The Video Verdict: Check Plus!


One of my friends is in Paris, helping set up an art installation by Ryoji Ikeda on the number “e”. And I received a frantic email from her asking for help understanding set theory, e, and infinity.

I sent her information on set theory and e via an email and links, but not on infinity. There are a number of good books and articles on it, making it accessible to a layperson. But I found this youtube video which is directed to the hoi polloi.

There are bits of the presentation that could be improved (the jokes are not really played well, I see quick and easy ways to make it more “mathy”). But these small things don’t take away from the fact that it is a darn good presentation. And darn it, now I want to give a presentation on infinity! Oh well.


Interestingly, making the decision to email my friend the video instead of articles gets at the heart of the problem that dy/dan and others are grappling with: when is video an appropriate teaching tool – and is it better?

There are two poles outlined by dy/dan:

  1. Video is personable and injects human qualities that can’t be gotten from a text. These human qualities help enhance the learning process, by improving understanding.
  2. It takes a heck of a lot more time to watch a video on math than it does to read a paper which goes through the same math (efficiency argument). Reading also allows students to learn at their own pace, go back to sections they didn’t get, and active.

I thought these poles were meant to be generally taken for video in classroom instruction, even though the examples used were videos from leaving comments in blogs…

So let’s get this out of the way: context is everything, and there isn’t a single answer. Nor is anyone really looking for “an answer.”

With this said I strongly believe the second point is a red herring, and the first is really crucial. I evidence it with a counter-example-question:

Why do I even need to be in the classroom? If students-at-large can learn the content we want them to learn by reading the textbook, do I even need to be there? What am I doing at the board? What am I doing walking around the classroom? I hope (pray!) that it’s not only to answer questions that the book doesn’t address or when they get stuck… because otherwise, why bother showing up?

Teaching with talking, with dynamic visuals (instead of static pictures), with caveats and asides that aren’t easily worked into a text, with auditory and kinesthetic elements… many, many students respond to that. They engage with that.

(Not that I’m saying students can’t read actively or can’t learn from books… but there is something that books can’t capture that we teachers can.)

I guess what I’m saying is this: I see a defense of the need for good teachers in the classroom to also be a defense of video. (If well chosen/done.)

And I honestly think that almost everyone would agree with that.


I suspect (but can’t be sure) that most of the discussion about video in the edblogosphere is not talking about videos of a lecture or solution to a problem… but I think that my thoughts about this may still hold. I’m honestly wondering though if those blogging about videos in the classroom have a firm sense of what videos they are talking about? I’m sure they aren’t trying to kick a dead horse by arguing against this type of valueless video:

But if they aren’t talking about these terrible videos, or videos about teaching, or lecture videos, or videos of how to solve a math problem, or small video clips to motivate a class discussion, I’m a bit clueless about what videos they’re talking about. I just don’t know. Am I missing something? (I think I must be…)


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s