Where’s the video?




Woman on the floor with laptop and headsetRachel Appleby, co-author of the Business one:one serieslooks at some of the benefits and drawbacks of using video in the classroom. She’ll be running a workshop at IATEFL 2012 in Glasgow around the range of videos available to teachers and the practical implications of exploiting them.

In my multiple efforts to learn Spanish, I started watching a film last night. I was expecting it to have English subtitles, or at least Spanish, but it turned out to have neither. 15′ into the film I was floundering. Not exactly my idea of a relaxing Sunday evening.

I have a list of strategies for improving my Spanish, most of which come in bite-sized chunks. Watching films doesn’t quite fit into that category, but as long as I understand what is going on, then it seems worthwhile, and naively I like to think it helps!

I often recommend films to my students, however, but only to the higher level learners. Unfortunately with Business English students, there is rarely time to focus on long extracts. We all have favourite YouTube clips, and these can be a good starting point for a lesson, but beyond that (and a lot of extra work), I have my doubts.

While there are now a number of language teaching websites dedicated to short video extracts (both short clips, as well as film extracts), they still need fitting into the syllabus, and making relevant to students, and this is particularly difficult, I find, with BE students and their disparate needs. Such media needs to enhance learning, make it easier, more fun, more interesting or more memorable, and ultimately more effective to achieve lesson aims.

Maybe I’m unlucky where I teach, but too often I’ve been held up showing a clip on YouTube in class while the streaming regularly stops to buffer. I’ve also found that my favourite extract straddles two clips on YouTube. Once, the only decent-quality clip from a film I wanted to show had subtitles in Japanese. I’m doomed. Classes must be free of such technical glitches!

From a student’s perspective, there are other issues: sometimes they simply “don’t get” the point of the extract I thought would be a resounding success at the start of class. The clip is de-contextualized (both situation and characters need explaining) and, perhaps most importantly, the language is either too fast, or at a level which is too difficult. Handing out a video script either before or after is helpful, but not exactly motivating, and to me, it initially defies audio as listening practice. The result can be very demotivating for students.

While videos can be useful for exposing students to good examples of language, such extracts are rare, and need searching out and working on: in fact, a lot of thought and time is required to put together a good lesson based on a video extract.

Without denying the potential that authentic video has (and I’m a great believer in real language, and the ‘here and now’), I think there are many times when a short, tailor-made video will encapsulate exactly what is needed to engage the business student, inform and inspire them, and ultimately give them the confidence to use the language or information they have learnt in their own environments, thus providing a greater sense of achievement in the process.

Isn’t this, ultimately, what we’re after, well over and above the mere entertainment factor?

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  1. I agree, Rachel. I have seen a lot of authentic clips being used in classroom. When it works, it’s fabulous as the students have such a sense of achievement and relevance. However, often it doesn’t work very well, for all the reasons you state.

    I think this is perhaps about broadening our definition of authenticity, to include language used in an authentic way, not just material which was not originally intended to be used in a classroom.

  2. Good to have your support. Thanks for this, Rachael!
    I like ‘authentic’ a lot in terms of task types, and hate it when, for example, students have real texts with words tippexed out – agh – just defeats the object!
    So, good to have reminders of what ‘authentic’ really means – great – thanks!

  3. For sure! I entirely agree with you. I’ve been played to my students according to their needs. It’s amazing seein their reaction because it goes further classroom’s activities. Some of them consider it as a time to relax and connect ideas. To get it the level must be taken into consideration. They really enjoy it.

  4. Absolutely agree, too. Showing students authentic / non-educational videos is a great motivational boost. (They’ll immediately have the feeling of achievement: “I’ve watched a real English language video!”) And if you’re crafty enough to design material around the video, you can be sure that learning will take place. As for the level – I think it depends on what you want. You can show Youtube videos to beginners if you design the activities according to their level.

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