The challenge of making homework effective and enjoyable

Having students create their own instructional videos is a promising pathway to effective learning
Oluwakemi Solaja, Unsplash
Oluwakemi Solaja, Unsplash

There is an ongoing debate about the efficacy of homework, because it is time-consuming but often fails to improve learning, particularly for children who are easily distracted at home and have limited time to complete it. It is therefore important to identify effective and enjoyable homework strategies.

Learning activities that include videos are immensely popular nowadays. Instructional video is a key component of many popular contemporary instructional approaches, such as flipped classrooms and massive open online courses (MOOCs), and plays an important role in informal learning, as people of all ages share their own instructional videos and watch other people’s videos on YouTube.

Educational research has primarily been concerned with video as a strategy for delivering information to learners, and has shown that studying instructional videos is an effective learning activity for students of all ages – provided that the videos are well designed. By contrast, there is a paucity of research on the effects of creating instructional videos. This is surprising, because it is becoming increasingly common for teachers to have their students create their own videos as a learning activity, and many students –particularly children– make various types of videos such as vlogs and demonstration videos on their own.

My research tests the effectiveness of making a specific type of video, the ‘teaching vlog’, which involves first studying a text and then teaching the content of that text to a fictitious fellow student on camera. A first test in a research lab with 76 secondary education students (ages 15 to 17) and 95 university students (age 18 and older) showed that after students studied a text on syllogistic reasoning for 12 minutes, learning improved when they subsequently generated a 5-minute teaching vlog, and that this was even more effective than restudying the text for 5 minutes.

“Learning improved when students generated a 5-minute teaching vlog, and that this was even more effective than restudying the text for 5 minutes.”

Since that first study, the effectiveness of this vlogging activity in laboratory settings has been replicated several times. It is, of course, always an important and open question whether lab findings generalize to practice situations in which no researcher is present to control study time and student behavior.

In an attempt to answer that question, in a recent paper I collaborated with Joran Visee, Andreas Lachner, and Tamara van Gog to investigate in an actual educational setting whether creating a teaching vlog is an effective homework assignment.

Participants were 131 Dutch primary school students (ages 10 to 12) from 9 different schools. An investigator provided them with a text on photosynthesis and a homework assignment to be completed over the weekend. One-third of the students in each class were instructed to study the text as often as necessary (restudy group). One-third were told to study the text and then to write a summary (summary group), and one-third were told to study the text and then to teach the content to a fellow student on video (video group). The following Monday morning, all of the students completed questionnaires and a knowledge test.

“Generating a teaching vlog is an enjoyable homework activity for primary school students that makes them better prepared for class.”

The results showed that the video group performed best on the knowledge test – much better than the restudy group, which performed worst. The performance of the students in the summarizing group fell in between the two other groups. Moreover, vlogging was perceived as more enjoyable than restudying or summarizing.

Although follow-up research is needed to determine whether these findings can be replicated with different types of student populations, learning material, and instructional videos, our results suggest that generating a teaching vlog is an enjoyable homework activity for primary school students that makes them better prepared for class.

EARLI 

The European Association for Research on Learning and Instruction (EARLI) is an international networking organisation for junior and senior researchers in education. Representing over 2000 members in more than 60 countries, EARLI is the biggest educational association in Europe.

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