This blog is about how we created our original educational materials which used interactive video, and why we are changing now. But to give a proper account, I need to reflect on what we have learned about educational theory and classroom practice in the last seven years to explain where we started and how we are changing.
I have the notes from our planning meeting in 2016 when we discussed how we would organise and present the Parallel Histories idea to teachers. I’ve underlined two ideas about how teaching was going to change, and which we all wanted to embrace. The first of these was ‘flipped learning’ and I’ll explain that for any non-teachers reading this blog. Flipped learning means that the student acquires knowledge at home and then the teacher uses the time in the classroom to discuss and expand on that knowledge. It’s not really that new – for example anyone who ever learned a foreign language will remember being given homework which required them to learn vocabulary with the idea that they would use those new words in making sentences in the next classroom lesson. However, it is an old idea that has gained new currency.
The second of these ideas was the coming importance in the use of video to learn. Even though there were signs as early as 2016 that the video revolution might have been a bit hyped, – Facebook had exaggerated the importance of video by inflating its video viewing data – it was still the general accepted wisdom that video learning was an emerging trend. Print bad, video good! This article from The Atlantic in 2018 is a good summary.
Seven years on we have a much clearer idea of the significance of these two trends. Flipped learning remains a very good aspiration; it’s certainly more interesting for both teacher and students to use valuable classroom time to discuss and practise rather than simply learn information. However, in our surveys of teachers it’s clear that it’s a strategy that can only be fully embraced by teachers who are confident that the great majority of their students will have done the content learning at home, as asked. Teachers who can’t rely on their classes to do their homework are compelled to use the lessons to impart information. My non-scientific estimate would be that in a half to two thirds of the schools we work with, there is very good compliance with homework, but in a third to half, there is not.
I’d make roughly the same judgement on video learning. Yes, the use of video in the classroom is growing, and Covid closures have probably accelerated that trend, but it clearly has a couple of limitations. The first of these might surprise readers because there’s been so much investment in IT infrastructure in schools, but there is still a minority of classrooms where teachers can’t rely 100% on the technology working. Teachers avoid the risk of being left in front of thirty fidgeting students while they struggle with the computer or projector or school WIFI. This means, there has to be an option to print! The second limitation is that video is not always the most effective way of imparting information. Everyone will have experienced the frustration of playing a ‘how to…’ video on YouTube which waffles for two minutes before getting to the information you actually need.
I’ve described our original thinking, and what we’ve learned since we started, to explain our original decision to use Touchcast Studio, a cutting-edge interactive video software and our decision now to migrate from interactive video to an interactive e-book. Part of the reason we are moving from Touchcast Studio (to whom we are extremely grateful after seven years of free software and support) is that they have pivoted away from secondary education.. But the main reason is that many teachers, especially – and this might surprise readers – younger teachers who are new to teaching, really like textbooks because a shared book can give a teacher confidence about creating lesson activities and easier classroom control.
So, our new resource platform is based on an e-book format. The elements we’ve retained are: the dual narrative format, which is now presented side by side, the video narrative which is now supplemented with a transcript for those who want to read rather than listen, twenty pieces of evidence in each chapter, our lesson plan ideas which are now integrated in the book and links to printable pdfs of the source packs.
Here is a prototype book and we will be moving all our existing product to this format over the next six months. We are of course always delighted to hear and comments or suggestions from teachers, students or and everyone else too.