Instructional Videos

In case you don’t know, there are numerous companies that create videos lasting for 45-75 minutes on a variety of topics that might be covered in college courses. They work as substitutes for lectures and cost between $200 and $350 each.

I remember the exact moment when the Instructional Video Craze started. It was 2002, and the university where I worked at that time assigned a massively popular course to be taught by somebody who had no qualifications to teach anything anywhere. Delivering 3 lectures a week to an audience of 100 might be quite hard if you don’t hold a single degree in the discipline. So the person in question got the department to buy a bunch of videos to the tune of several thousand dollars and limited his teaching to putting on these videos. Understandably, the enrollment in the course dropped to under 20 within 3 years.

Of course, this is an extreme case. However, the Instructional Videos Craze has been following me from one university to another. Colleagues and administrators have exhorted me to use these videos in lieu of my own lectures. One supervisor even told me that my insistence on preparing my own lectures for 100% of classes was evidence of poor teaching skills.

“You need to learn to be less controlling of your classroom,” she said.

It is true that the idea of ceding control over my classroom to the makers of commercial instructional videos or to supervisors is unacceptable to me. I show movies and documentaries in class but only the real kind, not some overpriced commercial product.

These instructional videos were the first step towards MOOCs, and neither they nor MOOCs have any relation to higher education. If people want to use them as a form of entertainment, that’s up to them. Serious education, however, is something entirely different.

27 thoughts on “Instructional Videos

  1. There are just some things that I don’t think online courses or MOOCs will be able to replace. Do you see anything wrong with using that type of stuff in combination with live instruction though?


  2. Clarissa:

    I agree with your views on this absolutely. When instructors start taking the easy way out-especially when they are young – the rot is alrready in. By the time they are in mid-career they will be nothing but academic disc jockeys. what a waste of an expensive education and, presumably, a once bright mind!


    1. I think blaming young instructors is misplaced. At some institutions, there is enormous pressure on young instructors to use these videos. I know that everyone has choice and free will and all that. But people who are new to teaching are frequently unsure of themselves and understandably seek advice given to them from university officials. You are right that it causes a vicious cycle. Once someone gets used to using these videos as a form of instruction, it’s difficult to stop. But I don’t think young instructors are necessarily trying to take the easy way out when they use them.


  3. “You need to learn to be less controlling”

    Isn’t telling you that something like saying : “Hey water! You need to be less wet!”

    I detest the idea of pre-packaged lectures for things that people are supposed to learn. i’m fine with supplementary materials (on my terms) but there’s a lot of things that need to be learned in the flesh.

    I’d even say there are a lot of things that can hardly be taught in a group, but which are best learned one on one. It’s exhausting and time-consuming (hence 5 and 7 hour stretches of office hours) but there’s something about direct real time question and answering (both directions) that aids learning like nothing else.


    1. “Isn’t telling you that something like saying : “Hey water! You need to be less wet!””

      – 🙂 🙂 I think water might find its task easier that I would mine. 🙂

      “It’s exhausting and time-consuming (hence 5 and 7 hour stretches of office hours) but there’s something about direct real time question and answering (both directions) that aids learning like nothing else.”

      – Many people don’t process the information as well unless you deliver it to them in person.


  4. I am completely agreeing with everything you post today. I detest Instructional videos. There is a series of videos on teaching literature that make my skin crawl: literally nothing more than plot summaries. As if that’s all that happens in the literature classroom! Some even tell students that watching the video is “faster” than reading the book. Why would I ever include that in my class?

    Also like you (and to some extent referencing the article you posted this morning), I have also heard the accusation that refusing to use these videos somehow suggests that I’m a tyrannical instructor who is hopelessly out of touch with the new generation. That accusation infuriates me. I am actually quite technologically savvy and take teaching very seriously. Like Cliff, I also think that some things just need human interaction and I hold many many office hours to discuss writing and the reading. And students (by and large) appreciate this interaction.

    I’m really hoping that MOOCS and instructional videos soon become antiquated and people will see them as funny relics from the early 21st century. Sort of like the way we view rote memorization today.


    1. “I’m really hoping that MOOCS and instructional videos soon become antiquated and people will see them as funny relics from the early 21st century.”

      – I’m sure this will happen. People are bound to see that this doesn’t work. Even the best video in the world will never substitute a real interaction with a real lecturer who reacts to the audience, changes things as she goes along, and creates an environment of a real human contact.

      A really weird thing about these videos is how expensive they are. This post was prompted by me finding a catalogue for these videos in my mailbox at work, and I’m shocked that anybody would pay hundreds of dollars for a video that retells Cervantes’s biography and explains what Don Quijote is about on a very very basic level. It’s not like the videos offer any profound analysis of anything.


    1. Thank you, this is a very interesting presentation. It is very sad to see how the for-profits have learned to tap into the pain and insecurities of their prospective clients to milk them for money.


  5. People these days have an aversion to any kind of authority on a topic and aversion to being told that anything they may have to learn is difficult, or could take some time. “Don’t you have trust in me?” these anonymous people say. “I would never buy anything from you, not even an idea, unless you give me your implicit trust.”

    I do think there could be a huge market from infantile people who wish to remain anonymous. Getting worked into their games of emotional blackmail is counterproductive. But one can keep selling them products, and their simplicity will lead them to taking the easiest path. So they can keep buying instructional videos and putting them on their shelves, because, after all actually listening to the videos would make you feel inferior, like one who didn’t already know all there was to know.


  6. Instructional audio tapes could be worthwhile if the listener is a salesman or truck driver. Instructional videos featuring demonstrations of phenomena (physics experiments), performing arts, or techniques can be very useful. If I have the option of reading or of watching a video of a static lecturer, I prefer reading the transcript in most cases.


    1. I remember an instructional audio track / photographic slide show from 35 years ago in the Air Force that got my COMPLETE attention. The instructions were about how to eject from a crashing jet aircraft, and the last three slides said:

      “We suggest that you learn these lessons well. If you ever need to put them to use…”

      “…what you don’t know won’t hurt you.”

      “It will KILL you.”


  7. If they are paying you to teach, why would an institution then pay again for you not to teach? If they’ve that much money floating around surely it could be better used to improve facilities.


  8. Do not laugh, but I have never heard of these instructional videos for university students. This post seems like a parallel universe to me.


    1. Good for you! There is this entire series that is supposed to substitute a survey of Spanish literature, It is the most soporific thing ever. Every episode offers a biography of an individual writer and some really sad platitudes about the writer’s most famous work. The episode on Cervantes has an actor read out the windmill episode in a very tragic voice.


  9. Why would someone need that sort of thing?

    Our students are not dumb and they know what good uses of technology are. My students, for instance, often write in their course evaluation that I never use technology for the sake of using it.

    And is there something worse that Don Quixote on film?


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