seascape models

University education as social media

What social media has that much online teaching lacks is its highly engaging while being cheap to produce.

I like my undergraduate teaching and I’m always trying to improve at that. I’m also interested in social media and have dabbled in text, image and video based social media.

This got me thinking: the approach to creating social media has many advantages that could be applied to creating content university undergraduate degrees. I’m thinking particularly for online content.

University education has increasingly moved online, especially since covid. Currently what we see in many places is just the same old lectures delived through video or provided as recordings. I’m the first to admit that these are often dead boring to watch, and I’ve recorded many of these myself.

Its just hard to find the motivation to sit down and watch 50 minutes of powerpoint slides, especially if you have the freedom to watch it whenever you want (meaning you’ll always find something more interesting to do instead).

So one solution is to work with digital specialists to create engaging online content. This could be games or interactive platforms where the user explores a landscape.

That’s great when you have the resources, but its expensive (lots of staff time) to create content like that. Staff time is one of the main constraints on the quality of university teaching. Staff only have time to create so much content when there’s so much else to do with administering courses, running assessments and so on.

So how can we create lots of engaging online content quickly, easily and cheapily?

Social media is designed to make cheap content engaging, indeed often highly addictive.

I often find myself on youtube for much longer than 50 minutes, without even intending too.

How that happens is I start watching one short video “its only five minutes”, that then leads me to another video and so on.

And each of these videos is done on the cheap, often only with a phone camera and perhaps a microphone or gopro.

What the content creaters always have is a great story and engaging presentation skills (whether that’s with video, writing text or taking photos).

Content creation is a skill that can be learned with practice. For instance, when I started doing youtube I realised I looked super grumpy on video. So I practiced smiling more for video and straightaway my content became more engaging.

Creating a good video (or thread or blog) does require a bit of planning. Key is to think about the story. This is a change from the usual style of a university lecturer, which is to just explain facts straight-up.

The facts are more easily digested if they are weaved into a story. A bonus is that the viewer is also more likely to remember them if they are told as a story. Our brains are wired for stories, not sequencese of facts.

Especially not sequences of facts that go for 50 minutes.

So here’s my vision. We give lecturers decent cameras (or phones) and microphones. We give them some basic training in using the gear, and also some training in storytelling. Then we send them out to create content.

Some of this content will be carefully planned for class. Other content can be recorded on the fly when they are doing their research.

Imagine a marine scientist lecturer is out on a field trip when they see birds diving into the sea to catch fish. They just grab some video of the action, and then quickly record themselves talking about predation in the ocean. It helps that they are super excited, because they are on the scene of predation in action.

Or imagine the lecturer is at a conference and meets the person who wrote the seminal paper the class will be studying. They grab a quick interview and get the cool story behind the research on how the researcher risked a bear attack to collect the data.

All this videos are short. 7 minutes or even shorter is ideal, because that is what people are happy to watch. The lecturer weaves the series of videos into a lesson. The catch is, once you start the first 7 minutes its good enough that students are happy to roll onto the next one and the next one. Before they know it your student has consumed 50 minutes ‘lectures’.

When I get the time I’ll make an example of a social media style lecture and post it to my youtube channel

You may same this will all take more time than just doing a powerpoint. But you’d be surprised how quick you can make videos once you get an eye for good content.

I can tell you, making the videos is a whole lot more fun too.

Contact: Chris Brown

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Designed by Chris Brown. Source on Github