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Media and Education in the Digital Age

Concepts, Assessments, Subversions

Edited By Matteo Stocchetti

This book is an invitation to informed and critical participation in the current debate on the role of digital technology in education and a comprehensive introduction to the most relevant issues in this debate. After an early wave of enthusiasm about the emancipative opportunities of the digital «revolution» in education, recent contributions invite caution, if not scepticism. This collection rejects extreme interpretations and establishes a conceptual framework for the critical questioning of this role in terms of concepts, assessments and subversions. This book offers conceptual tools, ideas and insights for further research. It also provides motivation and information to foster active participation in debates and politics and encourages teachers, parents and learners to take part in the making of the future of our societies.
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Redefining Students’ Reflections: Opportunities and Challenges of Video-Enhanced Blogging

Redefining Students’ Reflections: Opportunities and Challenges of Video-Enhanced Blogging

Dennis N. York and Ronald D. Owston

Abstract

In the age of Web 2.0 dominance universities are under increasing pressure to investigate the educational applications of user-created content within the traditional culture of knowledge. There is a growing realization in the literature that the incorporation of user-created web video into the curriculum provides a number of pedagogical opportunities for active forms of learning and student-centred teaching practices. Predicated on the precepts of constructivism, this paper aims to explore the pedagogical application of the critical appropriation of user-created web video in a university classroom. Operating in a mixed-method paradigm, the authors analyzed data collected from a non-randomized convenience sample of 17 master’s students in education at a regional university in the United States. Evidence suggests that the critical appropriation of web video allowed students to relate new concepts and ideas acquired from the assigned readings to self-selected user-created web video. This study led the authors to conclude that the proposed learning architecture was critical to student’s success by creating conditions for them to properly balance user-created web video with scholarly knowledge and to become active participants who are accountable for their learning.

Introduction

In the educational literature examining the adoption of web video, researchers have made a variety of claims regarding the benefits of web video use and production for university education, including the potential for web video to facilitate an understanding of complex concepts (Bonk, 2008; Ghasemi, Hashemi, & Bardine, 2011; Kay, 2012; Trier, 2007), to enable advancement of analysis and reflection (Kong, Shroff, & Hung, 2009; Lazarus & Olivero, 2009; Saljo, 2009), and promote the cultivation of originality and creative multimodal composition (Bishop, 2009; Burke & Snyder, 2008; Godwin-Jones, 2012). Despite these claims, leaders in the field of educational technology continue to call for better management of the application of Web-based technology and its integration into curricula; they also urge educators to revisit their pedagogies and personal philosophies as to the nature of knowledge and the way it is produced and distributed (Bates & Sangra, 2011; Dede, 2008; Jenkins, Clinton, Purushotma, Robinson, & Weigel, 2006).

Contemporary researchers have inquired into the educational benefits of viewing either video lectures or digital video as supplementary learning resources. In most of ← 327 | 328 → these studies, researchers have primarily focused on videos produced in proprietary formats, such as lecture capture recorded by or with the help of instructors or enterprise educational videos produced by established media companies (Bassili, 2008; Bracher, Collier, Ottewill, & Shephard, 2005; Copley, 2007; McGarr, 2009; Scutter, Stupans, Sawyer, & King, 2010). Although these video programs demonstrate a high regard for credibility and video quality and are mostly trusted by instructors, their content is often contingent on the knowledge and experience of particular individuals. Similarly, enterprise video programs (which are produced, owned, and controlled by media companies, professional groups, or educational institutions) tend to expose students to video material that represents “filtered” information – sometimes an outdated account of the subject matter studied – and favours one side of the issue (Bracher et al., 2005). Consequently, we would argue that these video formats may isolate students from continually emergent knowledge, provide little or no opportunity for interaction with authentic experiences, and hold them back from taking intellectual risks while constructing knowledge and searching for new meanings. Furthermore, the process of proprietary video production and publishing is expensive and strictly regulated by peer review guidelines, and students’ access to the content of such videos is controlled under strict copyright licensing. Much of this research is of somewhat limited use and does not meet the current educational needs of students who are faced with the rapid growth of user-created content (Burgess & Green, 2009) and require a new set of skills to process this information (Jenkins et al., 2006).

Thus, for university instructors and instructional designers, the question is one of how user-created web video, best epitomized by YouTube video, can be integrated into formal curricula so that the value of academic knowledge presented in scholarly publications would not be overshadowed or diminished in university academic culture. Mezirow (1997) suggested that meaningful learning “requires new information to be incorporated by the learner into an already well developed symbolic frame of reference, an active process involving thought, feelings, and disposition” (p. 10). Furthermore, the importance of studying course material in combination with video has been discussed for quite a long time. Sherwood, Kinzer, Hasselbring, and Bransford (1987) suggested that the use of video (in the form of videodiscs) tends to benefit student learning as it provides rich context for their learning, increased comprehension, and maximizes student attention to the topic.

In this paper, we aim to examine the pedagogical application of critical appropriation of existing web video in the form of video-enhanced blogging. Because little research has examined the incorporation of user-created web video as an integral part of academic curricula, it was of particular interest to explore the influences of user-created web video from an empirical basis and thus to provide some evidence to fill the gap in the research literature on web-enhanced learning. ← 328 | 329 →

Theoretical framework

The theoretical framework for this research is conceptualized as a confluence of two constructivist theoretical approaches – the theory of situated cognition (Barab & Duffy, 2000; Brown, Collins, & Duguid, 1989; Herrington, Oliver, & Reeves, 2003; Lombardi, 2007) and the theory of distributed cognition (Cole & Engestrom, 1993; Pea, 1997; Salomon, 1994) – which provides clues on how potentially rich learning opportunities of using web video might best be harnessed to foster student-driven meaningful learning and facilitate transformations of learning practice in the context of traditional university instruction.

The situated perspective assumes that information cannot be consumed and converted into knowledge in isolation. The situatedness in rich contexts of authentic practice is required. When learning is embedded in rich situations and social contexts where meanings can be constructed, students pick up both implicit and explicit knowledge (Barab & Duffy, 2000; Brown et al., 1989). Under this framework, the concept of situatedness is fostered by critical appropriation of existing user-created web videos that allows students to observe authentic experiences from multiple perspectives. Video provides much richer specific contexts than general, text-based narratives or verbally mediated ones (Sherwood et al., 1987). There is no need for learners to come out of their putatively “artificial” learning context in order to engage in authentic practice. Video sharing websites and networks are well supplied with “just-in-time” content that can be personalized and delivered to the student immediately.

Furthermore, the idea of appropriation (Francis, 2010) is embedded in the instructional design of the critical appropriation of web video to help students establish synergetic relationships between text- and video-mediated cultures (Sherwood et al., 1987), authoritative and participatory cultures (Jenkins et al., 2006; Mitra, Lewin-Jones, Barrett, & Williamson, 2010), and authentic and formalistic learning (Barab & Roth, 2006; Brown et al., 1989; Herrington et al., 2003). In other words, the learning process is predicated on the coordination of three sources of knowledge: (a) scholarly knowledge (i.e., represented by the instructor’s lectures and prescribed course readings); (b) contextual or situated knowledge (i.e., represented by the user-created web video content selected by students on their own); and (c) students’ prior knowledge and learning experience. It is our assumption that the critical appropriation of user-created web video content and its combination with other knowledge sources can help students examine the topic presented in the assigned readings and in class lecture, modify their existing knowledge about the topic, and perhaps construct new knowledge and develop new understandings about the topic being studied within the course. ← 329 | 330 →

The theory of distributed cognition views the knowledge-building process as an interaction between students and knowledge artefacts. In this study, we view a user-created web video as a designed artefact that carries the intelligence of the author(s) or producer(s) and has the capacity of facilitating deep and reflective understanding. The research project was intended to engage students into active, participatory, and meaningful learning mediated with web video, as well as to provide them with opportunities to situate the course content and to test for their comprehension validity in real-world contextual circumstances with the help of constructive web-enabled peer commentary and classroom discussions in small groups.

Methods

This research was conducted in a graduate-level educational technology course at a public university located in a rural community in the United States. This course was a mandatory degree requirement for the master’s programs in teacher education that was intended to give students the foundational skills for integrating educational technology into classroom settings and to help them achieve a greater understanding of the process of technology integration in K-12 educational settings. The research project utilized a case study approach to gain a better understanding of what was happening when students were introduced to video-enhanced blogging. In this mode of inquiry, we combined a quantitative approach with a “less-dominant” qualitative approach (Creswell, 1994; Greene, Caracelli, & Graham, 1989) in order to explore the affordances and challenges of video-enhanced blogging, as well as its impact on perceived learning within the authentic context of an ongoing university course.

During a six week period, 17 participants were engaged in the critical appropriation of web video in the form of video-enhanced blogging. As part of a video-enhanced reflection assignment, students were asked to find an existing web video clip (on video sharing networks, such as YouTube) that was both relevant to the weekly readings and meaningful to them, and to bring the self-selected clip into the reflective discussion of the assigned readings1. The intent of video-enhanced reflection was to help students make connections between what they have read and acquired during the lecture, their reflection on the relevant web video they have selected, and their prior knowledge of the subject matter. An example of student’s ← 330 | 331 → video-enhanced blog is given in Appendix A. In addition to blogging, students were asked to provide constructive commentaries to their peers’ blogs and engaged in classroom small-group discussions (see Figure 1).

fig18.jpg

Fig. 1:   Learning events of video-enhanced blogging assignment

Multiple sources of evidence were collected: repeated surveys and in-depth interviews. Repeated surveys were administered before, in the middle, and after the implementation of research treatment to measure the effects of video-enhanced blogging on participants’ perceptions of user-created web video, its affordances, constraints, and learning value. In-depth interviewing was used to describe and understand events and actions of individual participants. Analysis of data included descriptive and inferential statistical analysis that was complemented with the findings derived from qualitative analysis (such as frequent occurrences of thematic fragments in participants’ responses) and illustrative examples of qualitative data).

Results

Demographics

The sample of the case study included 17 participants; seven (41.2%) were male and 10 (58.8%) were female. Half of the sample (52.9%) was under 30 years old; about one third of the participants belonged to a 30 to 45 year-old group; three ← 331 | 332 → participants (17.6%) were over 45. The gender and age proportions within the sample concur with the demographic characteristics of a typical class of master’s students in education at the participating university. The pretest survey responses showed that the overwhelming majority of the participants were rarely or never engaged in Web 2.0 mediated learning activities as part of formal course curricula.

Perceived affordances of web video for learning

The purpose of the “affordances” section of the survey was to explore the functional significance and distinct attributes of web video for learning, and to measure participants’ perceptions of the benefits of web video integration, such as opportunities for content contextualization, opportunities for student-driven learning, and impact on student achievement. The survey results indicated that students perceived web video and blogging as an indispensable Web 2.0 technology combination for learning. A repeated-measures MANOVA revealed the significant effect of the study on students’ perceptions of the learning value afforded by the combination of web video and blogging, V = .49, F(2, 13) = 6.01, p = .014.

The rate at which participants reported their positive perceptions of web video attributes was quite high during both pre- and posttest administrations. At the pretest, web video’s multimodality (i.e., a capability of digital capturing and sharing, including embedding) was highly valued by the participants (76.5%), followed by its entertainment value (70.6%), and the varying degrees of oversight of content production (52.9%). By the end of the study, these qualities received an overwhelmingly positive feedback from the participants, ranging from 76% to 100%. The results of repeated-measures ANOVA showed that 3 of the 5 “web video attributes” variables were significantly affected by the research treatment. In particular, the Project had significant effects on participants’ perceptions of the “entertainment” web video attribute, F(1, 16) = 8.73, MSE = 4.24, p = .009, ŋ = .35; the “multiple perspectives” attribute, F(1, 16) = 9.26, MSE = 2.38, p = .008, ŋ = .37; and the “multimodality” attribute, F(1, 16) = 5.89, MSE = 5.89, p = .027, ŋ = .27.

The results of statistical analysis were supported by students’ comments in their personal statements, which emphasized their appreciation for the ways in which web video use could break up the monotony of lectures and capture the attention of both visual and non-visual learners. The statements also reflected positively on students’ experience of embedding videos in their blogs to illustrate their thinking. Qualitative data analysis gave evidence of additional valuable attributes of web video for students, such as instant gratification and easy searchability. Furthermore, ← 332 | 333 → when comparing web video to earlier video technologies, such as television, DVD, films and the like, participants in interviews identified four attributes differentiating web video from those technologies (see Figure 2). The distinct quality of web video that students noted most frequently was its accessibility (33.3%), meaning that video sharing websites provided easy and immediate access to the required video content. The next unique quality of web video, from students’ perspective, was related to customization (25.9%), meaning that video sharing websites allow students to search for web video according to their own individual learning needs. The third most noted quality of web video could be described as content diversity (18.5%), including internal diversity (in terms of content) and the diversity of the form of available videos (i.e., multiple media formats). Finally, the last web video quality most worthy of mention could be defined as multimodality (7.4%), referring to the numerous capabilities for embedding, re-mixing, and managing, and storing video content on the Web.

fig19.jpg

Fig. 2:   Percentage of thematic units representing participants’ perceptions of distinctive attributes of user-created web video

Perceived constraints of web video for learning

The purpose of the “constraints” survey section was to explore students’ anticipated and actual perceptions of web video constraints for learning. A commonly perceived barrier to learning was associated with web video technology constraints. An overwhelming majority of respondents reported concerns about the compatibility of video sharing websites with various types of web browsing software (76.4%), as well as concerns about the bandwidth and internet speed needed to support ← 333 | 334 → streaming video experiences (64.7%). Repeated-measures ANOVA on the outcome measures revealed only one significant treatment effect on the perceived lack of ability to download a video clip, F(1, 16) = 4.81, MSE = 4.97, p = .043, ŋ = .23. These results of statistical analysis were confirmed by qualitative data analysis of participants’ written responses, suggesting that technology and website constraints were two of the most frequently cited problems (featured in 30% of thematic units) during the project. Most of the issues were related to incompatibility with web browsers and the time-consuming process of loading web videos to view.

The next group of constraints – the lack of web video searching skills – relates to the difficulties and frustrations perceived by students when navigating video sharing websites in their quest for relevant video clips, as well as the obstacles they encountered when storing and organizing web video content. Nearly 47% of participants anticipated that the lack of web searching strategies could hinder them from managing web videos efficiently. Upon completion of the Project, most students appeared to have developed the navigation and searching skills needed to participate successfully in the project. The results of repeated-measures ANOVA revealed two significant treatment effects on the perceived lack of ability to find a relevant web video, F(1, 16) = 12.75, MSE = 5.77, p = .003, ŋ = .44, and the perceived lack of ability to store and organize web video efficiently, F(1, 16) = 5.88, MSE = 4.97, p = .028, ŋ = .27. Qualitative data analysis revealed that students rarely mentioned any frustrations caused by a lack of web video searching skills (featured in 10% of thematic units) during the study. Most of their frustrations came from encountering in their search results a high number of web videos with unnecessary information which required extensive sorting. However, at the posttest, there were no reports of a perceived lack of skills required for effective web video searching.

Another group of constraints is associated with the lack of conceptual understanding of user-created web video and the way it is produced and delivered. Nearly 60% of participants reported difficulty grasping the concept of user-created web video. They communicated their anxieties about the credibility of web video producers or video uploaders (41.2%), and about the accuracy and reliability of web video content (47.1%). The results of repeated-measures ANOVA showed that participants’ perceived lack of conceptual understanding of web video was not significantly affected by the project. Qualitative data analysis indicated students’ lack of understanding of web video, and demonstrated that most of them were concerned by the quality of web video content since it was produced with minimum content oversight. Furthermore, in their responses participants suggested that skills for assessing the accuracy of web video content should be made mandatory components of university instruction. ← 334 | 335 →

Perceived impact of video-enhanced blogging

During the research project, nearly 60% of participants reported that they accessed video sharing websites for browsing and viewing web videos regularly. Almost 30% of the participants searched video sharing websites on a daily basis. Only a few participants (11.76%) visited video sharing websites infrequently. Most of the students (84.6%) self-reported that they predominantly used YouTube for the project, while other video sharing platforms (such as EduTube, MetaCafe, TeacherTube, and Vimeo) were reported only by two most dedicated participants.

The perceived impact of embedding a borrowed web video into a blog was assessed through two survey questions pertaining to: (a) participants’ motivations for selecting a web video germane to the discussion of the assigned reading, and (b) their perceptions of the learning benefits of video-enhanced blogging activity. The participants appeared to have a positive response to all of the decisive factors contributing to their web video appropriation task, which entailed locating a user-created web video relevant to the weeks’ assigned readings. The results of rank order analysis indicated that most participants (76%) selected an appropriate web video clip that conveyed a sense of real-life situations, had substantial relevance to the week’s topic, and spoke to the assigned readings. Qualitative data analysis of interviews gave further support to evidence produced by the posttest survey, which revealed students’ selection of web video to be predicated on the video’s practical relation to the issues raised in the week’s readings.

In the posttest survey, participants were asked whether they agreed or disagreed with a series of statements about the impact of borrowing existing web video on their learning and the development of their understanding of subject matter. The results indicated that over 80% of the participants were quite positive about the value of adding borrowed web video to facilitate their comprehension of the assigned scholarly readings. Among the benefits of the video-enhanced blogging activity, the top three functions of web video appropriation in facilitating learning were revealed: (a) an opportunity to consider issues uncovered in the readings more deeply, (b) an opportunity to make new connections to the assigned readings, and (c) an opportunity to engage in active and thoughtful reading. Data analysis from interviews and personal statements identified three ways in which web video appropriation may have helped students increase their understanding of the underlying complexity of issues or concepts presented in the assigned articles: (a) by stimulating connection-making between textual and visual information; (b) by relating abstract concepts from class readings to practical real-life situations, thereby rendering them concrete, specific, and applicable; and (c) by allowing for the negotiation of multiple perspectives pertaining to the article. Some of ← 335 | 336 → the participants’ reactions are worth noting in order to illustrate these implications of web video appropriation.

Discussion

The results indicated that students felt comfortable with the idea of documenting their thinking in a rich media format and then broadcasting it in the form of video-enhanced blog postings. In particular, the participants noted that video-enhanced blogging gave them opportunity to relate new concepts and ideas acquired from the assigned readings to self-selected user-created web video, and that they were able to do so in ways that built upon their existing knowledge structures and previous learning experiences. For instance, over 80% of the participants were quite positive about the learning value of adding borrowed web video to facilitate their comprehension of the assigned scholarly readings. The participants identified the following three factors as the most important learning benefits of the video-enhanced blogging activity: (a) an opportunity to consider issues uncovered in the readings on a deeper level; (b) an opportunity to make new connections to the assigned readings; and (c) an opportunity to engage in active and thoughtful reading. In analyzing participants’ perceptions about web video affordances for learning, the analysis indicated that the project came very close to meeting the essential characteristics for authentic learning, as described by Herrington et al. (2003). It possessed such qualities as real-world relevance, ill-defined challenges, sustained investigation, the use of multiple sources, multiple perspectives, integrated self-assessment, and confronting the complexities and ambiguities of real-world professional practice.

A major challenge for many students appeared to be the ability to connect knowledge previously acquired from the assigned articles with relevant, self-selected user-created web video in a critical reflection. Failure to locate relevant web video may have been influenced by technology incompatibility, constraints of video sharing websites, and the lack of web video searching skills. The ability to locate and retrieve relevant web video appeared to be affected by the level of video searching skills and the ways in which those skills were acquired in the first place. In other words, students should apply their knowledge and skills to practice in the context, otherwise they will not be able to transfer that knowledge and skills to a new situation or context. When confronting the tasks of appropriating existing web videos and producing one’s own web video, students experienced problems related to the technical processes of web video use (e.g., embedding web video into a blog), and to the cognitive processes (e.g., making connections, drawing meaningful conclusions, getting their message across through blogging). In these ← 336 | 337 → tasks, students were required not just to complete the assignment on a technical level, but, more importantly, to demonstrate critical reasoning by providing connections to the readings and determining the relevancy of appropriated web video to what was discussed in the readings.

This study reinforces the argument by Sherwood et al. (1987) and Lee (2010), who examined the use of video to facilitate students’ comprehension. Sherwood et al. (1987) have concluded that videos provide much richer context and demonstrate particularities better than solely verbal communication, and Lee (2010) argued that pedagogy needs to reduce reliance on textual readings and verbal lectures in order to satisfy a diversity of learning preferences and styles. The study was designed to engage students in the sophisticated integration of web video and blogging technology with more traditional authority-driven textual discourses of knowledge making (in the form of articles); it was also intended to create room for students to direct their own learning. In effect, evidence suggests that the embedding of web video into blogging appears to serve students not just as an illustration of practical examples of how concepts can be applied to real life, but it also gives them additional cognitive opportunity to integrate new knowledge into existing knowledge structures, to place the abstract issues they read about into practical context, and to explore new concepts through applying them in authentic situations as represented in web video fragments. These findings thus suggest that participation in video-enhanced blogging activity enables students not only to contextualize theoretical concepts, but also to apply them convincingly by capitalizing on the “borrowed” web video complementing the scholarly knowledge.

In conclusion, findings from this research are presented as a first step towards understanding the impact that user-created web video has on students’ learning when mobilized as an integral part of university curricula. Data analysis confirmed that students felt comfortable and gained knowledge of and skills in applying web video for their learning. Furthermore, students appeared to be enthusiastic about fitting web video into their learning strategies, and were capable of diagnosing the affordances as well as the constraints of integrating web video into their learning while experiencing it firsthand. Although a number of concerns were voiced about the accuracy and reliability of web video content and its appropriation for learning, it is possible to conclude that students eventually may have found benefits of learning with web video, benefits attributable to its distinct properties such as immediate accessibility, customized searchability, multimodal functionality, diversity of perspectives, and instant gratification among others. Despite the challenges and barriers, the opportunities for web video integration are also very clear. In particular, this investigation has provided evidence that web video is largely supported by students and perceived as a catalyst for facilitating learning by enabling students to engage ← 337 | 338 → in authentic activities, explore alternative aspects of the subject matter, and exercise critical evaluation of different knowledge sources and multiple opinions.

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Appendix A: Screenshot of Participant’s Video-Enhanced Blog Posting

fig20.jpg

← 340 | 341 →

                                                   

  1.    The project curriculum also included an assignment of the creative production of student’s own web video in order to enable them to document their thinking in a rich media format that was further streamlined and shared over the Internet. In this paper, the authors sought to address the issue of appropriation of existing user-created video.