Teaching about natural disasters, poverty and hunger is tricky enough when you have a classroom of 6-year-olds. But when a first-grade teacher in Compton, California, turned to YouTube for an upcoming unit on geography, she realized her video resources were pretty thin.
That's where a class of University of Georgia undergraduate students put their newfound knowledge to good use. Their course, "Teaching and Learning with Technology" (EDIT 2000), teaches students to create stop-motion videos. And for the first time last fall, two instructors gave it a twist: The students' final movie would be used in a real classroom.
The course, which is open to students both in and outside the UGA College of Education, is offered as part of the college's Learning, Design and Technology program. Typically, the course asks students to research a curriculum unit and create a video to support it—but those videos never make it beyond the classroom. Last fall, two graduate students who teach the class, YunJeong (Eunice) Chang and Jasmine Choi, decided to reach further. Why not challenge the undergraduate students to create a video that can be used in a real classroom, they thought.
"I'm from California and I have a lot of teacher friends there," said Choi. "So we got the idea of asking my teacher friend which unit she needed resources for. My friend in Compton said they were learning about poverty, hunger and drought."
The teacher couldn't find age-appropriate videos to help explain the topics to the students, Choi said, so she had a request for Choi's class: Could they create a video instead? Prior to that semester, students would simply publish a video for an unspecified audience.
"So we had a client and the project," Choi said.
The success of that semester's videos inspired Chang and Choi to incorporate another California classroom into the following spring semester's class, this time turning to a school in Los Angeles. And in watching their undergraduate students respond to the assignment, the College of Education graduate students realized a change in their students as well.
"It was a huge difference. The students were more engaged," said Chang, noting that for students not in the College of Education, the course is an elective—and in the past, some students might not put forth as much effort as with required courses. Students in her class also saw a "welcome" video from the California children, which added to the students' engagement. "Their attitude was changed totally. They were highly engaged because they could do something for specified children. They would ask about props or background music, so that gave them an opportunity to talk about copyright information. So they learned more."
That engagement was evident on a recent Thursday as students sat in groups cutting out characters and sets for their stop-motion movies.
"We're learning about different methods of using technology in the classroom," said Ashley Moore, a second-year speech pathology major (the course, while an elective for most, is a requirement for a speech pathology degree). "This is a really fun way to learn how to use technology in the classroom."
Another student, Kalyn Wilson, a fourth-year digital and broadcast journalism major, said she's started using some of the digital tools learned in this class in some of her Grady College classes. Other students noted how difficult it was to research a complex topic and then simplify it so children can understand.
"We're trying to simplify it as much as possible and make it fun," said Maya Thomas, a fifth-year consumer economics major from the College of Family and Consumer Sciences. "And we're simplifying it as much as possible and make it fun so it sticks."
This fall, Choi's class is creating a new video for a California classroom, this time focusing on electricity for a fourth-grade lesson at Tenth Street Elementary School in Los Angeles. Chang and Choi have spun the class into a research project, too. Noting how their students responded to the assignment, they created a survey to measure their engagement. They will be presenting their study at the Association for Educational Communications and Technology this November.
"In the spring we set up a pilot study looking at engagement," she said. "We got the survey and looked over the results. That's when I realized some of the questions could lead to cognitive engagement and real-world context."
Chang, now completing her post-doctoral work at the University of Virginia, said adding the real-world element changed how the students viewed the assignment, and recommended this approach to other faculty.
"I believe my students will remember what they've done," she said. "So I will recommend that you engage your audience. Find something specific and how you can help."