. He purposely keeps the videos raw, uncut and unedited, to provide the same personality and informal teaching style students have come to expect in his classroom.
While Norris' initial intent was to provide a video review of lecture material, it wasn't long before he was getting requests to upload the videos before class so students could work ahead. Soon, the whole class was watching them in advance — with dramatic results.
"When I then presented the lecture in class, students had already seen it, so they picked up the material much more quickly. This teaching style continued to evolve, and eventually the 10-minute videos started to replace my one-hour lecture, effectively flipping the classroom dynamic."
That prompted Norris to assign the videos as homework last year.
"Now the students do what used to be homework in the classroom, where I can oversee them and provide assistance."
Other instructors in the program also started pointing their students to Norris' videos, and a fan base developed there, too.
As one student put it, "I wasn't even in Paul's class, but the word spread that he was posting step-by-step videos, and our entire class followed every single one. We each felt as though we had a private tutor — one with a lot of patience."
The best outcome, says Norris, is that he can now spend more quality class time with students.
"The videos have allowed me to cover new and more complex material, and have brought improved student comprehension, engagement and results. Everyone keeps moving forward. In the ideal world of education, isn't this what innovation and technology were meant to do?"
Whenever Norris shares his video teaching success with peers, he's equally excited by the new ideas they offer up to apply the technology. Norris himself is weighing the possibility of using video to grade some types of course work.
"I could give each student a personalized five or 10-minute video showing them why I'm grading them the way I am and how they can improve. This wouldn't add time to my grading process, and might actually decrease it, as I would no longer need to write notes. The Desire2Learn system would allow me to send the videos to students privately."
Norris' YouTube Channel can be found under paulnorrisarchitect.
Nov. 30, 2012