Use Video to Enhance Class Lectures

Video is a fantastic way to augment class lectures and let students see examples of habitats, organisms, and various physical/chemical/biological phenomena. Instead of just listening to a lecture about mangrove forests, students can go on a virtual field trip by watching a video. Quite a few educators are now using videos routinely to illustrate scientific concepts. The number of videos suitable to accompany science lectures is growing (here is a great list of videos for teaching ecology). Many of these are produced by professional filmmakers, but some are created by science practitioners and students.

Ecologists who work in different types of ecosystems and study various processes can make an important contribution to science education by making short documentaries (three to five minutes) focused on a particular topic. You may be doing research in an alpine forest, a grassland, or a coral reef. Or, you may teach a field course in a tropical rainforest or a desert. By shooting some footage and putting it together with a brief explanation, you can provide a unique insight into that ecosystem. If you get into the habit of creating short videos during such excursions, you will eventually build up a library of footage to augment class lectures. Students who take field courses or who are conducting field research can also produce informative videos in which they share their experiences and insights with other students or the general public.

I recently visited a unique ecosystem in southern Japan and decided to make a short video about it. I spent about two hours at the site shooting footage with my iPhone (attached to a monopod). I would have spent that much time anyway taking photos and just exploring the site. I additionally spent about five hours over the subsequent three days editing the clips (with iMovie) and incorporating information from the literature. Whenever I had a few minutes during my travels (waiting for a plane or bus), I trimmed the footage or searched the internet for information to include in the video. I did most of the initial editing on my iPhone, but finished the video on my computer using the desktop version of iMovie.

The resultant 4.5-minute video would be suitable to show in a lecture about climate controls on plant distributions or a more specialized lecture about mangrove ecosystems.

Now, some of you may be hesitant to make such a video, thinking that it will take a lot of time or will never be as good as professional science documentaries. Well, your videos don’t have to be of BBC quality to be effective. Also, you don’t need fancy equipment or a film studio to produce an informative and high-quality video. I used an iPhone 6 to film this video, which was rendered in high definition (1080p). As I’ve mentioned in previous posts, the iPhone is easy to use to capture video, especially if you know a few basics. Movie-editing is also quite easy with applications such as iMovie. Video-sharing sites allow creators to easily upload their videos online where they are readily shared with others.

The main point here is that with a little effort, I was able to create a mini-documentary about a topic of interest to students and researchers studying mangrove forests. Students may read about the distributional limits of mangroves, but text descriptions are dry and often not very interesting. A video, on the other hand, takes the viewer across oceans to a remote site they will likely never have the opportunity to visit and creates a memorable example of mangroves growing near their northernmost limit. The video is also understandable by non-specialists who might travel to southern Japan and want more information about unique coastal vegetation found there.