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Friday Videos: Building Relationships and Community in Class

Michelle L. Boettcher, Clemson University



Key Statement: A short video each week is one way to build community, provide support, and connect with students in teaching any course.


Keywords: Videos, Classroom Community, Storytelling



Introduction


In the midst of the pandemic, students were struggling to keep up with online academic work in conjunction with their fears, isolation, distraction, and desperation related to COVID-19. Of course, it was not just the students; I was struggling, as were my colleagues and everyone else in their contexts - academic, personal, and otherwise. During this time, a student asked me if I could send out an email each Friday letting the class know what was due the next week. My initial (internal) reaction was one of resistance, if not annoyance. I teach graduate students in a student affairs M.Ed. program. My first thought was, "You are graduate students. You can keep up with your homework at this point. If you can't, you probably shouldn't be in graduate school." Then I took a breath, and the kindness kicked in. Of course they needed support. I needed support. This request came because students were overwhelmed and worried they would miss something. They cared enough to not only to ask for help but also come forward with a possible solution. Isn't that what we always hope students will do? That was in the spring of 2020. Ever since, I have created Friday videos that I send out each week. I do include reminders about upcoming assignments, but these videos have become something far greater. As a means of connection and a chance for students to know me a bit better, these videos have become an essential part of my teaching.


Photo courtesy of Brett Jordan, Unsplash.


Video Structure


I send these videos out each Friday. I try to send them in the morning, but sometimes they go out later in the day. The videos are mostly three to four minutes, though sometimes I ramble a bit and they can be a little longer. I don't teach new material in the videos. I might follow up on something from class that week, but mainly I talk about what we will be doing in the next week. In addition to the preview of the next class, I include some sort of story or joke. I try to make the story something about life beyond the class. I use stories about reflection or parables or fables about ways we can take care of ourselves. My goal is to attend to students holistically, not just in terms of the course itself. Sometimes I share a story about something that happened to me or a movie I saw that I would recommend. I do not spend much time editing these videos. I record them on Zoom and provide a link in our course management platform, which is how I send the emails out each week. I record them in my home office to give students a sense of the space where I do a lot of my work and thinking about our learning together. That said, there are lots of other ways to approach the video creation, production, and distribution. See this and other resources for more ideas: https://www.theedublogger.com/video-teaching-learning/ (Morris, 2021).

Class Preview

The class preview section of the video is where I start. If students want to know what is coming up but aren't interested in the storytelling and support messages, they can watch the first minute of the video and know what assignments are coming up. I also include any follow-up from that week's class. I might share a resource or give answers to questions I didn't have in the moment in class that week. Then I talk about what we will do the following week. If there is a major assignment coming up a few weeks down the road, I'll also highlight that.


Storytelling

While the assignments piece is all I was initially asked for during COVID, I wanted to situate the content with other information. I realized most immediately that I would be sharing stories during the videos. I have a list of short messages that I find motivating or inspiring and share those. I also tell stories from my own life—things my dog has done, things my nephew has done, and so on. Providing a mix of fables, parables, Zen stories, and stories from my own life keeps the process interesting for me and, hopefully, for students, as well. There are a variety of resources for stories online. I suggest starting with Aesop's Fables, available through the Library of Congress - https://read.gov/aesop/143.html (Library of Congress, n.d.) or "A Cup of Tea" in Zen Flesh, Zen Bones: A Collection of Zen and Pre-Zen Writings (Reps & Senzaki, 1998).


Support

I close each video telling students I hope they are doing well. I encourage them to reach out if there is more they want to talk about with me. I also acknowledge when I know there is a lot going on for them outside of my class—in their assistantships, during midterms, and so on. Again, I use this video time to acknowledge them holistically and not just as students in "my class.”



Managing My Expectations


One thing I do not do is look to see how many students view the videos. I imagine many—maybe even most—do not. However, I know some do, because I get emails or comments in class about what I share. For me, this is like any other kind of teaching. I can't force students to take in what I have to offer. All I can do is teach in the ways that I know best and give them different means of support. If I looked at how many students watch the videos (or, likely, how many do not watch them), I suspect I would get frustrated and might discontinue making them. In my opinion, that would be a mistake. Every semester, students comment on the videos. They comment about them in the course evaluations. I also have students make comments directly to me. For example, last semester I had a student who came up after class and said, "I know that you don't have to do the Friday videos, but I look forward to them every week. I appreciate you sharing stories, and some of what you've shared I've used in my own work. I really enjoy that part of class."



Conclusion


I have come to enjoy making and sharing the Friday videos. I'm not perfect, and there are times I don't get a video posted until Saturday or maybe even miss a week all together. I use those times as examples of making mistakes in an effort to normalize mistakes. When I am teaching, I stress that mistakes are how we learn, so I am less afraid now of making mistakes since I consider it role modeling in some ways. However, most weeks I get excited to find a story that fits where we are, the struggles we face, the communities we are a part of, and ways we can lift each other up, even through the most difficult times. This process started during COVID, by far the most challenging time of my teaching and higher education experience. It is one of few, precious gifts we can take from that time to make our work better in the future.



Next Steps and Questions to Consider


If you are looking to incorporate a weekly video, think about the purpose and your expectations for the video. I use Friday videos to preview the next week and offer support to students. You might have other goals.

1. What content do you want to include? Remember that it should be brief.

2. When do you have time to create and distribute your video?

3. How will you get feedback on your videos? Will you ask directly, build it in to a mid-course evaluation, or perhaps add a question to the final course evaluation?


References


Library of Congress. (n.d.). A selection of stories from The Aesop for children: with

pictures by Milo Winter. https://read.gov/aesop/143.html

Morris, K. (2021, August 24). The educator’s guide to using video in teaching and

learning. Theedublogger. https://www.theedublogger.com/video-teaching-

learning/

Reps, P., & Senzaki, N. (1998). Zen flesh, Zen bones: A collection of Zen and pre-Zen

writings. Tuttle.


Further Reading


Martin, F., & Bolliger, D. U. (2018). Engagement matters: Student perceptions on

the importance of engagement strategies in the online learning

environment. Online Learning, 22(1), 205–222.

Malhotra, T., Mann, A., Avery, T., & Brett, C. (2019). Exploring the relationship

between instructor created online video characteristics and pedagogy. In

EDULEARN19 Proceedings (pp. 3190-3198). IATED.



About the Author


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