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2.4 Portable digital cameras

There are many uses and applications of filming with (and by) students; video, as one type of visual learning tool, can be used to accelerate thinking, understanding and learning.[1] The original motivation for using mobile video devices (in the case study presented in this section) was to facilitate the summative assessment of group work. It became apparent very quickly, however, that there were many additional advantages to using this technology which in turn further developed practice. The very act of filming students’ presentations instils high expectations of professionalism which are shared by all participants.

‘There is nowhere to hide when the camera is running’ (Student comment)

‘It gives students who want to be really good permission to shine.’ (Lecturer comment)

Furthermore, the medium has an immediacy which integrates well with peer review processes, involving active learning activities designed to encourage critical engagement and reflection. This can improve the quality of feedback that students provide in the role of assessors, which then correlates positively with the quality of the students’ final projects.

Many types of devices can be used but there are advantages to dedicated mobile digital video cameras as they combine long-lasting battery life, high-definition 1280 x 720 resolution, a pop-out USB connector that slots directly to a PC and a large memory (rather than using other equipment with video cameras included as a feature). Mobile phone cameras for example raise issues of ownership and privacy plus challenges of variety, compatibility, quality and data storage capabilities. Specific digital video cameras, issued for the duration of the group work projects and with nominated students responsible for them, are highly recommended.

Example 1:

Using this technology, to film group work presentations, provides an invaluable record for the lecturer to revisit as well as evidence for moderation and second marking. The use of these devices to record weekly group work in a large first year ‘Management Concepts and Practices’ module[2] showed a notable increase in the standard of the student projects: qualitatively in terms of the depth of critical analysis evident in the written outputs as well as the videoed content. Students invested a lot more in the project both in terms of the breadth and depth of relevant research and presented more substantial pieces of work (the challenge now being word limits) that included an impressive range of presentational techniques. In addition, requiring students to prepare questions to ask following the presentations, which are also filmed, encourages all students in the group to engage more deeply with the concepts and material.

Another particular benefit was to support and develop the collaborative ethos which is integral to successful group work.[3] This is important as a common challenge is ‘free riding’ – or at least the perception of this occurring. Knowing their contribution will be recorded and then reviewed, both by other students as well as the lecturer, we find that all group members are keen to get involved – we observe an improvement in attendance as well as contributions. These are large and diverse cohorts of students who come with different prior experiences of learning; in order to get them to engage with the module the lecturer was concerned to foster a sense of community and strong group relationships.

‘When I was presenting my first presentation, I was too nervous even to make a sound… I am now able to contribute ideas and discuss opinions with my group.’ (Chinese student)

Each group was also required to engage in a formal peer review process of the presentation (a weighted element of the final assessment); it is essential that all elements are well documented and the video is critical. Feedback and ‘feed forward’ comments are received and evidence of action is later recorded. Marking criteria are defined to include the presentation element as well as engagement with audience to encourage students to take the presentation aspect seriously (typically additional academics should also be invited to attend). This technology seems particularly relevant when developing professional skills as managers is the goal, whilst maintaining academic content.

It was an exhilarating experience as it provided us with a unique opportunity of looking back and reviewing the mistakes… Despite the difference in culture and language I have been fully supported by all of the group.’ (Vietnamese student)

In the context of this Management module, with its focus on theory and practice, the use of portable video cameras for group work is integral to the assessment design. It enhances the learning process through deepening engagement as well as formatively providing input. For the technology to support the learning (and not distract) it needs to work smoothly, which necessitates careful planning and organisation. This was managed by designating willing students as the ‘e-learning champions’ (see Learners’ perspectives, below), responsible for managing the portable video camera and the uploading of the videos for the semester. This degree of engagement greatly facilitates the management of the process and encourages student participation and motivation.

One of the challenges of the extensive use of this technology (apart from the cost) arises from the need for ever-larger server space to store the video clips. When testing this technology for formative rather than summative assessment, student engagement was not found to be as high and thus careful consideration needs to be taken in deciding what uses (and in what type of modules) this technology can be successfully applied.

A recent student research project suggested that international students indicated a stronger preference for video technologies than UK/EU students. Although the reasons for this difference are not yet totally clear, one possible explanation might be that international students value the ability to revisit video materials to enhance understanding of discipline specific language.

[1] See the discussion in the Special Issue on Visual Learning in Higher Education (Bligh et al., 2010) and the work of the Visual Learning Lab, University of Nottingham.

[2] Core module for the University of Exeter Business Economics programme.

[3] There was one instance of an international student who (for family reasons) had returned home; she was keen to continue participating and therefore she filmed, recorded and uploaded her contribution which was then included in the final presentation.