Engaged Learning, YouTube, and Audience Needs

youtube photoW. Brian Lane is a physics professor who wrote the very first post for Scholar’s Compassour ongoing online devotional for academics. This fall, he’s writing a series on engaged learning and how it can help Christian academics teach well in the university and the church. In our mission to support emerging Christian scholars, we’ve found that one key question most grad students and early career profs are asking is how they can serve their students by teaching well. We’re delighted to publish Brian’s reflections on engaged learning this fall, and we hope they help you as you hone the craft of teaching. To God be the glory!

Benefits of the YouTube medium

In October 2015, I launched a YouTube channel called Let’s Code Physics (LCP) that quickly rose to popularity among students, educators, and (oddly enough) videogamers. LCP found a unique place on the internet, offering educational videos about implementing computer programming in a physics context. As programming takes on a stronger role in science education (AAPT, 2016), resources like the videos on LCP are becoming increasingly valuable, and others are starting to produce similar content on YouTube. As a result, three years later, LCP features over 300 videos, has gained over 2600 subscribers, and has amassed 228,000 minutes (just over 158 days) of watch time.

These statistics are a testimony to the power of YouTube as a medium for reaching learners around the world. If you have advanced expertise in an area and are willing to lend your voice to a video, chances are you can make a YouTube channel that others will find valuable! To make these videos engaging, I utilize the video description to share the codes I develop, and the comment section to engage with audience members. YouTube videos are easy to share on social media and to embed in Web pages. In addition, YouTube offers amazing insights into channel growth and viewing statistics (such as when viewers stop watching a video).

Videos I make

The videos that I make for LCP fall into one of three categories:

  1. Demonstration videos (such as Electric and Magnetic Fields) feature me developing a code and exploring its results, while providing impromptu commentary.
  2. Explainer videos (such as The Rain Problem) are highly scripted explorations of a topic, and display the topic’s background and the results of a code that explore the topic. An explainer video usually doesn’t display any code, but is followed up by demonstration videos about the code that produced the results.
  3. Tutorial videos (such as Let’s Build a Solar System) are a hybrid of demonstration and explainer videos, introducing the viewer to a particular research method by showing the method’s theoretical background and walking through a sample code that applies the method.

Negotiating wants and needs

When I first began LCP, I explicitly avoided explainer videos and tutorial videos, because I wanted to demonstrate to the viewers what successful programming looks like. These videos were successful, and they represented the content that I wanted to create, but as I began to incorporate them into my classes, I realized (harkening back to the first post in our series!) that watching me code for half an hour would not necessarily help my students learn to code. Meanwhile, I was receiving requests indicating that my audience wanted explainer videos. I have made a few explainer videos, but I’ve always felt hesitant to completely disengage the audience from the coding process. So, in fall 2017, I began making tutorial videos, which have proved to meet what my audience needs.

This process of determining what type of content to produce is analogous to a struggle I think we all face in our teaching environments, both on campus and at church: We have content that we want to offer, while our audience has content that they want to receive, and often somewhere else lies the content that our audience needs. For example, the traditional lecture offers elements that both instructors and students find appealing (such as ease of preparation and an inflated sense of accomplishment), while engaged learning offers benefits that students need (such as deeper learning). The discrepancy between what students want and what they need presents a motivational barrier that instructors need to regularly address. Similarly, when academics are invited to teach in a church environment, we likely have a host of content that we want to teach (perhaps something related to our discipline, or a Christian framework of the academic life), while our audience has expectations of what they want to hear (and perhaps debate us about, as scientists in the church often experience). But we need to strive instead to focus on our audience’s needs. We would do well to follow Paul’s example, in which he altered his presentation style during his time in Corinth (1 Corinthians 2). Because the Corinthian church (not unlike the American church, today) prized intellectual celebrities, he determined to showcase humility to retain a much needed focus on Christ. May we likewise seek discernment as we interact with others in our varied roles as educators.

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W. Brian Lane

W. Brian Lane received his Ph.D. in Physics from the University of Florida in 2008 and is now a Professor of Physics at Jacksonville University. His favorite classes to teach include Electromagnetic Theory and Technical Communication. He has also occasionally taught adult Sunday School classes, and produces videos for his YouTube channel Let’s Code Physics. Whether at church, in the university, or on YouTube, Brian enjoys teaching with interactive engagement practices with an eye toward mentoring learners. @WBrianLane

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