Trends and Issues in Higher Ed

October 31, 2014

Using video to create a community of practice among online students


Early Childhood & Family Studies Online Degree

“Last year I taught a class of 50 students that I never met in person but saw via video at least 18 times in 10 weeks. Using online tools, we were still able to build a community of reflection and practice.”

Gail Joseph
Program Director, Early Childhood & Family Studies; Associate Professor, Education


Faculty in the online Early Childhood & Family Studies (ECFS) degree learned that video feedback can help student-teachers progress as quickly, or even more quickly, than in-person coaching. Their techniques could also be used to coach students practicing other interpersonal activities, such as leading discussions, says Gail Joseph.

“In our program, students video themselves teaching children, using a practice that we’ve discussed in class, and receive quick, targeted feedback from the instructors and a small group of peers, their community of reflection and practice (or CORP, for short),” says Joseph. In addition to frequent feedback linked to coursework, a key factor in students’ learning is the ability to observe themselves and reflect on their own work practices. Joseph says that even students who are initially uncomfortable with the video assignments quickly come to see their value. “One student said, ‘I hated the idea of video in the beginning. It was the worst part of the program for me, but now I can’t ever imagine teaching without a camera in the room, capturing what I’m doing so I can go back and watch later.’”

The video assignments used in the online ECFS program, the first online bachelor’s degree offered by the UW, build on techniques developed for in-person ECFS and other classes, and by the National Center on Quality Teaching and Learning (NCQTL), which provides professional training to teachers in Head Start programs. The ECFS program has been recognized for its efforts by Nonprofit Colleges Online, which ranked the ECFS program the nation’s No. 2 online education bachelor’s degree. Here are the team’s suggestions for coaching students through video and online discussions:

“Seeing a recommended teaching practice makes all the difference in the world. That’s what makes video so crucial in training teachers.”

Susan Sandall
Principal Investigator, National Center on Quality Teaching and Learning; Professor, Education


Create assignments that build observation skills over time: Video assignments are part of almost every ECFS course. This allows time for students to build observation skills before they’re asked to analyze their own work. Through a process the team calls “Know, See, Do, Improve,” students learn about teaching techniques in online lectures and videos and practice identifying them (see Joseph and Brennan in Resources). Students then post baseline videos of themselves at work, and observe and reflect on their own use of a specific teaching method. They make a plan to improve, and record themselves again. Students comment on their own teaching as shown in the videos they’ve posted, and on the videos posted by other students in their learning community.

Train students in effective evaluation: ECFS instructors provide feedback on three levels: on students’ teaching as shown in their videos; on students’ understanding of their work, as shown by their comments on their own videos; and on their ability to coach others, as shown by their comments on other students’ videos. The feedback on comments is a critical part of helping students hone their skills of observation and reflection. Joseph says, “I might ask a student for more detail, or tell them ‘I think you did this very well.’“ The goal is for students to learn how to give very specific feedback and constructive comments to their fellow students. “We call that providing coach-quality feedback,” says Joseph.

“In our discussion forums, we’ve found that we’re hearing more equally from all of our students, and we’ve been pleasantly surprised at how deeply they’ve taken these discussions.”

Colleen O. Dillon
Clinical Psychologist and Director of Training, Barnard Center for Infant Mental Health and Development; Senior Lecturer, Family and Child Nursing


Require students to keep evaluation videos short: For each assignment, students post only three to five minutes of video. “Selecting the video is an important problem-solving exercise,” says Susan Sandall. “The students have to be able to distinguish a specific teaching activity from others that may be similar.”
Schedule time for video reviews: Reviewing student videos “isn’t easy and you have to keep on top of it. It’s a substantial commitment,” says Sandall. “Tell yourself, ‘I’ll watch the videos every week at this time’ or ‘I’ll watch some videos every day.’”

Require students to obtain permissions from video participants: “Students are required to get permissions from parents to video the children in their class or childcare, as well as from any adults who may appear in their videos,” says Joseph. “When they upload a video, they click a box stating ‘I certify that I have all the permissions on file.’” Students keep the paper consent forms. Faculty need to decide how broad they want to make consent forms, especially if they want to build a library of video examples.

Have students use the same equipment: ECFS faculty require students to purchase a specific technology bundle in lieu of a textbook. “In other courses that used video where I didn’t specify a certain camera, all my TA’s time was taken up with technical issues, such as trying to figure out how to get video off of someone’s phone,” says Joseph. When students use the same equipment, Joseph can instead direct TA time to developing tutorials and providing extra help for students uncomfortable with technology. To help offset the costs of the equipment, the ECFS faculty assign free open-source readings as often as possible.

“Our goal is to create online forums that allow for deep reflection in a safe and protected community of learners. That means breaking a large class into multiple subgroups or ‘neighborhoods,’ ideally of no more than 15 students.”

Miriam Hirschstein
Senior Research Scientist and Director of Evaluation, Barnard Center for Infant Mental Health and Development; Lecturer, Education


Keep discussion groups small when discussing emotional topics: Most ECFS classes also involve discussions of videos curated by the instructor. Keeping discussion groups to 15 or fewer students is important when discussing emotions, say Miriam Hirschstein and Colleen Dillon, both 2014 Teaching with Technology Fellows. They are translating another ECFS in-person class to an online format, Infants and Young Children: Risk and Resilience (NSG 432/ECFS 302). In addition to asking students to identify interactions between babies and caregivers in videos, Hirschstein and Dillon will also ask them to monitor their own reactions. “We might ask them ‘What did you notice or feel as you watched the older sibling pushing aside the baby? What did that bring up for you?’“ says Dillon. “Essentially, we’re asking students to reflect on how their emotional responses influence what they notice, and perhaps what they don’t notice in the videos. Our experience has been that this kind of sharing and reflecting goes very deep quickly in an online forum, perhaps more so even than in face-to-face coursework.”

Resources: Gail E. Joseph and Carolyn Brennan, “Framing Quality: Annotated Video-Based Portfolios of Classroom Practice by Pre- service Teachers,” Early Childhood Education Journal 41, no. 6 (2013): 423-430, doi: 10.1007/s10643-013-0576-7.

UW Today reported the stories of ECFS students after one year in the online program: Molly McElroy, “‘I see it, learn it and do it’: A peek into the lives of some of UW’s online students,” 2 July 2014.

With support from the College of Education and the NCQTL, the ECFS team developed the “Coaching Companion” tool, an online system for coaching via video. “Coaching Companion” is available for use by UW faculty through UW Educational Outreach.

Learn More

Read the full Provost report on how to use technology in the classroom to engage students.