Creating and Integrating Videos in the Classroom

At Baruch College’s March 26 “13th annual Teaching and Technology Conference” I led a session with the same name as this blog post. I’d like to share the basis of that talk for those with interest.

Disclaimer: When it comes to digital video, I am not the fountain of all knowledge. There are people all over CUNY (and NYU) doing rather innovative things with video—some of whom I had the pleasure of meeting in my talk. That said, technological innovations have made it so easy to weave video into a lecture that the question is shifting from whether you should adopt video to how you should do so. All you need is a $150 digital camera with a movie mode, namely, any camera on the market.  Your iPhone works great too.

Background: In my subject (operations management, a discipline that combines management, economics, statistics and engineering) video can demonstrate complex ideas in large lectures that are difficult to get across in words.  There also seems to be a growing understanding that large lectures benefit from small breaks and changes in the routine, video being an important option (e.g., see the paper here).

For now, I’m not talking about creating instructional video tutorials, but something relatively simpler. The focus is three types of video.

  1. Bringing the real world inside the lecture hall. I always carry a compact digital camera around NYC and shoot video and stills whenever I see something relevant to class: an interesting inventory system in a Soho retail store, the queueing system at Whole Foods, the supply chain strategy posted on the windows of American Apparel, etc. Students always sit up and listen when one shares these videos.  (Hint: it’s always better to ask first, film second.)
  2. Debriefing. My students also learn through games and simulations. I’ve started filming with my iPhone or compact digital camera to capture the students and their game boards as a game progresses. Lots and lots of little movie clips. I’ve begun interviewing during the games—like reality TV—to ask about the situations and choices students are making (one has to be careful to do so without distracting from their play). These efforts have added a level of richness and engagement to the post-game debriefing that I never anticipated.  (Hint: students seem a little less intimidated by an iPhone than a proper camera.)
  3. Improving presentation skills. I now film my students while they give project presentations. For their personal development, they view their presentation videos and give me a critique/reaction of what they saw. The  “iTunes U” is a good place to host such video, but more on this shortly.

Software: Regardless of shooting video clips and stills outside or inside the classroom, my favorite way to present these to a class is by uploading all the content to iPhoto and then dragging and dropping into Apple’s equivalent to PowerPoint called Keynote. Each still image gets its own slide, as does each video clip. It creates the modern equivalent of a slide show, except the slides that contain video play as movies. I prepare this on my Apple MacBook Pro notebook computer, close the computer, carry it to the classroom, open, plug into the overhead projector, and voilà… it’s that easy. (PC users: you can drag and drop stills and video into PowerPoint too.)

Sometimes I shoot a number of short videos that I want to stitch together to create a single video. In this case, Apple’s iMovie (part of the iLife software suite) is a good tool for the job. It’s relatively easy to use, and costs less than $100. PC users can do the same with Movie Maker, included free with Windows XP, Vista and 7.

What if you want students (or the world) to access the videos via the WWW? To restrict access only to students, the best option I’ve seen so far is “iTunes U,” which interfaces through Blackboard, and under the right settings, creates a place for your videos that only Blackboard course users can access (all users will need the free iTunes download). Contact Kevin Wolff in BCTC for details.  I like this option for student presentations. The students can see and critique their presentations in the safety of knowing that the rest of the world will not.

Public sharing options include Vimeo, Blip.TV, Flickr, YouTube, but you’ll need to be careful about obtaining consent of people pictured in your videos before posting to the web. Finally, if appropriate, consider BCTC’s video hosting options.

So… what are you doing with video?


Special thanks to Prof. Sara Rofofsky Marcus, Queensborough Community College for motivating this post, and to the folks in Baruch College Technology Center (BCTC) for the generous grant that allowed this.

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Multitasking, revisited

In my December 2 post I wondered about the appropriate role of mobile devices in the classroom. Since writing that column, I’ve discovered four relevant references that may influence one’s thinking on the issue.

1. PBS Frontline, “Digital Nation” (February 2, 2010, Season 28, Episode 3, What is the effect of media multitasking on society, education, brain development, and the economy? Interviews with researchers reveal what we now know about how badly the human brain multitasks and how some multitasking is impairing our ability to think deeply, even after the computer is turned off. In light of this research, the documentary challenges conventional wisdom about the role of technology in the classroom, yet perhaps most intriguing is the coverage of a Stanford study (see #2).

2. Ophir, Nass and Wagner, “Cognitive Control of Media Multitaskers” (Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, 2009, vol. 106, no. 37). This study shows that students who think they are highly effective multitaskers are actually quite the opposite, or as Stanford’s Clifford Nass said in a BBC interview: “The shocking discovery of this research is that [high multitaskers] are lousy at everything that’s necessary for multitasking.” See additional coverage in Wired Magazine and The Associated Press.

3. Maggie Jackson, Distracted: The Erosion of Attention and the Coming Dark Age (Prometheus Books, 2008). Jackson is another who argues that despite the cultural acceptance of multitasking, such practices are undermining our own attention skills; she cites more scientific studies that suggest that we have become so distracted by multitasking that we are losing the ability to think deeply about problems. In a video interview posted on her website (, she asks,

What are the repercussions for a democracy when citizens are surrounded by information and are less and less capable of creating knowledge or learning from that information?

Jackson says that the average knowledge-based worker in the US now switches tasks every three minutes, and about half of these are interrupting. If you are wondering about the financial toll of all this multitasking and disruption, you may be interested in this…

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Posted in Instructional Technology, Students' Thinking, Uncategorized, Using Technology | 3 Comments

How blunt is too blunt?

The following is a post from cac.ophony by David Parsons, a CUNY Writing Fellow, on a recent email exchange between Scott Galloway of NYU’s Stern School of business and a student, which has begun to generate all sorts of interesting discussion on the ways in which faculty members should or should not communicate with students. The original post is here.

UntitledA professor at NYU’s Stern School of Business, Scott Galloway, recently sent an email that has gone viral, due largely to its unique approach in response to a student’s particularly obnoxious behavior. The student, who remains anonymous, had arrived an hour late to class and been denied admission, and later emailed the professor to explain that he was late because he had been “sampling” different classes, the last of which was Professor Galloway’s, and that it was within his rights to explore different options at the beginning of the semester.

Galloway’s response has caught attention because of his brutal honesty in addressing what he sees as the student’s overall functional weaknesses. In short, he takes him down a few notches. You can read the full exchange here, but I wanted to focus on a specific piece of Galloway’s final advice:

“Getting a good job, working long hours, keeping your skills relevant, navigating the politics of an organization, finding a live/work balance…these are all really hard, xxxx. In contrast, respecting institutions, having manners, demonstrating a level of humility…these are all (relatively) easy. Get the easy stuff right xxxx. In and of themselves they will not make you successful. However, not possessing them will hold you back and you will not achieve your potential which, by virtue of you being admitted to Stern, you must have in spades. It’s not too late xxxx…”

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Posted in Classroom Management, Classroom Rules, Communicating and Managing Expectations, Values | 1 Comment

Understanding What You Don’t Understand

When students are having trouble, I often suggest that they come to work with me one-on-one so that we can figure out where they are going wrong and fix it. We go through an example of a basic and core problem, such as a simple supply and demand problem in economics. I ask them to explain things to me step-by-step so that I can see at what point the difficulty or mistake occurs. When we get to a point where they don’t know how to answer a question or where they have a misunderstanding, I jump in and explain. Then we do another example—or several more—so that they have a chance to do it themselves. Students usually find where their misunderstanding, or missing understanding, is.

Some students feel upset at being “put on the spot,” and some just avoid coming in to do this. I know that it is important that students don’t think that they are innately stupid and can’t learn. And I worry that highlighting their lack of understanding can undermine students’ confidence. But this method of finding out what students don’t know is generally very effective. Afterwards, they frequently enjoy a major leap in performance and understanding.

One student response, however, undermines the process and raises a red flag: “I understood that” right after saying something that showed not understanding. If you don’t realize that you don’t understand something then you can’t fix it. In my experience, such a response indicates a student who is unlikely to learn and improve either from our interaction or in other settings. Over the years, I have come to repeat things like: “Knowing what you don’t know is the key to learning”; “In economics (research methods, etc.) many problems are hard, and I often don’t understand them at first. It takes work. You need to be comfortable with not understanding things. Not understanding doesn’t mean anything is wrong, just that you need to work at it.”

But these are things that I say primarily in my office with individual students and only rarely to the class as a whole. Even when I speak to the class as a whole, I don’t really offer concrete methods for helping a student who does not recognize what they don’t understand to gain that recognition. I would like to have a more systematic way to help in this process.

Therefore, I read with interest an account of a CUNY project on self-regulated learning, described recently in the Chronicle of Higher Education here . The article describes how in a basic math course at City Tech, “when students make errors, they need to be coached to reflect on exactly where they went wrong…students are required to rework at least two of their incorrect quiz problems…[and] write a sentence or two about the correct strategy.”

What do other instructors think? How do you respond to students who don’t recognize when they don’t know or understand something?

Posted in Analytical Skills, Students' Skills and Abilities, Students' Thinking | 3 Comments

Thinking about large lectures

I’ve got a section of 120 students this semester. I’ve taught it before and always enjoy the group—there’s so much energy at 7:30 at night. Thinking about the class, I recently reread Joan Middendorf and Alan Kalish’s “The ‘Change-Up’ in Lectures” (The National Teaching and Learning Forum, 1996, Vol. 5, No. 2, pp. 1-5), a refresher of tricks to make large lectures more engaging.  Perhaps you’ve seen it.

My favorite quote from the article is this:

One explanation for the lapses in students’ attention is that the “information transfer” model of the traditional lecture does not match what current cognitive science research tells us of how humans learn. Research tells us that the brain does not record information like a videocassette recorder.

The full text of the article is on the web:

In the original printed version there is also this sidebar of tricks:

Tricks include the well-known “think-pair-share.” Have you ever tried the so-called “kisses and crackers”?

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Creating Sustainable Leaders

An interesting article entitled “Multicultural Critical Theory. At B-School” appeared in the New York Times this week. The article reports that, although business schools were found “too vocational” as far back as 1959, they are only now starting to change curricula. “Many of the changes are moving business schools into territory more traditionally associated with the liberal arts: multidisciplinary approaches, an understanding of global and historical context and perspectives, a greater focus on leadership and social responsibility and . . . learning how to think critically.” John J. Fernandes, president of the Association to Advance Collegiate Schools of Business, predicts that in 10 years, 75 percent of schools will have made changes that focus on “the creation of more sustainable leaders.”

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Plus/Minus Grading Systems

Have you ever thought about the pros and cons of our plus/minus grading system versus the A-B-C-D-F system employed by other universities? The plus/minus system actually has several advantages—see for example the reasons RPI adopted a plus/minus system in 2004.

Despite the advantages, under a plus/minus system I’m finding it challenging to implement something I learned from Ken Bain in 2007.

In his 3-day Best Teachers Summer Institute, Bain leads a unit on assessment. In particular he asks educators, “What does it mean for a student to be an ‘A thinker’ in your discipline? What must students be able to demonstrate or do to live up to that standard? How would it be measured if there were no such thing as numerical grades?” Bain suggests that we share with students our answers to these questions to help them understand what it takes to be a so-called A thinker.

When I did Bain’s exercise, I learned that the definitions for A vs. B vs. C thinkers are not trivial, but doable. But consider this. Our plus/minus system has 11 grade categories whereas the A-B-C-D-F system has 5. It’s been 3 years, and acceptable definitions for each of the 11 brackets still elude me. What is it exactly that a C+ thinker can do that a C thinker cannot?

If you have found good ways to define plus/minus grades in the spirit of delineating what students demonstrate they can do (rather than numerical scores), I’d like to hear from you. What works for you?


Here’s another issue with our grading system that borders on triviality, but, well, I think about these things. Suppose in a jumbo lecture an instructor gives 3 multiple-choice exams, averages the scores, and (voilà) assigns final grades according to the chart in the faculty handbook. In our plus/minus system, if we assume the course scores are uniformly distributed between 50% and 100% (which they are not, but bear with me), then 10% of the students are expected to be a half-percentage point below a cutoff, inviting natural rounding up. That is, 1 in 10 students may be arguing for the next higher grade, a grade they technically didn’t achieve. Maybe the number is not exactly 10%, but it’s close for many reasonable grade distributions.

Certainly, there are all sorts of considerations when resolving the rounding question, but that’s not the point. The issue is the sheer number of “rounding cases” that our grading system invites. I recently taught a course where 21% of the final scores were less than a half point below a cutoff.

Happy 2010 everyone.

Posted in Assessing Learning, Grading | 4 Comments

More on Mobile Devices in the Classroom

This is a reply/follow-up to the November 9 post that raises important pedagogical questions about the role of mobile technology in the classroom.

I’d like to back up and ask a basic question. The number of students who now carry iPhones or Blackberries is noteworthy, not to mention those who text from standard cell phones. Given this level of potential distraction, has anyone developed a list of best practices for managing mobile devices in the classroom? What do you say in your syllabus? What is the appropriate response to a ringing cell phone? How about the student who sends text messages or the evening MBA who steps out to answer work-related calls? I want to give courtesy/respect, but the collective effect of 24 executives with 24 Blackberries is becoming downright disruptive.

Mobile phone jammers are illegal under the FCC’s Communications Act of 1934 (as amended by the Telecommunications Act of 1996). Scratch that idea.

I’ve been watching with interest Broadway’s struggle with changing etiquette. Did you see Hugh Jackman’s response when a ringing cell phone interrupted his late-September 2009 performance of “A Steady Rain”? According to the WSJ, Jackman is among a growing number of performers who are breaking from their characters to confront cell phone users, rogue photographers and videographers. How many times did you break from your script this semester?

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Posted in Classroom Management, Instructional Technology, Uncategorized, Using Technology | 8 Comments

Back to Basics: Resisting the Allure of Web Technology in the Classroom


Cartoon from Paul Silli's blog post "Why Should School Districts Invest in Technology."

James Hoff, a Fellow at the Schwartz Communication Institute, just posted to the Institute’s blog a provocative argument against teaching with technology entitled “Back to Basics: Resisting the Allure of Web Technology in the Classroom.” Bellow is a snippet.

As a profession we seem to have thoughtlessly embraced the idea of technology precisely because we see it as a way of making learning easier and more accessible for more of our students. Obviously—the logic goes—our students are comfortable using the Internet and social networking tools, so why not allow them to use those skills to learn? This kind of thinking is common among instructors who embrace popular culture because they think it will help their students “relate” to the course material. These are the same teachers who spend class time screening Hollywood versions of Shakespeare because students are supposedly incapable of understanding Elizabethan English or who teach rap lyrics or song lyrics as poetry, because it’s easier for students to get the difference between a tenor and a vehicle when it’s Tupac or Bob Dylan speaking than when it’s Dylan Thomas or Langston Hughes. But our calling as educators extends beyond merely providing our students with opportunities to learn material. As educators we are also responsible for providing our students with experiences which they would not otherwise have access to, such as the experiences that result from finding solutions to difficult problems, engaged and thoughtful conversation, and collegial argument. But even more than this, it is important that we offer our students alternatives to the kinds of experiences provided by the technology of mass media. If we are going to insist on teaching them how to get by in the corporate world they’ve been given, we need to at least teach them that other worlds are still possible.

You can read the entire post and comment on it here.

Posted in Instructional Technology, Student Participation, Students' Thinking, Using Technology | 1 Comment

Excelling at Excel

Should all undergraduate business students study spreadsheet-based modeling?

For the past two years I’ve been thinking about this question, first as a member of the Provost’s Task Force for Quantitative Pedagogy, and now as a member of two follow-up efforts (the Weissman School’s “implementation committee” and the Zicklin School’s “quant group”). If you’ll bear with me, I’d like to share some of what I am hearing.

First, I asked young alumni as well as hiring managers who recruit Baruch’s BBA graduates.

They told me that to compete for the best entry-level professional positions, one needs spreadsheet fluency (some said that PowerPoint presentation skills and Access database skills are key too). And once on the job, according to Accountancy’s Harry Davis, young Excel and Access database “whiz kids” are receiving promotions earlier, especially at smaller firms where such skills are invaluable. Just yesterday someone told me that she perceives a double standard on Wall Street: all else being equal, Ivy League entry-level job candidates can say, “sure, I can learn MS-Excel visual basic macros” whereas a Baruch candidate would probably receive additional scrutiny over such statements.

Next, I surveyed our undergraduate BBA students (i.e., my MGT 3121 students.)

Students tell me that they want stand-alone courses in Excel modeling and they want Excel deeply embedded in business courses where it makes sense. I’ve heard this so many times that it motivated this article for my professional society’s monthly magazine.

Next, I asked Patricia Imbimbo and C. May Reilly at Baruch’s STARR Career Development Center.

They tell me that the need for spreadsheet and modeling skills are so great that they developed their own training program. The two-dozen or so students who qualify for the Financial Leadership Program (FLP; formerly called Wall Street Careers) receive three half-day Excel workshops on shortcuts, pivot tables, if statements, solver, vlookups and visual basic macro programming. In addition, Training the Street gives FLP participants additional modeling instruction. If our most promising graduates need such training, what does this say about the other 2000 BBAs who expect to graduate this year?

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Posted in Analytical Skills, Quantitative Skills | 9 Comments