Wednesday, February 23, 2011

The increasing importance of online video in education

Further to this previous post on the tremendous potential of next generation access for education, some interesting new research by the Public Broadcasting Service (PBS) in the USA reveals the increasing extent to which teachers value video as a teaching resource.

Deepening Connections - Teachers Increasingly Rely on Media and Technology is the title of the eighth annual PBS teacher survey on media and technology use. The survey is based on a representative sample of 1,401 teachers across the USA. From the introduction:
"Teachers value digital media as instructional resources that help them engage student interest, promote creativity and differentiate instruction. Increasingly, teachers are turning to the Internet to access content that traditionally has been distributed via television broadcasts. Educators are not limiting their searches to classroom content. They also are seeking ways to improve and grow professionally. Teachers increasingly are using the Internet to access instructional strategies and opportunities for professional development, collaboration and inspiration."
Streaming and downloading of content by teachers is surging:
“The Internet is giving new life to video content for classroom instruction. Teachers’ streaming and downloading of video content traditionally distributed via television broadcast or DVDs increased  significantly for yet another year in a row, now just  narrowly behind DVD use…All of the momentum is on the side of the Internet. Seventy-eight percent of K–12 teachers report that they access video content on DVDs—a figure that hasn’t budged over the past several years. In contrast, the percentage of teachers reporting that they stream or download video content increased from 55 percent  in 2007 to 76 percent in 2010.”
Teachers are also becoming much more strategic in their use of video, something that streaming lends itself to very effectively:
“Streamed and downloaded content could be easier to integrate and customize for instruction. In fact, teachers’ use of short video segments (from three minutes to less than five minutes in length) increased this year, with 29 percent of teachers reporting this is the average length of video segments they use, up from 22 percent in 2009. Use of longer segments of 10 minutes or more was down significantly this year. Teachers seem to be using video more strategically to introduce, supplement and reinforce content and to engage students in learning.”
However, inevitably, some technical challenges remain:
"There is a downside to the popularity of streaming video content over the Internet. Problems with streaming video include skipping, pausing or constant buffering, indicating that computing devices or technology infrastructure, or both, do not yet have the capacity to handle teachers’ increasingly Internet-dependent instructional activity. Most teachers (78 percent) encounter difficulties at least some of the time, with a quarter experiencing problems often or always..."
...reinforcing the importance of reliable, high quality next generation broadband for education, particularly in relation to supporting concurrent accesses (multiple users accessing multiple applications simultaneously). The value teachers place on access to video is clearly demonstrated:
“Teachers’ increased use of video content is matched by increases in their perceptions of its benefits. The majority of K–12 teachers (82 percent) continue to believe that video content is more effective when it is integrated with other instructional resources or content. All other perceived benefits of video use in the classroom increased significantly this year. A majority of teachers believe that video content stimulates discussions (68 percent), increases student motivation (66 percent), helps teachers be more effective (62 percent), is preferred by students (61 percent) and helps teachers be more creative (55 percent)…Many teachers also believe that video content stimulates student creativity (47 percent), directly increases student achievement (42 percent) and is more effective than other types of instructional resources or content (31 percent).”
Reliable connectivity is required to support management and administrative tasks as well:
“In another sign that instructional activity is migrating to the Web, about 40 percent of K–12 teachers report that they use Web-based content management systems. More than twice as many teachers (84 percent) report that their school or district has some sort of data management system to store and track student assessment data electronically. Most teachers who have data management systems available (83 percent) make at least some instructional decisions based on this data. Teachers report using data management systems to track assessment scores (76 percent), refine the curriculum (71 percent), develop individual education plans (62 percent), or get professional development or feedback (54 percent).”
These findings also reinforce the need to support multiple concurrent accesses, as well as demonstrating the opportunity of providing access to personally-owned (i.e. unmanaged) devices in a way that doesn't compromise network performance or security:
“K–12 teachers believe that laptops hold the greatest education potential among popular portable technologies, with 81 percent of teachers saying laptops would enhance education...But a majority of teachers (53 percent) believe that more recent entries into the consumer market, such as iPads, Kindles, Sony Readers, and other pad-like devices and e-readers could be valuable in education as well. iPod Touches and MP3 players and iPods garnered support from teachers as well. As much as teachers perceive the educational value of digital resources and recognize some potential in smart, mobile devices, students’ ability to use these devices at school is severely limited. Most personal student devices are off limits during school, with teachers reporting that cell phones, game devices, and MP3 players and iPods are largely banned.”
UK evidence corroborating PBS's findings includes the unexpectedly high demand for online delivery of the Teachers digital TV channel, as opposed to the broadcast version: between February and May 2010, Teachers TV videos were streamed over 1.6 million times. Sadly, the contract for Teachers TV has now been terminated, though all of the 4,000 programmes will continue to available online. The PBS research also underlines the huge value and potential of the British Universities Film & Video Council's (BUFVC's) Box of Broadcasts (BoB) service.

BoB is an off-air recording and media archiving service available to staff and students of member institutions of the BUFVC that hold an ERA+ license. This TV scheduling service allows users to record TV and radio programmes that are scheduled to be broadcast over the next seven days, as well as retrieving programmes from the last seven days from a selected list of recorded channels. After a programme is recorded, users watch it in a similar way to the BBC's iPlayer. BoB stores recorded TV and Radio programmes in an archive indefinitely for all users to enjoy – a distinct advantage over other TV catch-up services, the archives of which are time limited. The BoB archive currently offers thousands of TV and radio programmes covering all genres.

The benefit of such a service being readily available to all teaching staff both within the institution and at home is clearly apparent. However, an institution’s broadband connection must be able to support multiple, concurrent use of the service if access is to be reliable and effective. The benefits of ensuring that all teaching staff can use such a service reliably whenever they need to are plain to see, but this requires NGA levels of provision, particularly if multiple simultaneous accesses from many classrooms are to be supported.

But who wouldn't want to support that? The USA clearly has such ambitions in its sights, as evidenced by this speech by FCC Chairman Julius Genachowski last year. His recognition of some of the specific advantages and opportunities broadband offers to education is refreshing to see, especially when many broadband strategies recognise education as a sector that stands to benefit from the technology but fail to examine how or to what extent. His honesty in acknowledging that there is still much to do to deliver faster speeds to schools across the USA is also good to see - compare that with the remarks made in the UK's Caio Review in 2008, though to be fair we have come a very, very long way since then, in broadband policy terms.

But all the same, still some useful signposts for UK broadband policy here perhaps?

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