Using Video in the Classroom: Active or Passive Learning?

Posted by Mary Hendra on October 22, 2015

When you use video in the classroom, are you asking your students to be passive or active?

I can certainly appreciate the leisurely watching of movies and television shows, even documentaries. But as a teacher, when I chose to use valuable class time to view videos, I wanted my students to be as engaged as possible.

In a Facing History and Ourselves classroom, we often use short video clips, stopping to ask students to respond to what they just saw, to reflect in a journal, or by talking with a partner about the issues/content revealed. But what happens when we flip the classroom and ask students to watch video at home? How do we encourage that same level of activity and engagement?

This year, we’ve been collaborating with the tech startup Zaption on a pilot project to use Facing History video content in interactive learning tours as a way to retain a high level of student engagement, even when the teacher is not present. And we are thrilled that Zaption recently received accolades at SXSW (winning the LAUNCHedu competition) and Fast Company magazine (in their innovation issue)!

Zaption enables teachers to add “elements” to a video, including text or images that emphasize or further explain something in the video, journaling prompts, multiple-choice questions, and a discussion option that lets students to see each other's responses. You can see all three of Facing History's Zaption collections here.


How-To Tips:

I’ve been using Zaption to create tours with Facing History content for over a year now, and here are some best practices that I have picked up along the way:

  1. Choose your video thoughtfully.

Some videos work better for tours than others. You want a video that is rich enough for close viewing. I use videos that students can sit with a bit, ones that introduce a complex situation or ethical dilemma, or inspire students to think differently or ask questions. Since adding tour elements increases the length of the video experience, it is good to have a video that is no more than 10-12 minutes.

  1. Think about your audience and purpose.

It is easy to create and clone tours, so be specific in how you frame each video for your purposes. Think about what you would say to your students if you were using the video in class, and use that to guide what you ask or share. How would you introduce the video to your students? Are there words or concepts that would be unclear to them? If so, you may want to supplement the video with additional information.

  1. Less is more.

I’ll admit it. I was so excited about the tools while building my first tour that I wanted to use all of them! But if the video is stopping every few seconds, students aren’t really going to have the opportunity to think deeply. Which leads to my next point

  1. Choose the best-fit element.

When you add elements to your tour, it’s important to think about which one best fits your purpose. I love the idea of the discussion tool, but it isn’t always the best option. Discussions work best when there is a long period of time for students to listen, identify key ideas, and reflect on others’ ideas. Sometimes, it may just be that we simply want students to stop and write a few words, or to check for understanding with a quick multiple-choice question.

It’s not so different from the face-to-face classroom: sometimes we pause the video for less than a minute to ask:

  1. What did that person just say?
  2. Who did you see in this image?
  3. Where did we hear that previously?

Other times we stop and say, Let’s think more about this. Spend five minutes writing in your journal, then turn to a neighbor and share your response.

  1. Consider how your tour connects with the rest of your teaching.

Zaption tours do not take place in isolation. Think about how the tour itself will fit into your lesson plan. Do students need certain contextual information to be successful in understanding and engaging with the tour? Are there some things you no longer need to do in class, or activities you now can do because students will have done the Zaption tour? Zaption Pro (which you can try for free) has analytics on student participation, such as how many have viewed and responded, bar graphs of multiple choice question answers, and word clouds for response questions. I like thinking ahead about these, and using the results the next time we meet face-to-face.

Like many of the new tools becoming available, Zaption is fun to play with. With these tips, and a bit of play, I hope it can be a great educational tool for you to engage students with video.

Four More Tips for Creating a Successful Zaption Tour

  • Is there a part of the video students always stumble over? Add a text slide with a definition or historical context.
  • Is there a point you want to emphasize? Add a quick comprehension question.
  • Would you like students to do a close viewing to really get it (similar to a close read strategy for Common Core)? Set up the video to play twice in one tour, once for students to just watch and once for them to interact with.
  • Do you use certain videos every year? Once you create a Zaption video, you can use it over and over! Start with those you use consistently.

Next Steps:

Are there Facing History videos you’d like us to make Zaption tours for? Let us know by commenting below!

This blog was originally posted on our sister blog Learn + Teach + Share.

Topics: Video, Flipped Classroom, Facing Technology, Lesson Plans, Learning, Zaption

At Facing History and Ourselves, we value conversation—in classrooms, in our professional development for educators, and online. When you comment on Facing Today, you're engaging with our worldwide community of learners, so please take care that your contributions are constructive, civil, and advance the conversation.


Welcome to Facing Today, a Facing History blog. Facing History and Ourselves combats racism and antisemitism by using history to teach tolerance in classrooms around the globe.

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