Monday, January 2, 2023

Crafting video question sets

Why question sets at all?
I was never comfortable showing a video in class without an accompanying question set. Casting students as passive observers didn't seem like a path for learning. And it's asking a lot of students: to actively engage with an inherently passive exercise.

Depth of the questions
My first significant experience as a teacher using video lessons was via The Mechanical Universe: High School Adaptation. I was able to get my school to buy me the set, and it came with a binder of resources. Among the resources was a set of questions for students to answer while watching the video.

But the prompts called for extended, written answers. Not quick, "bang-bang" responses. More reflective, analytical responses. It didn't seem like students could answer these while the video played. Rather, the video would have to be paused while students drafted and composed responses.

I didn't want to spend that much time in the video.

Further experience with such things led me to the conclusion that the producers of video content hoped their content would occupy more of your calendar than you intended.

That did not suit my needs.

So I developed shorter, tighter question sets, with questions that could be answered while the video played without pause.

The video is not my primary curriculum resource; it's a supplement. In my class, the video will play through once, and that's it. Students complete the question set while the video plays. If you're hoping for a deeper analysis and reflective responses, my video question sets are not the way to go.

Page design: print-friendly Google Docs
This topic is so important, I wrote a separate post about it: One document to rule them all. The TL;DR version is this: My question sets are Google Docs files that candy assigned to students in Google Classroom, for example, if remote teaching/distance learning is in effect. They can also be printed and used in an in-person setting. Maximum flexibility is the objective.

Because the print versions might be used in a darkened room, I chose to use a heavy sans=serif text font for increased legibility.

Question variety
Most video question sets that have been put into the world are "word-drop" questions—one-word fill in the blank. I use them, but not exclusively. Word-drops don't really work for exotic words that are unfamiliar to students, or whose spelling is challenging. For those, I prefer a multiple-choice format.

Multiple choice question construction takes additional time and energy: now you need distractors to sit appealingly with the key. 

Ages ago, I served on the physics development committee for California's short-lived Golden State Exam. Because I complained to the California Department of Education about the statewide physics exams it was developing, the State Board of Education appointed me to its Assessment Review Panel. We vetted questions developed by Educational Testing Service for use on California's Content Standards Tests. All this work made me acutely aware of the importance of quality distractors.

I also like pick-from-a-list questions. And when the material calls for it, matching is good. On rare occasions, a tour/false works well.

The point is to mix it up where possible. I don't have research to show that that makes for a more engaging, less tedious question set, but I believe it. So that's what I do. 

And no student, even those who are well-read and intellectually sharp, should have much success completing the question set without watching the movie/episode.

Raised ceilings: space for writing
Sometimes a word-drop question has enough verbiage that the dropped word occurs in the second line of text. In those cases, I add some vertical space so that students have room to write (when the document is in print form); no need to scrunch the handwriting. Not all author-creators think of this.

No unnecessary art
Most of my question sets are pure text. The visuals and graphics are the domain of the video. If anything, the question sets represent a translation of the visual and auditory to text. I don't see any value in clip-art or screen grabs. On some (rare) occasions, there is value in interpretation of a graphic element or graph.

Non-breaking space
This one is weed-deep. When a question calls for selecting items from a list, often the list of items can be fit to a single lone of text. Sometimes items in the list consist of more than one word. When using the Google Docs file, it's convenient to be able to double-click an item on the list to select it. But if the item has more than one word, double-clicking only selects one word. I use a non-breaking space between the words so that both words are selected on the double-click. Like I said, this one is deep in the weeds.

Play to the buzzer
When you ask students to maintain attention throughout the video by using a question set, many will lose focus after the answer to the final question is revealed. So it's best to have that occur as close to the end of the video. If it's the last word of the video's narration, all the better.

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