Designing Effective Video-Based Teaching Activities

Characteristics of a strong assignment/activity:

To see examples of effective video-based teaching activities, please also review our collections.

We asked participants at the Spring 2014 virtual workshop on Designing and Using Video in Undergraduate Geoscience Education to list those characteristics that define a strong teaching activity. They agree that a strong activity/assignment:

  • is engaging
  • has clear learning goals and objectives
  • includes active learning
  • gets students thinking about how they are learning
  • has students make observations, formulate questions and multiple hypotheses, and research and test their ideas
  • identifies and addresses potential misconceptions
  • covers a specific topic
  • starts simply and gets progressively more challenging
  • presents ideas in multiple ways
  • provides a clear grading rubric
  • applies multiple assessment tools

Strategies for developing new activities

The following checklist/summary is taken almost exclusively from e-Learning and the Science of Instruction: Proven Guidelines for the consumers and designers of multimedia learning, by Ruth Colvin Clark and Richard E. Mayer, 3rd edition (2011). Most of the notes are direct quotes/excerpts.

  • Personalization: Find ways to make the questions relevant to students
  • Segmentation: Break a complex lesson into smaller parts, which are presented one at a time and can be accessed at the learner's preferred rate. Teach content in short segments separated by assessments.
  • Pretraining: Help beginners manage processing of complex material by reducing the amount of essential processing they do within one presentation/activity. Teach important concepts and facts prior to the activity.
  • Worked examples: While studying a worked example (in contrast to solving a problem), working memory is relatively free for learning. Worked examples are best for early learning and should be abandoned in favor of multiple practice assignments once the basic knowledge is acquired. Provide detailed explanations of initial worked examples for novice learners. As lesson progresses, make explanations shorter and available on demand OR in response to an error.
  • Fading: The first fully worked example is followed by a second example, in which most of the steps are worked out, but the learner is asked to complete one or two of them. As examples progress, the learner gradually completes more of the steps. Eventually the learner solves a practice problem completely on his or her own.
  • Expert processes: Base lessons on analysis of actions and thoughts of expert practitioners. Provide worked examples of experts' problem-solving actions and thoughts.
  • Self explanation and reflection: High-success learners process worked examples by explaining to themselves the principles reflected in the examples. Insert questions next to worked steps to promote explanations. Encourage learners to process examples in a meaningful way by asking them to respond to questions about worked-out steps.
  • Self comparison: Encourage self-comparison over social comparison (e.g., exam wrappers, reflective prompts, knowledge surveys)
  • Varied context: Include at least two worked examples that vary their cover stories but embody similar principles to support learning of far-transfer tasks.
  • Encoding specificity: Use real job tools and cases to teach job-specific problem-solving. Ask students to apply what was taught to new situations, rather than simply recalling lesson content.
  • Customize activity for your audience: Research on the expertise reversal effect suggests that instructional design techniques that are effective for beginners may not be effective for more experienced learners.
  • Argumentation: Potential pro/con activity: topic assigned to group of 4. 2 compose the pro argument. 2 compose the con argument. Team reconvenes and hears arguments from each group. After one team presents their argument, the receiving pair must state back the argument adequately to demonstrate understanding of the position. The pairs reverse roles. Afterwards, the full team moves into a synthesis stage wherein the opposing perspectives are merged into a reasoned position that culminates in a group presentation or report. (Studies show that individual learners assigned to write a pro and con argument learned more than learners asked to write either a narration or a summary.) Students should be explicitly told to think of as many reasons as possible to support their positions. Research suggests that when a student develops alternatives and the discussion is moderated by another student, there is greater freedom to critique and respond to one another than when an instructor is moderating.
  • Group work: When working together, the group is capable of doing more than any single member by comparing alternative interpretations and solutions correcting each other's misconception, and forming a more holistic picture of the problem. Knowledge is socially constructed and people learn best in supportive social settings (e.g., in small collaborative groups).
  • Active monitoring of learning: Students learn key concepts better when they have opportunities to actively monitor their understanding in a variety of activities during class.
  • Require higher order thinking: Students become better learners when we challenge them to answer questions that require the use of higher order thinking skills.
  • Learning outcomes: Start with learning goals that are measurable and at different cognitive levels (e.g., Bloom's Taxonomy). SWBAT (Students Will Be Able To...)
  • Motivation for completing assessments: Create low stakes formative assessments and higher stakes summative assessments (exams) linked to learning goals.
  • Context/Structure/Organization: Provide visual, graphic, and organizational structures to help students "chunk" information (e.g., graphic organizers, concept maps, reading reflections)
  • Encourage effort: Provide assessments that encourage effort (e.g., allow for revisions).

Getting started

Creating a video-centered activity does not have to be difficult. Here are some suggestions for places to begin:

  • Individual assignments where students have to view a video and then:
    • Answer a series of directed questions (multiple choice, short-answer, free form)
    • Write a summary
    • Write a list of questions
    • Write a list of observations
    • Discuss the above work in groups
    • Example: Pinatubo Volcano Video Worksheet for use with the NOVA Video In the Path of a Killer Volcano
  • Classroom response questions (iClickers or video-embedded quizzes) to check understanding mid video
  • Written assessments for all animations (as used by Pearson -- MasteringOceanography)
  • Group projects, where students have to discuss the implication of what they have seen and make predictions as to the outcome of different scenarios.

Activity templates

Scott Brande developed this template (right) to connect increasingly higher order thinking skills with particular videos. This allows a single video to be used at multiple stages in a student's educational journey. An empty template with three video examples is available here as a downloadable Microsoft Excel spreadsheet:


  • BOOK: e-Learning and the Science of Instruction -- Proven Guidelines for the consumers and designers of multimedia learning -- Ruth Colvin Clark and Richard E. Mayer -- 3rd edition (2011)
  • TedEd -- Developing and deploying activity sheets/questions around particular video content
  • Bloom's Taxonomy
  • Learning Objectives and References

Observation Demonstrations (activities by Scott Brande)

Feature films (activities by Alan Whittington)
Original content for this page was contributed by: Scott Brande, Alan Whittington, and Katryn Wiese during the Spring 2014 virtual workshop on Designing and Using Video in Undergraduate Geoscience Education. Our growing community of contributors continues to add to these resources. Get involved »