Professor Ellie Davison is the winner of the 2024 Teaching Excellence Award (Established Educator), recognizing innovative and effective teaching approaches that promote achievement for all, with a sustained impact on students and colleagues across the sector. Ellie champions widening participation and inclusive teaching approaches that enable diverse cohorts to thrive. She strives to co-create learning experiences with students as partners, empowered to contribute and learn as their authentic selves.

Utilising video lectures, we can create a flexible and accessible learning environment that maximises the value of students’ time in face-to-face sessions, with a proven positive impact upon student outcomes. Videos are now an integral part of a modern, digitally enabled educational approach that can empower and enable learners to achieve.

Successful lectures videos are carefully constructed and recorded by educators as short, stand-alone teaching resources (they are not a recording of a live session) and can be used to deliver curriculum content or provide additional support or enrichment activities. They do not replace live sessions, but support and enhance the efficacy of face-to-face teaching. Video lectures can be watched as many times as a student likes, revisited during revision, and played and paused at a speed that suits the individual learner. In my own practice, video lectures are provided as part of a flipped learning approach, for students to engage with as preparation before attending interactive seminars. This allows students with a range of prior educational experience to arrive at sessions with a similar level of background knowledge, primed, prepared and confident to learn. Face-to-face time that would have been used for knowledge transfer, which now takes place through the videos, can instead be utilised for much more stimulating activities such as application to case studies, problem solving, debate and discussion, along with time for students to practice using their knowledge and clarify any areas of uncertainty.

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Download Top Top Ten Best Royalty-Free Stock Illustration Image - Pixabay

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Determined to provide video resources that are as beneficial as possible, I consulted with groups of students and discussed with them their educational experiences and learning needs. The outcomes of these discussions have been collated here to present the top-ten features of video lectures that students really value, and that help them to learn in ways that works for them.

Students in the cohort will have a range of accessibility needs; 15–20% of undergraduates report a disability, with ‘specific learning difficulties’ the most commonly reported. Therefore, it is vital that any displayed resources follow accessibility guidelines, such as the Designing for Diverse Learners guidance (https://designingfordiverselearners.info), including considerations such as the font/background colour combinations, font choice, text size and formatting (e.g., avoiding italics and CAPS), image size/clarity, and not relying on colour alone to convey meaning.

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Bike Chain Forming 1 and 0 · Free Stock Photo (pexels.com)

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Alongside the lecture video, students benefit from being able to customize any resources being presented through the provision of the original documents (e.g., Word or PowerPoint files), so that they can modify fonts and colour combinations to meet their own learning needs. In addition, the resources provided should be accessible to students using screen readers, with Alt text image descriptions vital for students with visual impairments, and also supporting all students to make cognitive connections between the image and the interpretation.

“I have pink lenses in my glasses for dyslexia, my friend has blue lenses, if there are coloured backgrounds or text, my glasses don’t work and I can’t see properly”.

Students are juggling an ever-increasing load, such as caring responsibilities, managing health issues and the need to undertake paid employment to be able to meet accommodation, food and travel costs. Students benefit from being able to engage with their learning at a time and place that fits with their responsibilities, which can be made possible by releasing videos and associated resources well in advance of linked face-to-face sessions.

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“I work through the content at my own speed and then in seminars I feel like I can keep up with the others…we’re all at the same starting place…I’m no longer scared to attend”.

However, it is worth noting that other students may struggle when given greater freedom in their learning routines than they are used to and may thrive with some additional structures in place, such as ‘watch slots’ when peers can get together to watch and discuss the videos as a group or ‘learning schedules’ that can act as checklists to help scaffold independent time management. These schedules can be released at the start of each week to help students manage their learning.

For videos to become an integral part of a teaching strategy, their content must be vital to the learning journey. Any perception that engaging with the video lectures is supplementary or that skipping them will be mitigated for in face-to-face sessions is likely to result in low engagement. Repeating content in sessions, which has already been presented during pre-learning videos, rewards disengagement and de-motivates those already doing the right thing.

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Black and White Dartboard · Free Stock Photo (pexels.com)

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Successfully moving information transfer to pre-learning also frees up face-to-face time for more cognitively rich activities such as application of knowledge to current debates or real-life scenarios, along with practice and consolidation that can be student-led to meet the needs of those in the room.

“I can prepare any questions for seminars and enjoy taking my learning to a whole new level with the case studies and activities. It’s like I get the chance to learn twice!”

Having lecturer’s face visible during video lectures can help with expressing ideas and nuance, along with enabling lip-reading for accessibility. This ‘face time’, in advance of sessions, can also help to break down barriers, so that students already feel more familiar with the staff and confident to contribute or ask questions when they meet in real life. Errors and mishaps can also help to humanize staff and to show students that it’s OK not to get everything right first time and they don’t need to be perfect (resist the edit and leave the dog/doorbell/fluffed line in). However, if videos can be re-used with different cohorts, avoid references to the current day, time, year, module, or current affairs to avoid wasting time on a future re-record.

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Photo of Ripe Cherries on White Surface · Free Stock Photo (pexels.com)

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“I felt like I knew you (and your cat!) before I came into the lecture theatre, so I felt more comfortable talking to you”.

Conversely, when teaching complex concepts or detailed mechanisms, it can help students to concentrate if the face disappears temporarily to enable a deep focus on the content displayed on screen. A compromise approach could be to record ‘face time’ introductions and closing remarks as individual clips that help with relationship building, including context- or time-specific content that can be quickly updated, and bookend these clips at either end of re-usable content-heavy segments which have the lecturer’s voice (with captions) only.

Most cohorts are likely to include students who are studying in a second language or who are new to the local educational system. To avoid anyone feeling confused or excluded, avoid using colloquialisms and assuming cultural knowledge, and be careful not to assume prior knowledge based upon what is covered in UK school curricula.

“How long is ‘donkey’s years’ ago?”

Provide a glossary of ‘key terminology’ for a topic so that students can prepare before watching a video or pause for clarification if needed.

Students can read documents and slides or use screen reading software if they require/prefer. The benefit of video lectures is for students to be guided through the learning by the expert, to be challenged and enthused, rather than to act as a narration. The value is you!

“Please don’t just read the slides, I can do that myself, I want the tips and extra information to make it interesting”.

Videos are also not limited to the walls of a classroom or a moment in time. Can the learning be brought to life with real-life artefacts, locations, demos, experiments or guests? Let the imagination flow!

Our animal behaviour students’ favourite video guest of all time was the lecturer’s pregnant Newfoundland dog who grew bigger with every video and then brought her puppies into the last seminar of the term for a cuddle.

Lecturers might be preparing video lectures on a specialist device such as a laptop, and it is easy to assume that the videos will be watched on a similar device. However, for a large proportion of students, their normal way of engaging with learning videos is through their phones, and this can be using patchy or shared WiFi, or a limited data allowance.

“I listen to you at double speed when I’m cleaning, like as a pod-cast on my phone”.

To know what a student’s learning experience might be like, try it on an old phone down a long corridor! Are the settings correct for display upon a phone (sometimes, the face camera setting needs adjusting to ‘side-by-side’ or ‘in picture’), can the video be downloaded using the campus WiFi to be watched later, are sections in the videos bookmarked for easy navigation and, in the balance between the desire to produce high-quality videos and the challenge of the increased bandwidth required to watch them, is there a sweet spot that is ‘good enough’?

“I commute for an hour each way, so I listen while I’m driving to campus”.

Active learning is just as important in asynchronous learning as in the lecture room. Embedding stop–start quizzes, deliberate pauses for short activities or opportunities for students to contribute to the direction of subsequent face-to face sessions can all encourage engagement. Embedded understanding checks can be used as a means for students to ask for help or be directed to additional support or extension resources, and responses to quizzes can be reviewed by lecturers so that they can judge their students’ progress and plan accordingly. Often video recording software, such as Panopto, has the ability to embed these quizzes directly, with students required to complete the understanding checks before the video will continue to play. But alternative solutions, such as Google or Microsoft electronic forms, or quizzes that run through the VLE can be equally as effective.

“If I just have to sit and listen my mind wanders and I start checking my socials…the activities help me understand what I’ve understood, and what I need help with”.

Students thrive on manageable learning chunks, and videos of no more than 10 minutes should help to prevent a concentration plummet. Carefully curated video libraries, with considered selection of the content which is most appropriate for video format, and which activities might be more suited to in-person sessions, is vital to ensure that video lectures are not just a recording of what might have previously happened in a traditional lecture. Video lectures are one element of stimulating teaching, acting as primers that enable a cohort of students to arrive at face-to-face sessions with a more similar level of understanding, having had the time to process, research and consider the information and ready for interactive face-to-face sessions.

“I feel a sense of achievement every time I finish a video, so I’d rather have three little ones than one long”.

Furthermore, the aim of ‘flipping’ teaching is not to increase students’ workload, but rather to shift information transfer out of the teaching room and bring higher-order thinking activities, which may previously have been carried out independently, into the shared space. Care must be taken not to overburden or overwhelm students by expansion of the expectations for independent study, but rather to move the emphasis towards preparation for a greater efficiency of learning.

The provision of accurate captions is essential for students with hearing impairments, and accurate captions are highly prized by students across the cohort for a wide variety of reasons: helping international students to improve their language proficiency, enabling videos to be watched in quiet spaces, assisting students with making cognitive connections between terminology and the concepts discussed or displayed and enhancing all students’ learning as the information is represented via multiple means. Some students also report that they download the video transcript and use it to structure their notes and revision, perhaps even using AI to summarise or produce quizzes based upon the content.

“Seeing those long words on the screen at the same time as hearing you say them really helps me with the terminology”.

“I download the transcript and use it to structure my notes and revision”.

Producing video lectures is an investment, and by co-creating our learning strategy with our students, we can ensure that we invest wisely. If we want to know how to meet our students’ varied and evolving learning needs, ask them and include them in the design. Inclusive, accessible teaching benefits everyone, and the dividend is the success and empowerment of diverse student bodies, who enrich our institutions.■

  • Brame, C.J. (2015) Effective educational videos. Available from http://cft.vanderbilt.edu/guides-sub-pages/effective-educational-videos/. (Accessed 15 March 2024)

  • Davison, E. (2022) Flipped Learning Boosts Exam Performance for Students with Lower Previous Academic Attainment. J. Found. Year Net., 4, 63–74.

  • Designing for Diverse Learners: guidance on producing accessible digital resources: https://designingfordiverselearners.info/ (Accessed 15 March 2024)

  • Fallin, L., Davison, E., Spencer, G. and Tomlinson, T. (2023) Supporting inclusive learning resource design with Designing for Diverse Learners. J. Learn. Dev. Higher Educ., 26. doi: 10.47408/jldhe.vi26.924

  • Higher Education Statistics Agency (2022) UK domiciled student enrolments by disability and sex 2014/15 to 2020/21. Available from: https://www.hesa.ac.uk/data-and-analysis/students/table-15 (Accessed: 10 August 2022)

  • Kuepper-Tetzel, C. and Nordmann, E. (2021) Watch party lectures: synchronous delivery of asynchronous material. J. Learn. Dev. Higher Educ., 22. doi: 10.47408/jldhe.vi22.696

  • Noetel, M., Griffith, S., Delaney, O., et al. (2021) Video Improves Learning in Higher Education: A Systematic Review. Rev. Educ. Res., 91, 204–236. doi: 10.3102/0034654321990713

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Professor Ellie Davison leads the Science Foundation Year at the University of Lincoln, providing an alternative pathway into degree programmes across the College of Health and Science and supporting students from all backgrounds to develop the confidence and skills to thrive in higher education. Ellie is a National Teaching Fellow (NTF), awarded for ‘spearheading the provision of a transformative education’ and an Advance HE CATE award winner for ‘closing well-known attainment gaps’. Email: edavison@lincoln.ac.uk.

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