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Using Overview Videos

by Melissa Wehler


A good narrative will introduce you to major characters, develop them slowly over the time, complicate their relationships, toss them into challenging situations, change them from what they once were, and resolve their connections once more. Teaching a good course is much the same. You introduce major concepts and skills, develop them slowly each week, complicate them through analysis, toss them into difficult critical landscapes, change them from ephemeral ideas to working frameworks and actions, and resolve them through synthesis. And a well-constructed learning narrative can have the same transformative effect as a well-written novel.

And it’s also something that we spend a significant part of our pedagogical life doing. During the syllabus and course construction, we write—and rewrite—the learning narrative. We build it slowly through the course description and learning outcomes. We carefully craft our chronology of study and provide the major signposts for progress, usually in the form of major assignments. We create materials and gather resources that form the exposition of that narrative. And it’s this work that guides the ups, downs, twists, and turns of a learning experience.

Yet students rarely—if ever—see that work. As educators, we often stop telling the course’s learning narrative after the first day of class, speeding through months of careful design in an hour or less. Students are left to fill in the basic outline we provide on the syllabus, guess at why materials are being delivered in the selected sequence, and discover the connections between the materials and assignments. And if questions arise, the syllabus, like cliff-notes, will reveal all.

But we don’t have to leave our learning narrative as a cliffhanger. We can use weekly overview videos to

  • address the course’s learning narrative

  • draw connections between previously learned concepts and skills

  • foreshadow upcoming ones

  • discuss progress towards the learning outcomes

  • reinforce the major elements from the course description

  • contextualize the week’s materials

  • connect assessments to overall learning outcomes

These qualities make overview videos useful not only for my online students, but also for my ground and hybrid learners. Here’s an example from one of my freshman orientation courses:

In this video, I am able to reinforce and progress the learning narrative for my students. They know what they are going to learn and do this week, how those concepts and skills build on previous weeks, and how they will build a foundation for upcoming units. Students are empowered to join the story by considering their place in the narrative I’m presenting. They can also see how the materials, resources, and assignments advance and test that narrative. Moreover, by providing them with the “bigger picture” each week, I encourage them to think holistically about the content and skills—rather than reductively hop-scotching from grade to grade.

By using overview videos, faculty members can become the intrusive narrator of their course, steering students away from dastardly traps and towards intellectual heroics.

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