BETTblogs: Facing the challenges of STEM videos

  Evolution, statistics and environmental issues at a glance

Evolution, statistics and environmental issues at a glance

The role for authentic media in delivering the STEM curriculum is not straightforward. Educational video experts DLA share their hacks for better digital media use.

How do we bring the real world into STEM subjects and encourage student interest enough to push them into action? Video, as a solution, is earning its place in the STEM classroom.

However, Digital Learning Associates (DLA) found a series of STEM-specific challenges arose when producing a series of video assets for US high school biology. Whether covering plant evolution or reverse transcriptase enzymes, we found our producers having to make significant editorial changes to resolve these issues.

Here is how we did it:

Problem: Facts, facts, facts

Teachers, authors, and publishers alike expect videos to be packed with valuable and rigorous scientific information. But these fact-packed videos can very easily fail to retain student attention. The scripts drafted by writers are often an overwhelming torrent of facts that start to blur into information overload.

Our solution

  • Break it up: whether it’s through style changes, use of pauses, added titles or graphics, or story-led breaks, bite-sized chunks are always easier to digest, however short the video!
  • Create a progression: this can be done through the spoken narrative as it would in a text, but video provides us other useful tools such as background music, which can easily communicate a direction such as excitement, or a resolution, or a change of pace to reflect and digest.

Problem: Heavily narrated videos

For the STEM video suite we worked on in 2017, the content had been defined through long narrated sections. We get it: scripted voice-over gives subject-matter experts full control of content. But it’s boring for a student viewer who never hears a different voice, never sees the presenter engage with a location or a contributor, never witnesses the “crackle” of a live event. The kind of immersive experience video should provide is actually absent.

Our solution

Source the right contributor: although content is important in science, the key goals of educational video are engagement and ignition. For motivating the student into action, invest effort in finding the right on-screen contributors. Give creative space for their communication skills in the product, and let them work to generate inspiration and identification through all means possible.

Problem: The very small and the very old

The subject matter of STEM videos is quite often abstract, refers to events that may be distant in time or space, are quite theoretical, or can only be seen through a very powerful microscope. This, of course, presents a problem when attempting to generate imagery that connects the concepts to students’ real lives.

Our solution

  • Visual metaphors: the students of this generation are sophisticated consumers of media and are trained to understand and process visual metaphors. For example, everyone can read the fast-moving hands of a clock as time moving forward.
  • Similarities: we don’t have footage of the carboniferous era 300 million years ago, but a fern forest with leaves moving in the wind can do the trick!

Video, and authentic video in particular, is particularly well suited for integrating STEM content in wider real-life contexts. It enhances understanding and increases retention while appealing to the generation of students in classes today, who consume and create video on a daily basis. But as we have learned, as effective as video can be as the starting point of STEM lessons, the creation of quality authentic STEM video content is nowhere near free of problems.

---

Want to know more about incorporating K-12 videos into courses? Check out our earlier post: The six secrets for succesful K-12 videos or get in touch by email (mail@digitallearningassociates.com) or Twitter (@digiassociates). The full team is in London for BETT so it might be a good chance for a chat!

This blog was published as part of the series BETTblogs (follow the hashtag on Twitter) by DLA. Please contact us before republishing.