Friday, December 10, 2010

Hot Spots: Why More Lecturers Should Use YouTube

YouTube provides incredibly detailed information to its content providers. Some of these analytics are amusing, but many are quite useful. YouTube provides content providers with a geographic distribution of their viewers, demographics of the viewing audience, how viewers found the video, and the level of attention viewers gave the video at different points in time (a metric called "Hot Spots").

In this post, I discuss how the "Hot Spots" analytic can give some useful feedback that would never be available in the regular classroom setting. The best way to understand "Hot Spots" is to see an example. Here's a snapshot of this "Hot Spots" analytic for a video of mine on the relationship between consumer theory and producer theory.


This graphic shows me which parts of my video grab the audience's attention the most, or on the flip side, which parts of the video drive people away.

Some of my other videos demonstrate this flip side a little better. For example, this video on relating short run and long run average cost curves ranks among my least engaging. In fairness, I recorded it at around 11:30 pm:


Hot Spots can be a great source of feedback for instructors. What do students find most engaging? Where do I confuse students enough that they have to skip back to hear it again? When do I confuse people enough that they just give up? Do some visuals grab more attention than others?

Looking across videos, I can also ask whether my performance has improved over time. There's a lot of noise in the data, but here is one of my more recent videos (on price discrimination) that has enough data for YouTube to display the "Hot Spots" metric:


Attention is higher on average than my previous videos, which I take to be a good thing. Maybe I am improving. Then again, maybe by video 32, I'm down to the very few people who really want to learn about price discrimination.

Nevertheless, it is interesting to see the points of highest attention. Attention is especially high when I explain the "monopolist's tradeoff" at the beginning of the video (that's the first hump). When I explain the different requirements for price discrimination, the video loses a few people. Later in the video, attention rises again when I explain first-degree price discrimination (that's the beginning of the second hump).

In an actual classroom, I have never had such precise feedback. Using the metric of "glazed over eyes" can only communicate so much. In person, it is often a guessing game to figure out what aspects of an explanation were engaging and useful. Online, Hot Spots takes a lot of this guesswork out of the equation. That can be really useful.

Even though it has these useful analytics, I still don't believe that YouTube can replace the classroom. Teaching is about communicating complex ideas, and even with the introduction of low-cost video technology, the ability to ask and answer questions in real time (and to benefit from others' questions) means that a live classroom is always going to have an important place in education. That said, video supplements should play a more important role in future education. The technology is too powerful to go unexploited.

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