“Okay. Let’s get started… Okay everyone. It’s time to start. Okay…Alright. Time to start. Okay…..” If you’ve ever taught a large lecture, you may have found yourself standing in front of the room saying things along those lines for the first minute or two of class. It’s really awkward and such an unsatisfying way to start class. So, when I started teaching Intro Bio with Trisha Wittkopp back in 2014, I loved her idea: start class with a short (1-2 min long) video clip that relates to that day’s lecture. (Perhaps it’s not surprising that I loved this idea, given that I maintain a list of videos for teaching ecology.)
Following Trisha’s lead, I’ve started every lecture I’ve taught since then with a video. Most are in the 1-2 minute range, though the occasional one runs longer. Some of the videos give a short introduction to a system we’ll discuss that day (e.g., I showed a clip from this TED talk on malaria at the start of my population ecology lecture, since I talked about population dynamics of malaria within hosts.) Some of the videos provide an example that introduces the topic of that day’s lecture (e.g., I use this video about the reintroduction of wolves to Yellowstone to start the food web lecture – starting class with wolves howling is lots of fun! And, yes, I am aware of the controversy related to whether the wolves really are responsible for the changes.) Or sometimes it’s a news report that relates to the day’s materials (e.g., I show a clip from a Toledo news station from when the city’s water supply was shut down by a Microcystis bloom a few years ago, setting up a lecture where we talk about factors that influence productivity; that class includes how one reason we care about this is that sometimes productivity is higher than we’d like).
Students love the videos – it’s a common response on teaching evaluations when students are asked to name something they liked about the course. It helps set up the material for the day. And it gives a clear signal to the class that the class is starting and they need to settle down, without the awkwardness of me saying “Okay, let’s get started” a dozen times.
If you use this tip, make sure that all the videos are captioned. Some of the videos we showed were captioned by the university captioning service; others were captioned by me (the university captioning service paid for me to get a license after we overwhelmed them with our captioning needs). Having the captions helps students who are hearing impaired, students with a noisy neighbor, students who are English language learners, and surely other students, too.
I knew I liked starting lectures with videos, but I remembered just how frustrating the old way was when I did a review session before our final exam and didn’t have a video to start. The review session was optional (and was recorded so students didn’t have to attend in person), so the students who were there were presumably pretty motivated; still, it still took me 1-2 minutes to get them quiet enough to get started. (Hundreds of students chit-chatting is a lot of noise!)
So, my tip (which I learned from Trisha who learned it from someone else): start class with a video! If you teach ecology and need some ideas, this post should get you started.