Using Video for Critical Thinking

Today a colleague asked me to resend a link for a site that offers free documentaries. He was talking about DocumentaryTube, a well organized site offering free documentaries on demand. He might also have meant YouTube’s Documentary section, with a mixture of free and low priced videos available. I’ll also toss Snagfilms in there, and of course I’ll send him to my go-to guy Richard Byrne and his FreeTech4Teachers entry on the Best Free Documentary Websites.

I won’t stop there, however, because it’s important to reinforce the importance of guiding students when using video. Just turning it on and tuning out as you grade papers is a poor strategy- because it is exactly what students will want to do (ok, without the papers, but you get the idea). Using video in the classroom is a GREAT way to help students practice their critical thinking skills, but only if you give them a framework within which to work.

How many times have you chosen a video for class and thought “This will be a great piece to use as the center of discussions about a,b, and c?” You show the video and ask what the students thought about a,b, and c…and nada. Not a peep, except maybe from your top student.  It’s not that the video wasn’t relevant or your students slept through it- perhaps is just is too long from critical thought to discussion.

You can improve this by using some simple tools. All involve giving students prompts to think about or find examples of in the video. Then-

  • Create a twitter hashtag for students to use to respond to the prompts while the video is on. This allows students to quickly post ideas while they are thinking of them. Of course, all students would have to have a twitter account. You can create a classroom account for students to use if you wish- this comes with a caveat to also talk about acceptable digital behavior.
  • Use a backchannel chat tool like TodaysMeet to let students make points or ask questions as they watch.
  • If the idea of a chat makes you nervous, use a shared bulletin board like Padlet
  • Create a viewing guide to be printed or shared on GoogleDocs to help students formalize their thoughts or take notes

When students have their thoughts in print it makes it easier to go back and have the conversations you originally planned. The Twitter, backchannel chat and bulletin board tools have the added advantage of giving you the ability to monitor questions as the video goes along. You can stop the video and let discussions come up as they bubble into existence and thoughts about the topic are fresh.


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