Using Video in the Classroom

It’s a long time since filmstrips were the best way to add multimedia in the classroom. Not only do we have many more options in terms of technology for providing visual data for our students, but the reality is that we get a higher percentage of our information from visual rather than written sources. Our students need to be able to use these sources well.

It makes sense to use video in the classroom. Let’s do it right.

First we have to think of the copyright issues. The law is clear on this: a commercially prepared video can only be shown as part of face to face instruction, where everyone is involved. Showing a movie for entertainment, enrichment, or as a reward is illegal. Sitting the kids down on a rainy day to watch Tangled while the teachers catch up on their grading is clearly against the law. Watching Tangled and keeping track on the board of the discrepancies between its story and the traditional story of Rapunzel, then following it up with a discussion of the plots and characters — that’s okay. This is true whether you rent, own, or stream the video from a service like Netflix or Amazon.

Using YouTube videos in the classroom seems simpler and more clear cut. However, part of the law specifies that the person showing the video in the classroom must not know that the video has been obtained illegally. We’ve had our videos posted at YouTube without our knowledge or consent, and our friends at Trout Fishing in America often see their music used without their permission in amateur videos. YouTube’s volume is so high that they can’t be expected to catch all the pirates out there; essentially, it’s up to the owner of the copyright to catch the miscreants.

How, then, can you be sure that you’re not showing something pirated when you use a YouTube video in the classroom? Take the example of Trout Fishing. If you use their official Trout Fishing YouTube channel, you can feel confident. Equally, if you use a video with Trout Fishing music such as our “18 Wheels on a Big Rig” which clearly says “used with permission,” you’re safe. Avoid things that have obviously been filmed at a concert with a cell phone, or commercial film that has been uploaded by someone other than the artist or production company that owns it.

Videos like ours which are specifically intended for classroom use are the safest. There are lots of sources of such videos, including (probably) your school library. If you want to show a movie for entertainment, you simply have to pay the licensing fees and get permission; your library can help you with this.

The rules about using commercial video legally are, fortunately, good advice for classroom use of videos from a pedagogical perspective as well. We like to begin with a discussion or exercise, give students something specific to look for, and follow up with an assignment that involves producing something.

For example, in my writing class we analyze ads. We discuss the idea of a thesis first, and students are looking for the main point when we watch a commercial from YouTube. When they’ve identified the thesis of the ad, typically very simple things like, “Our product will make you happy,” I put them in groups to list the things in the ad that make that point. Once students have listed things like the colors, the music, and the loony grins on the actors’ faces, I have them organize the points.

We watch a couple of ad parodies next, and identify the points they’re making. My students (older teens) have trouble sometimes distinguishing between the point the ads are making (“Our product will make you happy”) and the points the parodies make (“Ads claim that a product will make you happy with no supporting evidence, relying on the loony grins of the actors”). This discussion helps the students grasp the different between reporting information and actually having a point to make about that information. We follow up with a paper analyzing an ad and making a claim about that ad.

Another option is to begin with a KWL chart for a particular topic, watch a video presenting information on that topic, and then to follow up with a response video. We have a variety of other suggestions for using classroom videos in our lesson plans on this website.

I use a projector with my classroom computer. You can also use an Interactive Whiteboard . I sometimes have classes with neither of these things, and then I take students to the computer lab so everyone can watch individually, or give them a link on the class website so they can watch it at home. Neither of these methods works as well, I have to admit. It’s hard for students to keep points in their minds for discussion. For this reason, we work with very short videos or brief clips from longer films, and go through them together, pausing to discuss and analyze particular points. I always use online videos or student produced ones (no copyright issues), but the same process will work with DVDs.

pair work

We use a screen and pull it up to write on the board, as in the picture from my classroom at the top of this post. we also work in small groups or pairs at the student computers in the classroom. Since my students are older, I let them choose when to go back to the computer and when to use their textbooks and paper as in the picture above, and some of my students use their laptops or smart phones. If my classes were too large for this, I’d have students use Twitter hashtags or use something like the i>clicker Radio Frequency Classroom Response System. We have this technology for checkout in the school library. I haven’t used it, but there are plenty of reasons to try it: shy students or bold ones who dominate the class, a need for accountability, a desire for quiet in the classroom…

For younger students, large group discussion is a good option, or think about elementary school electronic systems like Educational Insights Eggspert. Eggspert is often used for Jeopardy-style quizzes, but you can also use it for classroom responses. Just as with the student response systems for older students, Eggspert  has extra pods available so you can give one to each student.

As you can see, I basically use video just as I use written texts. I think that this reflects the realities of the 21st century: we no longer treat various media as entirely different experiences. A well-done video has a thesis and a structure, just as an article has. When we watch a video in my writing class, I always ask students, “Do you think that someone wrote the words in that, or did they just make it up as they want along?”  just to get it clear to the students that writing is part of all the media we use, and not just something we do in school.

I’d love to hear how you use video in your classroom, too!


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