Videos in classes

This semester, I have been teaching several archaeology courses, and I have definitely appreciated the value and power of showing different videos in class:

  • You get to cover more material in a short time. Whereas I may take 15 minutes to describe something in a lecture, a video can do it conveniently in 5 minutes.  As I have made my own YouTube videos, I have come to appreciate the care and detail taken with scripts, the ability to condense and efficiently deliver information, the ability to do multiple takes (instead of misspeaking in class), and the ability to draw on the interaction of images and a dynamic visual.
  • Even a silent video, such as this one of a water screw, quickly illustrates and helps you describe a dynamic action that would take far longer to explain without a video.
  • Students light up and become more engaged when they hear they will watch a video.
  • They allow you to take a “field trip” to places that may not be easily (or safely) accessible for your students, such as Pompeii, Babylon, or Giza.  This helps students understand sites better than static pictures allow.
  • They allow you to showcase the process of archaeology.  For example, many documentaries about archaeological sites are framed around an archaeological project, so they often discuss methods or relevant issues (such as safety in present day Iraq).
  • Similarly, by focusing on a particular site or issue, documentaries often feature the expert on that site or issue.  If it’s a good, clear documentary, I’d prefer to offer my students the insights of the expert, straight from the horse’s mouth, as it were, instead of my summary. And, since it’s made for a public audience, the producers often make sure that the expert’s ideas are easily digestible.
  • They allow you to show dynamic 3-D reconstructions of various buildings. For example, this reconstruction of the house of Caecilius Iucundus in Pompeii combines wall paintings, artifacts, and architecture that are nearly impossible to assemble effectively in PowerPoint slides. This computer animation of the eruption of Mt. Vesuvius may also be a better way of explaining the eruption than a lecture, depending on your goals.
  • It allows you to engagingly cover material that may not excite you or that will not be engaging if told in lecture form.  For example, this video is far more entertaining than my description of the Olympic games.
  • They are relatively easy to find. With YouTube, NOVA, National Geographic, and many, many other sources, there is an abundance of videos out there on a variety of topics.

There is a key to this, though: you need to add an incentive for students to pay attention to and learn from the video. Make them fill out a worksheet–so they know what is fair game for tests and have good notes from the video–or quiz them with a PRS system right after the video.


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