Crossing the Divide: Digital Videos that Engage, Not Supplement

Copyright 2004 Miguel Guhlin
District Instructional Technologist Jim Baldoni knows that multimedia can hook students in ways that books and simple stories cannot. "It's the power of video in teachers' hands," he shares, "of being able to go to the video segment that you need, when you need it." For a campus instructional coordinator at the campus level reflecting on teachers' use, it's all about "tailoring video to instruction more effectively." But, these two large San Antonio, Texas school district professionals aren't referring to videotape. Rather, they are referring to digital video delivered via the District's new digital video distribution system, AIMS Digital Curriculum. Yet, while there are clear benefits, there are also chasms to be crossed and bridges to be built during implementation. It's all a question of crossing the digital divide, recognizing the diversity in teacher attitudes.
Why Cross-over from VideoTape to Digital Video?
In 2002, the District was spending in excess of $100,000 renting videos from a regional education service center. In an effort to save costs while tailoring usage of videos to instruction more effectively than before, in 2003, the District decided to move away from renting videotapes. Instead, they chose to deploy a $32,000 digital video distribution system. One teacher shared that "When they took the videos away, were concerned. But this was a good substitute." More importantly, the regional education service center began a move itself towards a digital video distribution system surprisingly, the same that the District had
chosen--and is slowly phasing out its own videotape collection. The District was also concerned about the widespread, indiscriminate use of video without clear instructional objectives, not to mention copyright issues.
Yet, the benefits of digital video will not be fully realized until the District implements detours to significant roadblocks. These roadblocks include the following: 1) Bandwidth; 2) Hardware available in the Teachers' Classrooms; and 3) Professional Development.
Roadblock #1: Bandwidth
Bandwidth was a clear impediment to implementation in the early 2003-2004 school year. Ricardo Juarez, a middle school teacher, shared in an open meeting, "Band width is too narrow." And, that was undeniable during the first year of implementation. While many elementary schools had the necessary bandwidth to view videos over the network, middle and high schools did not. Even if the digital video servers had been brought into the District early on, bandwidth on the school district's intranet would have prevented effective use. Yet, it was because of digital video that the District saw the need to upgrade its intranet. By June, 2003, all schools will enjoy higher bandwidth. For this District, being able to see what they were missing out on helped foster the change required in funding expansions to the District's network. Digital video, web-based gradebook and live attendance tracking system, as well as benchmark testing, converged as the 4 top reasons to increase bandwidth in the district.
Roadblock #2: Hardware Access
Yet, increasing bandwidth was not enough. Another roadblock, writes one teacher, is the "lack of hardware to go around. Our computers are old and the ones fast enough to show the videos are limited in number." The teacher goes on to write, "You cannot download a video to CD and show it on anything but a computer." Once again, digital video called attention to a roadblock that the entire District faced. Due to other funding priorities, the District had lacked an adequate replacement cycle for computers, digital projectors, scan converters to connect computers to televisions, and S-Video televisions. This resulted in the need to pursue a multi-million dollar request for proposals in the Spring of 2004. Now, based on student enrollment, mobile laptop carts will find their way into all schools. The laptops come with CDRW/DVD-R combo drives, digital projectors, and the necessary equipment to show and edit digital videos in the classroom.
Roadblock #3: Teacher Attitudes Towards Digital Video
As access has increased, it has been important to involve key personnel from every campus in the District over 90 campuses and bring them in for professional development. Transforming teacher attitudes, increasing teachers' level of technology implementation (LOTI � to the target technology level required by state and federal legislation, has been an ongoing goal. Yet, as both bandwidth, hardware, software are made available, pressure mounts for teachers to find "time to browse, practice and learn." Perhaps, more importantly, time is needed for district curriculum specialists to "include it in the scope and sequence."
Recognizing Diversity in Teacher Attitudes towards Video
external image image001.gif Teacher attitudes, however, were not something that was measured by their failure to use digital video in their lessons. Instead, digital video use in the classroom has served as a marker buoy, another piece of critical evidence that technology and technology integration have been underfunded and given short shrift.
Using the CEO Forum's StaR Chart, adapted for Texas, the District is measured at "Developing Technology" level. Dr. Chris Moersch, creator of the scientifically validated and reliability-tested Levels of Technology Implementation (LOTI) Instrument characterizes "developing technology" in the following way:
Technology-based tools supplement the existing instructional program (e.g., tutorials, educational games, basic skill applications) or complement selected multimedia and/or web-based projects (e.g., internet-based research papers, informational multimedia presentations) at the knowledge/comprehension level. The electronic technology is employed either as extension activities, enrichment exercises, or technology-based tools and generally reinforces the content under investigation.
In other words, technology integration at this level is primarily teacher-directed and serves as an add-on. In this large Texas school district, which just went through a comprehensive needs assessment process, the primary level of technology implementation was shown to be: Level 0 � NonUse at 32% to Level 1 � Awareness at 12.8% district wide with a total of 44.8% at what the Texas StaR Chart calls "Entry tech." This difference in perception between the StaR Chart (which is completed by a campus team) and the LOTI Questionnaire (completed by every teacher on campus) actually clarifies the attitudinal shift teachers must undergo to use video effectively in the District. You can find more out about the LOTI at
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With 45% of teachers at Entry Tech level of the StaR Chart, and based on independent surveys of the digital video use in the District, it became clear that those teachers who were using digital video were predominantly at Level 2 or higher. Level 2 or higher corresponds to 49% of teachers in the District.
BENEFIT #2: Redesigning How We Teach
To increase awareness, a comprehensive professional development program was developed (you can find it online at Training focused on both using the digital video and designing lessons with it. Librarians and campus instructional coordinators discussed that the digital video has helped with supporting the research process (e.g. Big6 Information Problem-Solving approach), assisted teachers in presenting concepts, and helped in supporting the lessons covered in the classroom.
Campus level professionals wrote that digital video has served as a "great way for finding quick representations when students don't understand a concept." One shares that it "strengthens concept retention among students" and offers a "different approach to concept matters."
Yet, using video at target technology levels is important. How do you guide your teachers to design lessons at higher levels of technology implementation? A key tool for some has been the use of a lesson design rubric. The rubric, adapted with permission from Bernie Dodge's webquest rubric online at, focuses on guiding lesson planners in 7 areas. These "look fors" and how design a hard-hitting lesson are outlined below:
  1. Motivational effectiveness of introduction: Look for an introduction that engagingly describes a compelling question or problem.
  2. Connection of task to district's scope and sequence: Look for a task that requires synthesis, analysis, and/or evaluation and specifically addresses objectives within the district's scope and sequence.
  3. Cognitive level of the task: Look for a task that elicits thinking that goes beyond rote comprehension and is at the higher levels of Bloom's Taxonomy.
  4. Clarity of process: Look for clearly stated steps and that students know exactly where they are at each step of the process.
  5. Relevance & Quantity of Resources: Look for a clear and meaningful connection between all the resources and the information needed for students to accomplish the task. Each resource carries its weight addressing various objectives of the entire lesson.
  6. Quality of resources if Applicable: Look for varied resources that provide meaningful information that students can use to evaluate and create products appropriate to their comprehension level.
  7. Clarity of Evaluation Criteria: Look for rubrics that include qualitative and quantitative descriptors, measuring what students must know to accomplish.
Not surprisingly, the higher the level of technology implementation (LOTI), the higher lessons score on the rubric. When technology is used as a tool to identify and solve real life problems (LOTI 4), the motivational effectiveness of an introduction can be enhanced. For example, the lesson below was designed with using digital video from AIMS Digital Curriculum's web site. Note that teachers at LOTI Level 2 or 3 could move their digital video lesson from just showing videos to supplement lessons to using videos to engage to the target tech level of progress, or LOTI Level 4.
Example (complete lesson available as a PDF file): Lesson Title: Teaching with Video Lesson: Diversity in the United States Subject: Social Studies Grades: 3-5 Research Process: Big6 Purpose: This lesson is intended to help students appreciate the cultural diversity of immigrants and the contributions they have made to our nation.
  1. The students will know that an immigrant is a person who enters a new country with the intention of living there permanently.
  2. Students will develop an appreciation of what is involved when leaving a country of origin to become a citizen elsewhere, an immigrant's experience as a newcomer, and an appreciation of the hardships that immigrants and their families faced, or continue to face, in their efforts to come to the United States.
  3. Students will be able to identify 3 major waves of immigration in the United States.
  4. Students will understand and know the legal requirements for establishing permanent residency and citizenship in the United States.
  5. Students will be able to identify major groups that are choosing to immigrate to the United States presently and why.
Traditionally taught, a teacher might start with reading about immigration, its impact on culture. Yet, these traditional type of lesson activities fail to engage students. Videotape comes along afterwards as a supplement, as does web-based research. One approach to liven up this lesson is to have students interview actual immigrants, such as grandparents, relatives and friends. It might involve bringing others into the classroom and interviewing them. A problem-based approach similar to inquiry-based learning might be to present students with a scenario, enlivening that scenario with a video clip that portrays the actual conditions. By showing the video first, students are engaged by harsh conditions and the obstacles immigrants have faced. When asked to meditate on the scenario, they assume the role of those involved in the scenario.
The year is 1914. Benedetto Baldoni has left his wife, Vittoria and 2 small children, Basilio and Massimo, behind to search for what he hopes will be a better way of life. Life in his home country has been hard the past 15 years. He knows that they will be reunited some day. The boat approaches the harbor and the large statue of the lady holding the torch is now visible. This is the symbol he has waited for. It has been a 10 day journey and the conditions on the ship have been deplorable. The food consists of bread and soup once a day. "Those with papers go to this side," says the ship's officer as he points in one direction. Those without are told to stand on the other side and are given signs that are labeled WOP's (With Out Papers). Benedetto's heart is racing. He can't wait to touch dry land. He clutches the letter from his cousin, Guiseppe Belamori, to his chest.
"Cousin," Guiseppe writes in his letter, "many opportunities await you, but also many dangers. We will have much to discuss when you arrive." You can find this PBL lesson in detail online at in the PBL Lesson section. Combine this scenario with the one available via AIMS Digital Curriculum (Search key concept videos using the word "Immigration" and select Journey to Freedom: The Immigrant Experience) and you use technology at the target technology level, use digital video to engage rather than supplement. CONCLUSION Teaching with video isn't only about having great resources, bandwidth and hardware access available to teachers and students. It's also about clearly assessing the level of progress your district is at, and matching resources that will move the teachers from one level to the next, transforming experiences and attitudes.