The Teach Learn Collaborate Repeat podcast is a teaching and learning podcast hosted by Talis. We’ll be talking teaching and tech with experts from across higher education.
In this episode, Parama Chaudhury, Professor (Teaching) at the Department of Economics, University College London talks to Natalie from Talis about her ‘Reading Videos’ project. This project seeks to provide a model to students for engaging with resources more effectively.
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Here’s the episode transcript:
Natalie: Welcome to the Teach Learn Collaborate Repeat podcast. Today I’m joined by Parama Chaudhury, who is Professor (Teaching) at the Department of Economics at University College London. Parama is the founding director of the Center for Teaching Learning Economics. She also serves on the Teaching and Learning Committee of the CORE project and the Royal Economic Society’s Education and Training Committee. Welcome Parama, thank you so much for joining us.
Parama: Thanks Natalie. Really lovely to be on this podcast.
Natalie: Brilliant. So today we’re gonna be talking about your project on guided reading videos. So could you tell us a little bit about that and kind of what problem you’re trying to solve with it?
Parama: Yeah, absolutely. So, I developed these videos in the context of my first-year economics module on policy issues where students had to read quite a few research papers. So obviously because it was a first-year module, I chose research papers, which were easy to get through. But despite that, what I found was that students really struggled to sort of develop an efficient way to read those papers. What I realized was that, you know, all of us sort of learn how to read in our discipline and each discipline has slightly different models of how you go through the content particularly off a research paper. And that was not clear to students at all. Uh, and so what I did was I made these videos modeling how I would read those papers to give them sort of an idea of how they should go through it. Now, obviously, each individual will have slightly different ways of understanding and reach knowledge, but this was one model that they could follow and then sort of tweak it for their own purposes.
Natalie: So you created these videos and you shared them with your first-year students, was that the very start of the module when they joined?
Parama: So what I did and I, I continue to do actually is that the learning model that I use is an adaptable model, which means that a lot of the content actually happens. It is sort of delivered asynchronously. So, I set up these sort of website, really a ‘sway’. So, which is Microsoft’s storytelling app as they call it. Uh, and in those ways there are there’s commentary for me, there’s sort of different readings. So they might be journal articles. There might be sort of more popular kinda readings and so on. And within those, I embed these videos. So, you know, students will be asked to read this particular part of this particular paper, and then there’ll be a video of me actually reading, going through that, that paper.
I only actually do it for the first few weeks. So leading up to the midterm break in the term, because the idea is not that the video is teaching them, what’s actually in that paper, the video is meant to be a model of how to read. So once they’ve seen a few of those videos, or, you know, maybe three or four different papers, you kind of get the hang of it that, you know, there’ll be slight differences depending on how the paper is structured. And so on, you get kind of get the idea of what we’re trying to do. We’re not reading this as you would read a novel for example.
Natalie: Right. And then they can take that and apply that to other resources. Great. So have you had any feedback from students so far on that?
Parama: The feedback’s been really interesting. So I think this is probably the third year, uh, that I’m using this kind of model of, of having these reading videos. So first of all, students absolutely love the videos. The problem is that they don’t quite see them as I see them. So they do see them as teaching them that particular paper, rather than setting up a model that they can then use. And so every year that I’ve done it, I face the same problem of students saying, can we have more reading videos? And that was definitely not the point of this. And it’s a bit of a struggle, but I guess that’s kind of how learning happens that, that, you know, when I explain to them that, you know, there are no more reading video because you’ve seen the model, you have four or five different examples.
Parama: You can now take the model and apply it yourself to the next papers. They then see the videos in a very different way. What I’ve tried to do in the past is to explain at the very beginning that that’s what the role of the reading videos is. But for some reason it’s different for people to internalize, I guess. So every year I get the same feedback saying, you know, we love the videos. Can we have more videos please? Uh, and it’s always a challenge, but I think at the end of the day, what I’ve found is that students do manage to learn. And so, you know, at the beginning of the term, the same students were saying, it’s taken me, you know, so long to go through these papers are no longer saying that because they’ve learned a different model of reading somehow. Right. So I’m hoping it’s because of the videos.
Natalie: So is that the key change that you’ve noticed is that they’re able to work more efficiently with their reading. Are there any other kind of key improvements that you’ve noticed in your students since, since doing the videos?
Parama: Yeah, so I think you know the timing thing was something that was very important for me because there is a sizable amount of reading in this course. And for, for whatever reason, you know, economic students don’t expect to be reading that much, uh, perhaps because they think it’s a mathematical kind of subject, which it is, but then, you know, read search papers are something that in every field, doesn’t matter how mathematical it is, you kinda have to read. But what I also found was that so in this, in this particular module, there is a research project that they have to do as well, uh, in their teams. So they have to do their own research. They have to do their own reading. I did find that since I introduced these videos, I was the the sort of quality of the research done in those research projects had improved.
Parama: Again, it’s difficult to sort of draw cause, I am an economist. I’m gonna be very cautious about drawing causal things here, but it has been quite interesting because I could, I could clearly see that their understanding of the research, not just the research that I was asking them to read, but the ones that they’ve done for their project seem to have improved. And these are first-year students. It’s important to remember that they are new to the field, the amount of sort of maturity in terms of understanding that they’re showing in their projects. I’ve been teaching this module for, I think this is my ninth year teaching it. And I literally taught them just yesterday. The quality has definitely improved in terms of sort of their understanding of the research and how to apply and so on. So for, you know, whatever reason they are starting to read and understand, engage with the research literature in a different way.
Natalie: So were you doing any of the tactics before that to kind of get the same message across, or did it start with this project?
Parama: So, you know, I’ve been trying various different things. So one of the things that I have, this particular class is a team-based learning class. So, you know, it’s a type of flipped learning model where students have a bunch of preparations to do. Then they have a fairly light touch assessment. It’s called readiness assessment because, in the live sessions that we have together, it’s very discussion-based, but we can’t have those discussions unless people are properly prepared. So what I did was, of course, the assessment, the readiness assessments, they’re very much based on close reading. And so in order to understand, to answer those questions, you would definitely have to sort of read the key parts really, really well. And you know, the only way you can do that in any kind of, sort of sensible timeframe is if you’re reading strategically rather than like a novel, like I said before, I think it helped to a certain extent, you know, the cohorts where I didn’t have the reading videos.
Parama: They would come back to me and say that you know, I didn’t do so well in the readiness assessments, but they helped me to sort of organize what I was looking for in the reading. So I’m reading in a more active way. I’m not just sort of going through the thing I’m looking for things. So that did help. And there’s a lot of sort of research literature saying that that kind of active reading helps a lot. But I was, you know, I felt like there was a more fundamental problem that people don’t even know where to start, how, how to even, you know, I open the first page, do I just start reading from the first word and keep going linearly. And that’s why I sort of said, okay, let’s move a step backward and start with these videos. I have still have those readiness assessments. So they tell as well, I think, but the big change I’ve seen in terms of how students are understanding the research is definitely after the videos.
Natalie: And why do you think video works so well? Is it just, that’s the way we’re, we’re used to consuming content now easily accesible?
Parama: I think so. You know, the way that I structure these videos is that I’m on the screen and screen sharing. I’m literally going through the paper and I’m providing a commentary of, you know, okay, so this is the paper that we’re starting on the front page, I’m reading the abstract. Okay. So I know what the key points are. I need to find, now there must be a key graph of table in the paper that tells me that they’re getting these results. Let’s jump to that. So I’m scrolling down then jumping to that table or graph and saying, okay, so this is where the result is, but here are my questions looking at this graph that must be in the data section or the method section, let’s go back there and, uh, and try to answer these questions. And so video works really well because they can see me in action. So I haven’t tried to do this sort of in an audio kind of way, because I do want to see them, uh, sorry, them, them to see me doing what they would do, actually scrolling through the paper, going backwards and forwards. And the fact that it’s not linear. So I go somewhere, I thought I found something, actually I have questions. Let’s go back. Let’s go forward because this is saying, this is explained somewhere else so that they can see that process. And it’s very different from reading other kinds of materials.
Natalie: Yeah, absolutely. I mean, it sounds, it sounds extremely useful, especially that jump from further education to higher education. Suddenly you have so much reading to do and it’s of such a different level than what you used to. So do you think this is something that can be also apply to other disciplines, you know, other, very reading-heavy disciplines?
Parama: I think so. Absolutely. And I think you know, it’s very important that that students also understand that different disciplines will have slightly different reading models. And I think for that reason, you know, if you’re taking, uh, a joint degree with, I dunno, history and economics and philosophy, my guess would be, you’d be coming across different kinds of texts, which should be approached in different kinds of ways. And having a few of these in each of those, uh, subjects, you know, it doesn’t have to be sort of module by module. My guess is that it is a disciplinary thing and I teach a few different modules in economics. Uh, and I think that the models are kind of the same once you’ve got the hang of it, you can kind of understand it. So, especially in the first year where students are coming into the discipline for the first time, and of course school is so different.
Parama: Reading in school is so different. Having something like this in every single discipline is really useful for students. And then the people within that discipline will know sort of what are the most efficient ways. Uh, so it’s not just about times saving, right? It’s, it’s about sort of reading them in a way that you’re understanding and retaining, right. And those things will vary high disciplines. So I think there’s a role for these in, in lot of disciplines, I will say here though, perhaps in economics, we face a slightly bigger challenge than in many other fields. So you would imagine that if you’ve chosen into study history at university, then you know, that it entails a lot of reading and probably taken history in schools. So you have done that kind of reading before, whereas in economics, first of all, not many people have taken economics at at school. Secondly, also, you know, economics, if you take it at a level it’s quite different from what it is at university. So it’s a bit of a shock. So I think it’s more useful in our field, but definitely it can be of use in others as well.
Natalie: So if you were to kind of reflect on the last three years, is there anything that you’ve changed throughout the project? Anything you’ve kind of iterated on or what, what would you say to someone kind of doing, stepping into this for the first time?
Parama: Yeah, I think there are a few things to sort of keep in mind. So the first thing is you know, something that we would probably do in any case, but especially, uh, after the last couple of years experience and for the next few years, uh, all of us at university will have students who have had disrupt school. So it’s something to keep in mind that, you know, additional support might be required or additional vigilance perhaps, uh, on the part in terms of sort of keeping the reading workload or the cognition workload, really keeping an eye on that, just to make sure that, you know, it’s reasonable. And then in terms of the videos, you know, choosing sort of papers or, or chapters or whatever it is, that’s doable in the time period that you’re looking at and then making the videos relatively short.
Parama: So you don’t necessarily always need to go through the full paper and all the details of it. You expect the students to do that. I think what’s really, really important is that these reading videos are not me just lecturing on that paper. It’s a model of how I’m reading through the paper, which means that person now has an idea of these are the steps I should go through to read the paper, but then they go and read the paper. So keeping that in mind, my videos are rarely longer than I would say eight to nine minutes. Okay. Because I’m not actually talking about the content or, or lecturing on the content, I’m literally saying, you know, this is how I would go there, check this. Okay. I don’t understand that. It says it’s in three, let’s go there, see what’s happening and just leave it at that. So they have a model and then it’s up to them to actually do the reading.
Natalie: Yeah. Perfect. So just bite-size guides. Well, it’s really interesting to hear all about that. So thank you so much for joining us.
Parama: Thanks Natalie. Thanks for inviting me.