How creative video lectures helped reshape one Dal instructor’s approach to teaching

- May 12, 2021

Video lectures have proven beneficial for students and led to better class experiences for all, says Andrew Bergel, an instructor in the College of Sustainability. (Provided photo)
Video lectures have proven beneficial for students and led to better class experiences for all, says Andrew Bergel, an instructor in the College of Sustainability. (Provided photo)

Andrew Bergel’s video lectures draw you in. Watching one is a bit like channel surfing: There's historical footage, snippets of pop culture, and loads of other compelling visuals, all expertly packed with information and narrative concisely delivered by Bergel. The videos are very entertaining, so much so that you might assume he has been using the format for years.

However, the reality is quite the opposite.

Bergel, an instructor who teaches political economy at the College of Sustainability, had never made a classroom video until last August. Like many faculty members, Bergel felt some trepidation about the fall semester. “I had no clue how I was going to deliver these courses that I had gotten so used to delivering in person,” he says. “I had no idea how I could bring the classroom feeling into an online space.”

Particularly daunting was the prospect of teaching a first-year class he hadn’t taught in ages. “I thought, ‘Now I’m going to have to teach this class of 300 people online and it’s going to be insane.’”

As late August rolled in, Bergel — also a PhD candidate in the Department of Political Science — ran into an ex-student. "I told him about the situation. He said he was getting into some art projects and suggested we talk about making videos more interesting.

“We talked a little bit and then for the very first video I went up to Citadel Hill because the intro of the class was about introducing the history of Halifax. And it was just hysterical, it was so much fun. We got the cannon firing behind me, and it turned into a fun, corny kind of quasi-documentary.

“The student response was great. They were really excited by the fact that we were filming outdoors. So, at that point I realized I wanted to put a lot of effort into that kind of format. And then it took on its own life and I started to have a really good time with it.”

Deeper discussions

What Bergel didn't realize early on was that his video lectures would profoundly change the way he looked at lecture delivery itself. The key was their use in tandem with seminar-style discussions.  “I received a lot of feedback from students about how they loved being able to go home and watch and digest the lecture videos on their own time and then come into a synchronous discussion about the material.”

“It got me thinking about first- and second-year courses that are pretty lecture heavy. I realized I’d never thought through how exhausting it can be to have to sit through an hour lecture while furiously writing notes. And then it comes to that half hour portion of the class where you start discussing it. You’re so exhausted and you’re just trying to come up with some kind of a question off the top of your head — but you haven’t really digested the material,” he says.

Video lectures have proven beneficial for students and led to better class experiences for all.

“I noticed that this year, when students had digested video lectures on their own time, the discussions were so much more interesting, in-depth and productive. I found that the students caught on with the more complex material more than ever before.”

The results have been so eye-opening that Bergel plans to incorporate the use of videos in the future — even when we’ve returned to in-person learning. “That combination is something I’m looking at for fall. Some kind of hybrid option. It did feel very successful. It’s not that I would stop lecturing in the classroom altogether, but I might take a few lectures out of the classroom and allow students to watch those separately so we can have a richer discussion later.”

Enough reading, get watching

Check out Bergel's video lectures on Black Swan Theory and Neo-Liberalism.

See also: English professor succeeds online by embracing flexibility

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