“Classroom Technology” Due Nov 2

Assignment from Syllabus

Use of Technology (1 class period)

You should observe one entire class period in your endorsement area(s). Please do NOT observe a PowerPoint presentation. You should observe technology that is specific to your endorsement area (graphing calculators, Excel, science laboratory instruments, etc.). Summarize the observation period. How did the use of technology enhance the learning experience? Was the use of technology the best/most appropriate means for reaching the learning goals? What did you like? Dislike? What could have been done differently?

There are two technologies that we tend to use for instruction at Big Picture, one is short clips or videos shown in a larger context, and the other is computer-based instruction or drill normally done in a smaller context (www.KhanAcademy.org or www.Aleks.com). Although they are related, in that they are learner-paced instruction, I thought I would do a literature survey and discuss some deeper implications.


I’m teaching an elective for middle schoolers entitled:  “The Science Behind CSI”, and my mentor teacher, Dan D. is doing a seminar on Biology.  In both we use video, I use educational clips from various sources, and Dan is using Khan Academy.  In addition many of the teachers (advisors) at our school are using Khan Academy to help students demonstrate current knowledge or acquire new understanding through the online lectures (i.e. walkthroughs of problems being solved) and then drill on similar problems.  Since Dan and I are the STE(A)M specialists, we are also Coaches at the Khan Academy web site for our students.  Coaches have the ability to view progress and achievement for students.

Was Learning Enhanced:

Although Brecht and Ogilby (2008) are writing about research done in university level courses, they draw conclusions that I think are relevant to a high school and perhaps even the middle school classroom, namely that video lectures can improve course grades and performance on exams.  What is not clear to me is how this occurs.  I assume that being able to refer back to a lecture or replay a specific classroom demonstration is helpful for students that need something to augment their notes, but is reviewing a clip really that helpful?

Perhaps it is as simple as having a wide selection of topics, available at any time, and short enough to digest in relatively short amount of time.  But it also could be literacy (reading) issues.  If students have trouble with the written word, they probably also aren’t going to take effective handwritten notes themselves.  However, if they are proficient with the spoken word, then being able to review verbatim spoken word (which includes, volume, pitch, pacing, emphasis, repetition, etc.) then video clips can be quite effective.

I hate to say it, but I also think that the attention spans of students are not as long as they used to be.  Whereas in the days before YouTube a budding young scholar might settle down with a bunch of encyclopedias, or a similar massive reference tome and start going on a serendipitous journey of discovery through written words, and small (static) illustrations, today’s curious student can see exactly how the heart pumps blood in full color and in cutaway animated views via online video.  My thesis is that a few screenfuls of text is all some students can bear these days, while 10-20 pages of the Encyclopedia Brittanica on Africa might have only started to whet a students appetite 20-30 years ago.

Was the Use of Technology Appropriate for Learning Goals:

Since Big Picture High School doesn’t have traditional grades it also doesn’t follow traditional emphases on Essential Academic Learning Requirements (EALRs) or Performance Expectations (PEs).  However, since we do have goals around improving student engagement with topics they are interested in, then lowering the barrier of entry helps keep the student aware of their interests and aware of topics.  In the sense that we are trying to build appetite for more learning, or more research (independent) on a topic, we think these are appropriate.

Likes / Dislikes

I like the fact that you can often find expert information on a topic.  However I don’t like that you can’t be sure of the didactic quality of the video, i.e. the match between where a student is at (level, prerequisite knowledge, ability to follow) and how the material is presented.  I like that the videos are often short, so that you can augment them with your own commentary.

The biggest dislike I have heard is that video is inherently not an active engagement strategy for the classroom.  I took an informal poll of students after one course that had some video in it and one student complained that they didn’t see what point video has.  So you can’t assume that video “works” for all students or learning styles.

Suggestions for Improvements

Based on the plethora of folks looking at Khan Academy these days, you might think that we are very close to understanding what is effective use of video in learning.  One improvement I can imagine is having video that is more accurately tuned to exactly the question or difficulty a student is having in his or her understanding.  Khan seems to do a great job of solving a bunch of problems (algebra, physics, SAT review, etc.) so that students can just look up solutions.  But haven’t solutions always been available on the web.  During undergraduate studies we used to joke that you could solve any problem in physics or chemistry by using the “infinite textbook method” in other words with adequate access to a large number of textbooks, there is a non-zero chance that the problem you have assigned to you in your text is actually a worked or example problem in another text.  The cool thing is that it looks like the internet is providing access  or some means of verifying the “infinite textbook method”.  I have no doubt that Khan thinks he can probably record a walkthrough solution to all relevant math or science questions and host them at Khan Academy.


Brecht, H.D. & Ogilby, S.M. (2008). Enabling a Comprehensive Teaching Strategy: Video Lectures. Journal of Information Technology Education. 7(2008). Pp IIP71-IIP86.  Retrieved November 2, 2011 from http://citeseerx.ist.psu.edu/viewdoc/download?doi=

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  • heidirowles  On November 6, 2011 at 4:44 pm

    John, I couldn’t agree more with you assumption about students’ attention spans. I noticed one time that I stood up in front and lectured for 7-8 minutes on gas laws in my chemistry class. Eyes were closed and heads were turned around within 3 minutes of the talk. But we followed it with a 10 minutes YouTube clip with cartoons illustrating particle collisions narrated by a guy with a funny voice, and Bam! All the students watched the entire thing. Apparently two dimensional illustrations are just more interesting than my three dimensional talking head.

  • Heidi  On November 7, 2011 at 12:52 am

    I know for myself, viewing videos (or even listening to audio) as always been a great help in my learning process. In my senior year of college, I finally learned the joys of taping a lecture and then listening to it again at my pace and pausing when necessary. Shortened time spans in our media-saturated culture cannot be encouraging patience and quiet studying in students. Instead of fighting the inevitable, I do like that teachers are incorporating short spurts of technology to students.

  • Kyle Linebarger  On November 7, 2011 at 4:59 am

    I have thought about using the Khan Academy in my physics class. I did recommend it to a student that was seeking additional help, but I have not followed up with that student to see if it was helpful. I would like to hear more about your experiences using these videos in class. Did students find them more engaging than listening to you speak? Do some students actually watch them at home to prepare for future content or to review?

    • John Weisenfeld  On November 13, 2011 at 3:26 am

      What we are doing is asking the student to register at Khan Academy, and then at the bottom of the page there is an “Assign a Coach” link. With that you can monitor what the student is working on in Khan and how much time they are spending there. Funny you should ask about if students view training videos on Khan. Right now they are mostly taking summary exams/quizzes that Khan Academy has for basic arithmetic, algebra and some geometry. The datapoint for us is that Khan Academy is way better than http://www.aleks.com which is what students were using last year. That doesn’t mean they find Khan more engaging (my non-scientific sample says they are only doing drills on Khan). That also doesn’t indicate if they are using Khan to prepare for an exam. Stay tuned, though, come January or February I will start an SAT review course at our school and I intend to use some Khan Academy videos in my 12-16 week syllabus. I probably didn’t answer your question, so re-direct me if you want.

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