A colleague who provided me guidance as I helped with the design of an online course for middle-school students last week offered sage advice to only shoot video for your course once all other decisions regarding the course have been made.
His sound reasoning was that while you can always tinker with text or rearrange material in an LMS-driven course, if video shot early in the process no longer fits, that requires you to either reshoot or come up with work arounds. Those workarounds might include corrections added to videos in post-production, or long text passages below a video that try to jibe what’s being said in the video with what is actually going on in the course.
Stepping back from these mechanics, the notion behind “video last” has much wider applicability to remote instruction, which may provide insight to the tens of thousands of teachers and professors who are contemplating how to do things better if they end up having to continue to teach remotely after the current semester ends.
In this series of video lessons I created for teachers interested in how to improve assessments in online/remote courses, I stressed the importance of working from goals, to learning objectives, to measurement, to learning experiences – the so-called “backwards-design process.”
Educators unfamiliar with this process (which includes any teacher or professor who has never been taught principles of instructional design) tend to start at the last step of that process by thinking first about what they want students to experience. This might involve planning lectures, thinking up topics for classroom discussion, or coming up with lists of readings and other learning activities students will encounter in the classroom or be assigned as homework. Measurement tends to get addressed as needed (by coming up with final exam questions a few days before the test will be given, for example), while goals and learning objectives may never be fully articulated.
But if you start with goals for a course (or subset of a course, such as a unit), those goals provides teachers and professors a North Star to guide them. With goals firmly understood, one can articulate the specific knowledge, skills and abilities (KSAs) students need to master in order to accomplish each goal.
Having both high-level and detailed clarity around your end point provides direction for how to create appropriate measurement tools (which might be tests but could also be writing assignments or complex projects) designed to generate evidence that students have achieved their learning objectives. And with goals, objectives, and means of measurement in place, educators can then draw from their own experience (as well as vast warehouses of learning resources) to ensure students can succeed in both learning and generating evidence of their learning.
For completely understandable reasons, the first order of business once the Covid emergency hit was figuring out how teachers and students could communicate while in lockdown. This is why school systems, colleges and universities focused considerable attention on how to implement video conferencing tools like Zoom (and why I and others created resources to help them get over this hump).
While this was a perfectly reasonable priority, given the circumstances, notice that video conferencing primarily supports the final step of the backwards-design process: student learning experiences, leaving the other steps unaddressed. In other words, we have used technology to automate an already flawed approach.
In traditional classrooms, skilled teachers are able to tack and revise in real time, allowing them to implement complex pedagogies, like project-based learning, that might require major or minor teacher interventions to organize group work, monitor student progress, and provide additional support when needed. But when teachers and students are separated by space, time, or both, real-time, teacher-led mediation becomes far more difficult.
Difficult, but not impossible. For the backwards-design process, coupled with other online instructional best-practices, do not require you to abandon sophisticated and engaging learning opportunities. They just require you to think in advance of how students will experience them, and design remote learning based around that understanding.