Students today have grown up in a digital environment. They do not remember a time before Googling was a verb or before games were ubiquitous on smart phones and computers. This makes today’s kids the most informed and sophisticated generation of entertainment consumers, but it undermines the value of educational videos. In the past, when teachers wanted to present material that was difficult to broach, or was outside their area of expertise, “Show them a video,” was the quick fix. Remember awkward sex ed. videos?
Students in our classrooms and libraries don’t see educational videos as a treat. It isn’t uncommon for students to groan when you offer them an informative video, but cheer for a Hollywood blockbuster.
According to the Kaiser Family Foundation, American students aged 8 to 18 spend nearly 4 hours a day in front of a TV screen and nearly another 2 hours on the computer (outside of schoolwork) and playing video games. Canadian children and youth average close to 8 hours of screen time per day according to the Canadian Health Measures Survey. Childhood obesity rates have accordingly increased from 15% to 26% from 1980 to 2004, with rates in the 12-to-17 age group more than doubling—from 14% to 29%. Kids are simply sitting too much and moving too little.
Parents are frustrated too. If they arrange a play date, instead of heading outside, the first thing kids want to do is fire up their gaming systems or play the latest movie. It has become part of modern hospitality.
Yet quality educational websites and videos are some of the best teaching resources we have, and form the core of the flipped classroom. Principals, researchers and school boards tout the benefits of the flipped classroom. Stats say it lowers dropout rates and increases student achievement, but selling the idea can be tough. To concerned parents, the idea of assigning more screen time seems counterproductive. And if their kids do less homework at home, doesn’t that mean the teacher is slacking off?
Ironically, reducing mindless screen time is one of the benefits of the flipped classroom. By assigning students homework on the computer, part of students’ screen time becomes educational. In class, students and teachers can concentrate on more personalized, hands-on activities which, because they are linked to at-home viewing, make students accountable for the content they learn at home. Communicating these benefits to parents is key.
It’s also important to make the online viewing portion of homework short and packed with information. Teachers can make their own videos or refer to materials they have previewed. Tutorials and research tools made specifically to teach children academic subjects, such as those available through Khan Academy websites or a public library, are good places to start.