From session slideshare, courtesy of SAGE

The use of video in higher education isn’t new, but the delivery method is changing. Streaming video offers access to important content and cutting-edge issues, and is easy to integrate into online courses. However, its recent popularity in the classroom—both on campus and for distance education—requires faculty, librarians, and distributors alike to learn a new set of rules. The American Library Association’s (ALA) Video Round Table hosted a session at the ALA Annual Conference to examine student and faculty engagement with streaming video, and the concerns surrounding it.

At “Student and faculty engagement with steaming video: Beyond the hype,” Elisabeth Leonard, executive market research manager at SAGE Publications, presented research conducted by SAGE comparing the ways faculty and students use video, presented in March as a white paper titled “Great Expectations: Students and Video in Higher Education.”

SAGE found that approximately 60 percent of classroom video use by students is at the request of faculty: in advance for a flipped classroom; during class as part of the instruction; or afterward to supplement a lecture or missed class or to pick up needed skills as a tutorial. Students view videos voluntarily to supplement the lecture when they feel they haven’t fully grasped the material or want to dig in more deeply, or to hear another presentation of the subject—whether it is simpler, more complex, or just offering a different point of view. Students also choose to watch videos to boost practical skills, such as to learn a computer program or prepare for an interview, and often use them as part of their own presentations. The most common extracurricular use is in video clubs. Although some students are aware that their institution’s library has video, most are not, and often don’t know that the material they’re watching originated at the library.

Faculty assign videos for a number of reasons, including to provide different perspectives on the topic, illustrate particular points, bring in lecturers, and cover touchy issues that they might not wish to lecture on directly. Short clips, of five minutes or less, are often used to reclaim lapsed attention in the classroom. In a flipped classroom model, videos are part of the assigned reading list for class preparation. Videos are also used to boost media literacy skills, especially among media communication students, and instruct on practical skills.

As for what makes a “good” video, students prefer engaging speakers; examples that are relatable—events from the past three to five years; practical examples of theoretical concepts; infographics, colorful visuals, or diagrams; and humor—although often students and professors don’t see eye to eye on what’s funny. “Bad” videos, on the other hand, feature speakers who are distracted or talk in a monotone; are aimed at the wrong audience level; are not easily identified by students as relevant, and have distracting background noise or poor audio quality.


Mike Eyler, account executive at Swank Motion Pictures, a non-theatrical movie distributor, began with a story: an employee had taken home a pre-release DVD to preview, and invited her teenage son to watch it. He declined because the disc was upstairs and he was downstairs—“the kid would not walk up 14 stairs to get the DVD,” Eyler said. “This is what’s coming to college: ‘I want it now.’”

A large part of current students’ previous educational experience has included video, said Leonard. “They expect, in higher education, to be watching video in class.” They are, however, easily distracted or bored, watching only a few minutes before deciding whether to continue, and tend to multitask; the right choice of video can be a way for faculty to capture their attention.

Eyler provided usage data for streaming video that he felt IT departments might make use of, noting that usage peaks at the end of the semester and school year, and daytime usage peaks around noon—“presumably when the student wakes up.” He was surprised to see, he said, that usage was lowest at 2 a.m., when he had assumed students would be burning the midnight oil. He noted that professors were not only assigning deliberately educational videos, but using popular works such as American Beauty and Blazing Saddles for a course on mythology, Groundhog Day for a Buddhism class, Hotel Rwanda for public policy, and episodes of the sitcom The Office for a course in business ethics at Purdue.


When it comes to streaming videos, what faculty members want is fairly straightforward, said Michael Arthur, head of acquisitions and collection services at the University of Central Florida (UCF): unlimited simultaneous usage; no concerns around digital rights management (DRM) or public performance rights—the ability to use a video outside of the classroom, for example, or to invite students from other classes to view it; ease of use for students and easy integration with online course software; variety and topicality.

Not only do students not know about their campus library’s video holdings, Arthur said, but faculty too are often unaware of library content—even when they’re using it. The library should be actively marketing these resources, he said, through library and subject librarian newsletters, digital signs in the library, direct email to key faculty members, articles in faculty publications, and presentations to the faculty by librarians and publishers at workshops and conferences. The library should include faculty in its selection process whenever possible, he added.

What faculty members want, however, is not always possible, pointed out Beth Bernhardt, assistant dean for collection management and scholarly communications at the University of North Carolina at Greensboro (UNCG). Often they don’t understand about the library’s time constraints, requesting something that they need the following day, when the process of acquisition and securing permission can take much longer. Public performance permissions and copyright issues can also slow the process down. Bernhardt recalled one faculty member bringing in a DVD from Netflix and asking to put it on reserve, another who assumed that securing permission from the proprietors of a Asian film festival was an adequate level of permissions, and a Cuban film producer who granted permission for a professor to use his video as long as the university would help distribute it in the United States.

“We have to be lawyers, too,” Bernhardt said, adding that librarians should keep track of all the documentation on rights and licenses, and that in cases of time constraints and international payments, “PayPal is your best friend.” They should also make a point of educating faculty members about what they can and can’t do; often faculty are surprised at the cost of streaming, or bring in video with no metadata, not realizing that it needs to be cataloged.


A lot of the faculty members she spoke with, said Leonard, are working hard to find ways to reach and engage students. But not all faculty love streaming video, and some are resistant to video at all. Many began incorporating video as VHS, said Arthur, and had gotten comfortable with DVDs—but with ten regional campuses at UCF, the use of DVDs is impractical and expensive, so the university will only use them when there is no streaming option. At UNCG, Bernhardt noted, foreign language courses switched to online-only a few years ago. Because cultural and language immersion is important for those classes, streaming video became the most viable option.

The differences between institutional vs. consumer models also generate confusion among faculty, said audience members. Pricing, rights, and availability all differ greatly—another arena where librarians can educate faculty. The general preference is to buy streaming with perpetual rights; Leonard pointed out that SAGE provides this, and Arthur mentioned Alexander Street Press as a vendor that offers a number of palatable options.

Attendees also raised the issue of accessibility. Many universities have policies in place requiring all video media to have closed captioning, although this is not an option for some foreign films. All UNCG’s video has closed captioning, Bernhardt said, while at UCF, said Arthur, “it’s not a deciding factor but we always look to see if it’s an option.”

Ultimately, said Eyler, faculty and acquisitions librarians need to work together to make sure that streaming video offers a good return on investment, looking at the number of students in a class and the number of classes that video will be used in. But given good potential reception, it’s a strong and versatile way for faculty to improve learning and capture their share of the elusive student attention span.

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