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The Benefit of Visual Media in the Virtual Classroom: A Case Study From an Online Science Course

March 2012, Volume 15, Number 6

By Jim Brinson, Patrick Boggs, and Kasie Brinson

Both faculty and students can find it difficult to establish a student/instructor and interactive “human” relationship through an online environment, leading some skeptics to discount the possibility that online learning can be as effective as traditional learning. In science courses with a manipulative lab component, one way to help remedy this—and to teach abstract scientific concepts online—is to write, develop, produce, and effectively implement visual media and instructional laboratory videos.

We have been engaged in a project to design, produce, and map the success rate of online instructional videos created to supplement seven science labs for an online physical science course, and to develop a system of technological and pedagogical best practices. The primary questions related to the benefit of these videos that we sought to answer were:

  • From the students’ perspective, will instructor-produced video help establish teaching presence and foster learning in an online course?
  • Will students perceive these videos as worthwhile and credible?
  • Did the students report that these videos were important to their online learning experience, and did course scores and attrition data support this claim?
  • What type of instructional products would the students like to see more of in this course?
  • What did we learn about creation, production, and distribution of the videos, and what would we do differently for future videos?

The Project

This project spanned three years (2007-2010), with video design and production taking one year and the impact study spanning the following two years. A total of 32 randomly selected sections, averaging approximately 30 students each, of the online general education physical science course involved with this project were offered by the college during the semesters in which the survey was administered. This particular course was chosen because it is a statewide standardized course created in 2004 and all sections are formatted, designed, and taught in the same manner; therefore, the only difference between sections is the name of the instructor. No instructional laboratory videos were used until 2007, with all other aspects of the course remaining as they were. When comparing data from 2004-2006 with data from 2007-2010 to assess the effectiveness of the videos, the only significantly variable influencing student performance is the implementation and required use of the videos.

The videos were written and produced to accompany at-home laboratory assignments and were integrated into the Blackboard classroom. Viewing the videos was a required component of the course and all participants took part in online discussion boards and quizzes concerning the video content; student performance on discussion boards and quizzes was analyzed. A random sample of sections then participated in a 17-item end-of-course survey (response rate = 80.4 percent) that measured student perceptions of the instructor’s teaching presence and the impact of the instructional videos on their success in the online course. Student course performance was then analyzed and correlated with student claims on the survey.

The Survey and Materials. The survey contained 17 closed-ended questions (seven five-level Likert items, five yes/no items, one ranking item, and four multiple choice items) and one open-ended comments question. Representatives from the science teaching faculty and the distance education and instructional technology departments provided feedback on survey question design. The survey was Web-delivered (within Blackboard), password-protected, and released randomly to participating course sections.

All video was shot with a Canon XL-1 standard definition camera with BeachTek XLR adapter and VariZoom VZ-PRO-F Fujinon 8-pin Pro Zoom control. Various tripods, bounces and scrims, and lights were also used. Audio was recorded using a Samsung lavalier microphone and receiver. Any additional video, text, images, or graphics added that were not part of our original video were in the public domain or licensed through Creative Commons. Video animations were created using Adobe Flash and Apple Final Cut Pro Video distribution included streaming video with bandwidth options that could give a 640x480 presentation, downloadable video and audio mp3 using Camtasia, and DVD. All options were free and linked in the virtual classroom except the DVD, for which students were charged $3.00 to cover the cost of materials.

Survey Findings. When instructional videos were added as supplements to already existing lab assignments, the mean overall course grade increased 6.1 percent (from 66.1 percent to 72.2 percent). But perhaps the most telling statistic was that the addition of these videos also correlated with an 18.4 percent increase in course completion (66.5 percent to 85.9 percent).

In addition to the quantitative impact these videos seem to have made on student performance, students also seemed to enjoy the videos from a qualitative perspective and valued the instructor interaction they provided. We found that 88.2 percent of students enjoyed watching the videos, and 91.2 percent of students surveyed agreed that the instructor-student relationship was important to them. Nearly all (94.1 percent) the students surveyed valued having the opportunity to virtually meet/see the instructor as well as hear his/her voice via video. Effectiveness of the videos and their impact on student learning was additionally supported both by the fact that 88.2 percent of students claimed they felt the videos helped them to learn content in the course. Furthermore, of those surveyed, 85.3 percent agreed that the videos were actually necessary for students to succeed in the course and 81.5 percent of students believed that viewing the videos had a direct (positive) impact on their final grade in this course. Ultimately, 88.2 percent of students surveyed agreed that they would like to see more content-related videos incorporated into the course.

Question 7 answers

Survey data regarding student connection speed, coupled with the fact that students often viewed the videos multiple times and from home, suggest that it may be better to shoot future video in high definition. Ninety percent of students used DSL or cable.

Students clearly want to have more content-related videos in the course, and videos remain the first preference of instructional media among students. Moreover, students prefer streaming video over other video formats.

Overall, data from this project certainly indicates that, from the students’ perspectives, the time and effort it takes for an instructional design team—instructor, instructional technologist/designer, producer, and others—to develop and produce course videos are valued and validated.


Jim Brinson is an Assistant Professor in the School of Science and Technology at American Military University in Charles Town, West Virginia

Patrick Boggs is an Instructional and Online Technologist in the Office of Instructional and Online Technologies at Ivy Tech Community College in Terre Haute, Indiana.

Kasie Brinson is an Instructor in the School of Science and Technology at American Military University in Charles Town, West Virginia.

Opinions expressed in Learning Abstracts are those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect those of the League for Innovation in the Community College

Posted by The League for Innovation in the Community College on 06/04/2012 at 1:42 PM | Categories: Learning Abstracts -