active learning

Active Learning through Video Annotations

It is now well-known that good online courses should make use of the world of free, high-quality educational videos available on nearly any topic. It is also well-known that interaction with lesson content, in which students must think about the lesson material while going

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Another Year, Another New Normal

This fall, faculty will face an increased range of preparation in their students. If you’ve been teaching awhile, you have a sense of the degree to which your students are differently prepared: some know the conventions of citation better than others; some have greater spatial

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Reducing Student Resistance to Active Learning: Some Encouraging Research

Why don’t more college instructors use active learning? Research shows that active learning increases student achievement and retention and can enhance diversity in STEM programs by narrowing the achievement gap for traditionally underrepresented students (Theobald et al., 2020). While active learning use among college instructors

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Inject Active Learning with Follow-Along Lessons

Nearly all teachers today use PowerPoint or Google Slides presentations to accompany their synchronous lessons. At the same time, students have laptops, tablets, or smartphones open during face-to-face classes. This offers teachers the option of adding interactions to their lessons by inserting slides with questions,

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More Interactions and Less Content for Better Learning

We learn best by returning to the same content over and over, reflecting on it each time to deepen our understanding. This is because knowledge is stored as patterns of neuroconnections in the brain, and those connections are strengthened each time that pattern is activated

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Looking Harder at Active Learning Strategies

I recently reviewed an active learning workshop, and that’s gotten me wondering about active learning strategies and where we are in our thinking about them. We do know the answers to two questions. First, active learning strategies work—not all the time or uniformly but regularly.

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Student Expectations about Instructional Methods

Expectations shape our responses. I come to supper thinking we’re having salmon, and instead it’s chicken thighs. I’m not smiling. A student studies for the exam, feels prepared, breezes through the questions, and anticipates a good grade. If the grade ends up a C, the

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Does Active Learning Work?

Why this article is worth discussing: A lot of us would wholeheartedly agree that active learning works. We have some familiarity with the research that supports it, and we’ve seen its positive effects in our classrooms. Done well, it engages students and overcomes the passivity

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Teaching for Embodied Learning

I think I killed my yeast.

It has been years, nay, decades, since I last baked bread without using a bread machine. It has even been years since I used a bread machine. I once regularly made a delicious honey graham bread. It always turned out

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Magna Digital Library

It is now well-known that good online courses should make use of the world of free, high-quality educational videos available on nearly any topic. It is also well-known that interaction with lesson content, in which students must think about the lesson material while going through it, is critical to moving the information from student working to long-term memory. But these two practices are still rarely combined. Videos are shown without interactions, making the experience analogous to watching TV.

One way to bridge this gap is with student annotations of course videos. Instructors make notes in the margins of the articles they read to assimilate the information and help them find it later, but they do not provide a way for students to do the same with the videos used in their courses. The best instructors add multiple-choice questions to their videos, which is an excellent start, but it still falls short of the mental engagement of writing down thoughts and questions about the content.

There are a variety of excellent, free systems that allow students to collectively annotate course videos to improve learning for both the students making the annotations and those reading them. These annotations greatly improve the power of videos as an educational tool.

Annotation types

Rather than just setting up a video on an annotation system and tell students to “go after it,” instructors should give students some direction on the types of annotations that are possible as well as post examples of each. These will help jump-start the process and broaden student thinking on how they can view course content reflectively.


The most straightforward annotation type is a brief summary of the main point of a section, such as “The medical profession has moved from a paternalistic to an autonomy-based view of the doctor-patient relationship.” These summaries can help other students understand the material as well as develop the ability to abstract the central point from a text. Instructors can also encourage students to post alternative summaries when they see a different main point, illuminating what others have missed, or an error in another summary. Now they are thinking about both the video and how others interpret it, giving them a second level of analysis.


Questioning shows an even deeper engagement with the topic than summarization, and ultimately, higher education should teach students to approach content with a questioning mind. But questions come in two forms. One, a student might honestly not understand something and so ask a question like “If the puppets represent the Forms in the Allegory of the Cave, then what does the Sun represent?” Students like answering each other’s honest questions and will quickly jump in with possible answers.

Two, sometimes a question is really an objection that raises a problem with the claims in some content, such as “I don’t understand why Kant assumes that . . .” We should encourage them as much as possible, and they demonstrate deep thinking and can serve as good starting points for further discussion of the concepts.


A third type of annotation is a simple comment expressing the viewer’s thoughts on the material. Someone might note that a certain point raised in the video corrected a prior misunderstanding, or makes them wonder about some similar topic. Students might also amplify a point they see as important by adding additional information or support for it. Comments might also draw connections with other course topics, helping students connect new information to their broader knowledge base.

Video annotation systems

The learning management system still does not allow instructors to add interactions to videos, and so instructors will generally need to go elsewhere to facilitate student annotations. Here are some good options:

Screengrab of VideoAnt window
Screengrab of Timelinely window showing an image for a medical ethics course
Screengrab of a Reclipped window

There is no reason that an online video used in a course should lack any opportunity for annotations. At the very least, the instructor can use an annotation system to add comments that highlight or amplify important points in a video, thus drawing students to what the instructor wants them to learn. But these initial comments should entice students to add their own annotations that activate thinking about the video’s topics and help students learn to approach material with a thoughtful mindset.