Academics and Research / Magazine Feature

Student learning video goes viral

They wanted to reach a conference of educators, but a classroom video produced by University of Denver students to introduce attendees to a survey on technology and teaching reached the world instead.

Lynn Schofield Clark, an assistant professor of mass communication and journalism at DU, was discussing with her media class the results of a survey gauging how students and professors at DU feel about technology in the classroom, when they hit upon the idea of making a video. With DU’s Center for Teaching & Learning (CTL) preparing for its New Media in Education conference Jan. 29, students had only two weeks to come up with a concept and script, shoot and edit it.

No problem.

The finished product is a six minute presentation titled “The Class.”

It’s a spoof on the popular NBC sitcom “The Office,” which chronicles the daily life in a dysfunctional office led by a bumbling boss. For “The Class,” student John Boswell played the role of “Michael,” the professor who can’t master technology while his frustrated students complain they were told to buy expensive laptops and other technologies that aren’t used by instructors.

Michael’s attempts to engage his students are predictably a disaster. At one point he hands out floppy disks so outdated his students’ laptops don’t even have drives to read them. Later, he gamely tries to use the video conferencing tool Skype … except he’s in the classroom simply projecting his face on a giant screen.

“You are here. Why are we Skyping?” a student asks.
“Uh, I’m not sure,” Michael answers. “I have a lesson plan.”

The video went viral. Posted to YouTube, it had been viewed nearly 16,000 times in 10 days. Comments posted to the video from viewers include: “I’ll be sharing this with my university students and colleagues alike” and “Loved it! Congrats to the students who created this work and to the faculty member who had the courage to let them do it. I’m sharing it with fellow faculty members at my college.”

Bridget Arend, a CTL research and assessment analyst who helped organize the conference with CTL Director Julanna Gilbert and a team of faculty advisers, says the intent of the video wasn’t to make fun of professors or suggest universities aren’t working to keep up with technologies. What it does, she says, is provide a humorous introduction to a serious topic and open the door to examination and discussion of survey results showing that students and instructors are eager to draw more technology into the learning process.

“It was very well received,” Arend says. “It got a lot of laughter during the session, and I think it hit close to home to a lot of people. It wasn’t meant to poke fun at anybody, but it was a fun way to help get this message out there.”

“Our goal was to illustrate the needs of both students and teachers as represented in the survey,” said Andrea Appelhans, a master’s student in mass communication and curriculum and instruction as she spoke during a question-and-answer period at the conference. “We wanted to move towards creating a richer more engaging university environment … It gave us an opportunity to give a voice and a face to the survey, so it wasn’t just data.”

Clark says when she heard about the conference and that noted new media specialist Michael Wesch, a professor at Kansas State University, was speaking, she spotted an opportunity to incorporate technology and creativity into her class’ study of the technology survey.

“I threw this out to the class and we filled a blackboard with ideas,” Clark says. “They wanted to convey a hopeful message. Faculty and students can work together to get through these seeming gaps in uses of technology. The point is not to make fun of professors. The point is how faculty and students can work together, we can collaborate.”

Wesch liked the video enough to put it on his blog, Digital Ethnology. He commented on how incorporating technology and working as a team on the project was as worthwhile to the class as the end product.

From there, the video ended up on the Chronicle of Higher Education Web site, and the number of viewers recorded at the YouTube site mounted.

“You never really know how something will be received,” Clark says. “I did not anticipate that it would be viral, it was a class experiment.”

The CTL conference, New Media in Education, maintains a Web site that includes the results of the DU technology survey, video presentations and question-and-answer sessions about using new technologies in education.


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