Making Education Matter: Transforming Educational Videos to Engage Students

Sarah Egan Warren, assistant director of the English department’s Professional Writing Program, struggled to convince her students that what they learned in her class mattered. These future engineers could easily see how they would benefit from strong math skills or a foundation in engineering principles, but they didn’t always recognize the value of taking an English course. After all, they weren’t training to be writers. Why were they required to pass the professional writing course, English 331: Communication for Engineering and Technology?

While Egan Warren knew the answer to this question, she needed some help getting her message across. She and Sarah Glova, fellow lecturer in the Professional Writing Program, wanted to make videos of professionals in the field discussing how being good communicators can help them professionally. They came to DELTA and asked for help in executing their plan.

When members of DELTA’s Video Communication Services (VCS) team began working with Egan Warren and Glova, they considered ways to film this series of videos that would capture the students’ attention and drive home their message. Drawing inspiration from the works of filmmaker and designer Hillman Curtis, VCS’s Arthur Earnest and John Gordon imagined a way to bring these videos to life that went beyond the traditional educational video. “When people think of education videos, they think of those dry, 16mm cheesy videos from the old times,” said Earnest, DELTA technology support technician. “But we have the ability now, and if we have the inspiration, we can make it very cinematic. It doesn’t have to be boring.”

The result was Cube Talk, a stunning series of five videos that captured three local professionals talking about the impact of solid communication skills on the job. Filmed in a small conference room in an urban office space, the professionals casually chatted about their communication experiences in the workplace, reflecting themes taught in the course. The setting, combined with a modern style of shooting using a digital cinema camera, was designed to help the student audience engage in what seemed like an intimate conversation.

“The videos help ‘sell’ the importance of this course,” Egan Warren said. “When students hear from professionals in their field that communication, collaboration and appropriate use of technology are all important to being successful in the workplace, it seems to carry more weight than if they are only hearing that message from the instructor.”

Egan Warren and Glova have shared the Cube Talk videos with 11 instructors in the Professional Writing Program, and the videos are being incorporated into three courses in the curriculum. Because the videos were edited in a simple, clean manner, they are flexible enough to allow each instructor to customize how they use them in their course. According to their students, the videos are having an impact on how they value the course content.

“Overall, the theme that effective communication is a vital aspect of the workplace helps me understand the relevance of this course and makes me appreciate the material covered throughout the semester,” a Professional Writing Program student said after watching the Cube Talk videos.

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For more DELTA stories like this one, explore the DELTA Annual Report 2012-2013.