Create Student Engagement with your Videos

The traditional online course structure violates a fundamental principle of learning by separating the process of getting information from the process of engaging it. The student is asked to go through some sort of resource in its entirety—be it a video, website, or reading—and then reflect on it later with an essay or discussion post.

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The traditional online course structure violates a fundamental principle of learning by separating the process of getting information from the process of engaging it. The student is asked to go through some sort of resource in its entirety—be it a video, website, or reading—and then reflect on it later with an essay or discussion post. 

The problem is that our working memory only holds a limited amount of information, and so we need to periodically pause what we are doing to reflect on it in order to move the information to our long-term memory. Without that engagement, much of what the student reads or views is forgotten by the time he or she gets to the assignment or discussion. The ideal learning environment requires students to engage the content while they are receiving it.

One good way to reunite content and reflection is by adding tags to videos that pause them for the student to do something related to the content. If the video is on the structural dynamics of bridges, the instructor can add a tag that takes the student to a YouTube clip of the Tacoma bridge collapse. Not only does this new content reinforce and amplify the information in the original video, but the mere fact that the student has to act during the video helps keep his or her attention on the content, thus helping to impress the content into memory. These breaks take viewers out of the passive recipient role to become more active participants in their learning.

ThinkLink is one of my favorite sites for adding content to videos because it provides for easy upload and an intuitive tagging system. Watch this tutorial to learn how to upload and tag your own videos:

As an example, I created a video biography about my life that I use to introduce myself to students. I put the video on ThinkLink and added tags at various points that take the student to more information about the topics I bring up. Take a look at it here: 

You can also upload images to ThinkLink for tagging. An art history professor might upload an image of a painting and add tags that elaborate on different elements within the painting. A tag on a building might explain its importance, history, or the style that it represents. Tagging allows the student to explore the content at his or her own pace and interest, which makes the learning self-directed rather than instructor-directed. Students' inquiries are directed by the question, “What is this?” when they click the tag, and so they are already invested in the answer. Take a look at this simple example to get an idea of how it works:

Another way to create engagement is with periodic questions. These should come every 5-10 minutes, which is about the point when our minds start to wander. Even a very simple multiple choice question about what the student just watched will do wonders for retention. Questions can even be humorous, including nonsense options among the possible answers, in order to keep the student's attention. They can also force students to apply what they learn. After a discussion of John Locke, a philosophy professor might provide a list of objects and ask which ones Locke would consider an example of a “secondary quality.” This forces the students to think about the content, thus better cementing it into their long-term memory. 

There are a variety of good systems for adding questions to videos. allows you to create quizzes around YouTube videos. You can pick a video already on YouTube, or load one that you create to your own YouTube account. The quizzes include a countdown timer to prevent lollygagging and to create anticipation. Students are told immediately whether they got the correct answer, and are given a running score as they move through the video.

EduCanon is another popular choice for adding questions to videos. The difference from is that EduCanon allows you to organize groups of videos into lessons, and then assign the lessons to students and track their progress through them. Students need to answer each question before moving to the next question in a video, and since you are given the results, you can ensure that students do the entire lesson.

Student comments are a third way to create engagement with content. These allow students to post a thought when it occurs to them, rather than later in a discussion forum, when it is likely forgotten. By being connected directly to the place where it is relevant, the comment gains context for other students. Plus, discussion forums tend to be driven by pre-established questions from the instructor, whereas an open video forum provides students with the freedom to add thoughts on the issues that come to mind, thus widening the creativity and breadth of the discussion. The instructor can also seed the forum by adding his or her own questions at different points to spark debate. is one of the better tools for adding comments to videos. Students watch the video and stop it to add a note wherever appropriate. is also integrated with Google Drive, meaning that students can save their notes directly to their Drive accounts to access, edit, or submit to their instructor later. Plus, the notes are time-stamped, so the instructor knows when they were posted, and can ensure that they were posted on time. 

Vialogues is another good system for hosting video discussions, as it allows you to change up the interaction by alternating comments and polling questions in the video. You can even allow students to add their own polling questions, and so you might assign students to add questions at various points along the way. This would be a fun exercise that would force students to pay attention, and the videos can be made either public or private to prevent nonstudents from messing with them. You can also embed the results into a blog or other website.

Create engagement with your learning content through video tags, comments, and questions, and see the difference it makes to student learning.