A Bizarre (Yet Effective) Way to Use Video in the Classroom

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Elizabeth Catanese is an Associate Professor of English and Humanities at Community College of Philadelphia. Trained in mindfulness-based stress reduction, Elizabeth has enjoyed incorporating mindfulness activities into her college classroom for over ten years. Elizabeth works to deepen her mindful awareness through writing children's books, cartooning and parenting her energetic twin toddlers, Dylan and Escher.


I am learning that I make my best pedagogical discoveries through forgetting things—this time, it was my copy of Gilgamesh. I had hoped to do a dramatic reading of part of Tablet 6, and I wanted all my students to be able to follow along with their own copies, so I couldn’t ask to borrow one of theirs. Luckily, I had an idea. For my online, asynchronous classes, I pre-record lectures for students to watch. On that day, the fateful day I forgot my copy of Gilgamesh, I chose to play my pre-recorded reading of Tablet 6 for my in-person students. Once I got over the uncanniness of there being two of me at the front of the classroom, I realized that I had stumbled upon something of value. I have found that it is, in fact, useful to play short, pre-recorded video lectures even (and especially) in in-person classroom spaces.

The first benefit of this practice is closed-captioning. Having a multisensory lecture experience is helpful for students with auditory impairments, and multisensory input (closed captioning, instructors’ facial language and audio) can help all students understand the content of lecture. This is the reason why some of us watch Netflix in English with English subtitles, even if we are native English speakers. It certainly helps keep my brain focused!

I know what you may be thinking. A flipped classroom model would have students watch the pre-recorded video in advance so that the classroom can convert to a critical thinking space. Why not do that? I contend that teacher presence for short pre-recorded video lectures actually can be very helpful to students. In my experience, students have been much more likely to say “can you pause that for a second?” or “can you go back”? It’s lower stakes than “can you say what you just said all over again?” Not only can I pause or rewind, I can clarify right on the spot with greater ease.

Furthermore, I can pause my own face when I notice I’ve said something bizarre. Maybe I’ve said Hatshepsut rather than Nefertiti. Maybe I’ve said Isis when I meant Ishtar. These mistakes don’t happen often, but when they do, they can throw a student off, and I may not even know about it. I am a firm believer that these mistakes happen because there is a lot to juggle when a professor is at the front of the classroom (or anyone is in front of an audience, for that matter). Maybe I need to talk about something and write something on the board simultaneously. Maybe I need to think about what I’m saying next but get distracted by giving a handout to a late student. Maybe I notice that students are looking at their phones, and I am trying to shift to a group activity for greater engagement while also finishing the explanation of a complicated lecture idea. The layer of performance is removed when watching the pre-recorded lecture with students. In a sense, I become my own TA, guiding students through what the professor was talking about. The only difference is I’m also the professor.

A final benefit of the short, pre-recorded lecture in class is that it’s very easy to assign group activities as the need arises and pause the video for this group work. I no longer feel exhausted by pivoting from the type of focus needed to deliver a lecture to the type of focus required to facilitate group work.

Sharing pre-recorded video lectures with in-person students requires time to record the lecture, and the ability to be vulnerable, but ultimately it has helped me connect more with students; it has facilitated meaningful student connections through group work, and it has helped students better understand the content of my courses.