What Makes an Effective Educational Video?

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There has been no lack of influential personalities in science media. Bill Nye, Carl Sagan, and Neil deGrasse Tyson have all produced entertaining, enlightening, recorded content. Their videos are often shown in science classrooms to help make a connection between science and the real world, or to show something “interesting” the classroom can’t pull off, like a moon landing. But are these science videos effective at teaching? And beyond that, what makes an effective educational video?

Ensuring science videos are actually teaching, not just entertaining, involves a deeper look at their characteristics. There is little research on what makes effective educational science videos. I did come across one paper devoted to a very special branch of science – physics! This thesis by Derek Muller entitled, “Designing Effective Multimedia for Physics Education”  highlights a few characteristics of effective science videos.

The first characteristic is the difference between being presented information in a lecture format, and hearing a dialogue between a teacher and student. In the videos tested by Muller, some students observed a dialogue between teacher and student, and others watched a pure exposition of factual material. The students who watched the dialogue retained much more information than those who watched the exposition.

A second finding was in videos that presented “alternative conceptions” or misconceptions and then refuted them. Bringing a misconception to the forefront of a viewer’s mind allowed them to first realize they have a misconception, and fix it by the end of the video. Being presented a misconception proved more effective then merely observing a factual exposition.

As we experiment with what “works” in online science education, and as we discover more literature in the growing field of effective online media, we will continue to refine our Beach Physics videos.

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