The project designed and developed twenty-six mini-lectures for two core curriculum courses at Lingnan University: The Process of Science and The Making of Hong Kong. In addition, a suite of online learning packages encapsulating the media content in an interoperable package that allows “plug-and-play” with any LMS platform were created. These provided students with an overview and a list of learning outcomes, followed by the learning content and then comprehension exercises to reinforce their learning. This allowed students to use the packages independently to learn and review materials. The project highlights the importance of incorporating a student perspective in curriculum design bringing a more student-centred approach to teaching and learning, which will enhance student comprehension and engagement both inside and outside of the classroom.
Keywords: Blended learning, mini-lectures, student-as-partners, curriculum design.
Aside from requisite English and Chinese language course, all students at Hong Kong’s Lingnan University are required to successfully complete four common core courses entitled Critical Thinking: Analysis and Argumentation; The Making of Hong Kong; The Process of Science; and China in World History. The university’s required English courses expose students to the various forms of English that they need to be well versed in while studying at university. However, students tend to fall short when it comes to specifically focusing on faculty/departmental language needs. Therefore, an urgent need arose to find a way to address students’ English language requirements in their respective majors. It is here that the project team focused its efforts developing a range of mini lectures for The Making of Hong Kong and The Process of Science, two of these courses.
As Lingnan University is a Liberal Arts Institution, most of its students have not had any formal secondary school science instruction. Thus, the course concepts and terminology contained in and used throughout the lectures and tutorials in The Process of Science tend to be entirely new and difficult for most students to understand. Furthermore, the Making of Hong Kong blends concepts from three social science disciplines (Political Science, Economics, and Sociology), which requires a diverse academic background. Consequently, the project mainly aimed to help facilitate teaching and enhance student learning through the development of mini lectures introducing key terminology and concepts at the beginning of each unit.
PROJECT DEVELOPMENT AND RATIONALE
The mini lectures were designed collaboratively by discipline instructors, language professionals, and a large student helper team. First, a process of reviewing all the course and assessment materials, as well as auditing classes for a semester to gauge teaching effectiveness and student comprehension took place. Subsequently, the project team reviewed their respective findings and together designed and developed a range of mini lectures, which were mostly 3-6 mins in length to address them. Short videos, captured below in Figures 1 and 2, were produced and made available as part of the mini lectures (26 for The Making of Hong Kong and 11 for The Process of Science). In addition to creating the scripts, and performing in most mini lectures, students also assisted in the creation of comprehension exercises for each video.
Figure 1. Mini lecture: The Process of Science
Figure 2. Mini lecture: The Making of Hong Kong
These online learning packages were then embedded on Moodle or other Learning Management System to ensure students could study independently (see Figures 3 and 4 below).
Figure 3. Process of Science EdX Lesson
Figure 4. Comprehension exercise on EdX
The series of mini lectures for The Process of Science is reflected in Figure 5 below (for a more detailed overview, see the appendix section).
Figure 5. Flow of mini lectures for The Process of Science
A closer look at a specific example from The Process of Science follows. Chapter two in the course textbook deals with the importance of quantification. The course lecture leads right into discussing approaches to analysing quantifiable and categorical data. In order to prepare students for this unit, a mini lecture was created ‘Understanding Quantification.’ The mini lecture starts with two students talking about which brand of gummy bear is better, Select or Haribo? The lesson then introduces students to how they can answer this question by making observations about various characteristics: either qualitatively, describing a non-countable quality, such as colour and brand, or quantitatively, related to size, weight, and cost.
The mini lecture then guides students to analyse which categories, or in this case variables, to choose to determine which gummy bear is best. In this case, brand and weight are chosen. First, each brand of gummy bear is weighed in grams and the data recorded in a table (see Figure 6 below). Then the two chosen categories, brand, and weight, are presented as two different types of data: the categorical variable distinguishes the brands, while the quantitative variable, with numbers that can be counted and measured, is weight. So, for example, if we add up all the weights for each brand of gummy bear and divide it by five, we can find the average weight, or in scientific terms, the mean. Since brand 1 (2.96g) weighs more than brand 2 (2.12g), we could state that brand 1 is better because it gives us more gummy bears in weight.
Figure 6. Understanding Quantification: Gummy Bear Data
As already noted, most students attending these courses have little or no knowledge foundation about this content initially. The mini lectures help them to prepare for the forthcoming lectures. Thus, students’ cognitive load is reduced. In addition, as the lectures are short, students’ attention span is maintained (Ingram et al., 2017). Unlike out of class learning through solely flipping content, mini lectures provide students with a more effective source of content to actively engage and contribute better during classes (Howell, 2021). Berlin and Weavera (2021) studied the effect various online modalities had on student learning. They found that the majority of their students maintained a high degree of engagement by using mini lectures, particularly if they included comprehension quizzes. Mini lectures should be designed and developed in a systematic way and serve a definitive purpose, and not just for the sake of freeing up class time (Hulls & Rennik, 2017). In 2016, Caviglia-Harris studied the impact of her mini lectures on student performance versus traditional flipping in her Economics course. For those students who used mini lectures, their scores were 4-14% higher.
Three strategies were used to evaluate the success of the project:
- Two large scale online questionnaires with students
- In-depth interviews with students and course teachers
- External reviews by QS’ Reimagine Education 2019 reviewers (https://www.reimagine- education.com/)
The questionnaires consisted of 20 questions evaluating the overall usefulness of the projects towards students’ learning needs. Students were asked on a rating scale of 0 to 10 whether the mini lectures helped them to understand key information. A total of 159 students completed the online questionnaires. The vast majority of students on both courses reported positively with approximately 75% choosing 7 or higher and the rest no lower than 6.
Complementing the online questionnaires, the results of student interviews were also very positive. The interviews were conducted either face-to-face or via Zoom and were recorded. The results showed that the deliverables of the project had a significantly positive impact on their studies. Ina from the Process of Science said:
“When I’m doing my homework I can just go to the video and get the idea quickly and easily…it can also help us summarize the ideas in a very short video and then we can have a quick revision on the idea and theory.” Louis from The Making of Hong Kong echoed this sentiment when he said that the “mini-course is important. Class is distracting, you can lay in your bed and watch.”
Regarding the language component of the videos, it was also agreed that this was useful. The respondents liked the idea of the key vocabulary, as well as the ideas, being introduced before the lecture as they often contained lexis that they had not encountered before or, perhaps, because of lack of use, had forgotten and needed to refresh. Nicole from The Making of Hong Kong and Hazel from The Process of Science both agreed that it “helps vocab, some that I haven’t seen or understand.”
These students also felt that the topics were useful and delivered in a very concise and interesting manner. Hazel felt that they were “not exhaustive, like it was in the lecture,” while Ina thought that they had “some dramatic scenes that we cannot see in the lecture, but we can explore in the video.” Nicole also felt that the videos could “stimulate” her whereas the lectures often make her “feel sleepy.
The feedback received from the course instructors was also very positive. Professor Mark McGinley, the Director of the Core Curriculum and General Education Office and the HEAD of the Science Unit commented on The Process of Science shared:
“I found the videos produced in this project to be quite useful. As we move towards a more blended learning environment, I think that we can incorporate these videos to help (1) introduce students to key vocabulary terms, (2) provide them with a diverse exposure to important topics, and (3) capture their interest and draw attention to course topics.”
External reviewers’ comments from Reimagine Education 2019 were also very favourable:
“The innovative approach uses short videos to bridge language in a contextualized experience… The groundwork that has been is promising. A great deal of thought and planning went into the design and implementation…”
“The pedagogical theory underlying their approach appears to be sound” and “this project is an interesting attempt to improve educational resource provision, and to ensure that all course learners are adequately prepared for the academic challenges ahead.”
“As universities continue to recruit higher numbers of international students, and as universities across the world report varying levels of preparedness across a range of key competencies, it is undeniable that the project authors have identified a genuine need.”
Our project also had limitations. With The Making of Hong Kong, there were numerous course instructors and not all of them chose to use each mini lecture. In order to fully analyse the effectiveness of the mini lectures developed, the entire teaching team would need to utilise them in the same manner. In addition, the project team used two different platforms to deliver materials for The Process of Science: Moodle and EdX. Although instructors and students were familiar with Moodle, more time was needed for them to learn how to navigate the EdX platform.
It is evident that since COVID 19, more and more educators have been delivering content online. Although the mini lecture format has shown to be effective, it is not a replacement for formal lectures as it only equips students with a foundation so that they may contribute to the classroom more effectively. Time is a key factor in developing mini lectures. Educators need to take the time to understand their materials from the student’s perspective. To accomplish this, educators should work together with students as partners.
Multimodal approaches to teaching and learning have become firmly implanted in academia today. However, we deliver materials, whether blended, inverted or completely online, enhancing students’ learning experience should be at the forefront of the materials design process. Educators willing to take the time and effort could create their own mini lectures using insights from the MiLEE design process.
Berlin, K., & Weavera, K. V. (2021). Teaching strategies students find helpful in online learning courses. College Teaching, 70(3), 319–327. https://doi.org/10.1080/87567555.2021.1940814
Caviglia-Harris, J. (2016). Flipping the undergraduate economics classroom: Using online videos to enhance teaching and learning. Southern Economic Journal, 83(1), 321–331. https://doi.org/10.1002/soej.12128
Howell, R. A. (2021). Engaging students in education for sustainable development: The benefits of active learning, reflective practices and flipped classroom pedagogies. Journal of Cleaner Production, 325, 129318. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.jclepro.2021.129318
Hulls, C., & Rennick, C. (2017, January 28). The use of a series of online mini-lectures to deliver facts in first year programming. Proceedings of the Canadian Engineering Education Association (CEEA). https://doi.org/10.24908/pceea.v0i0.6491
Ingram, M. J., Crane, S., Mokree, A., Curdy, M. E., & Patel, B. A. (2017). Mini lectures: A taster to engage the audience for the main event. School Science Review, 99(366), 87–90. https://www.learntechlib.org/p/191886/