Strengthen an Online Course: Videos and Midsemester Course Assessments

— Jeanne M. Slattery

I am teaching online for the first time: while I’ve used D2L a lot in the past, this course has pushed me way outside my comfort zone. I’m doing videos for the first time, which has raised all sorts of issues for me — technology, organization, and the simple fact that I forced to see my face in the video (at least as I have currently structured this task).

I have invested a lot of time in these videos. In addition to considering how I’m going to translate my 50-minute lecture into a 7-15 minute video, I’ve had to consider how to make the shift in formats and decide how to use the technology well. I’m also going through and editing the videos. In sum, a 15 minute video may take me 40 minutes or more to produce (not including writing my lecture) — and it was much longer at the beginning of the semester when I was attempting to master the technology.

Considering my discomfort and the amount of work involved, I wondered whether my students found the videos useful and effective. Was I wasting my time?

* * *

I often ask my face-to-face students questions about how our course is going, and I occasionally give them a paper and pencil survey to gather their feedback. My typical questions look like the ones I used in this online course. Although I was primarily curious about what they thought about the videos, I asked general questions to see what things were most important to them. Such an approach gives me a wider range of feedback about the course, tells me what my students find important, and helps me build the kind of partnership I’m aiming for in the course.

Here are my questions. In the interest of openness and honesty, I’ve posted all of their comments in the associated links. I’ve corrected their misspellings, but they are otherwise as entered: the Good, the Bad, and the Ugly.

  1. What is going well in our course?
  2. What isn’t going as well for you?
  3. What changes, if any, should we make?

Their disparity of opinions won’t surprise any of you who have used a similar strategy. Many do not like doing groupwork (much as in a face-to-face course). Some like MindTap (publisher-provided material), for example, while others do not. Some struggle with the technology that is part and parcel of an online course, others struggle with time, and still others wish they were performing better. Some like that the post-tests have no time limit, while others complain about the time limit. (As noted in the syllabus, there is no time limit on post-tests.)

On the other hand, their comments about the videos were as close to unanimous as can be. Six of the 21 students responding to the survey commented about the videos. All of them commented that they felt more connected to the course and me as a result of the videos. They felt the videos made “the work and reading more understandable.”

  • The fact that you have uploaded the videos on D2L, helped ease my worry of taking an online class. This is because I am still technically being taught by a person, not completely by myself or by a computer.
  • I’m finding the topics to be complex and interesting. The videos make the work and reading more understandable.
  • I do like that you videotape yourself while giving your lecture.  I feel like I am in the classroom.  Out of all the courses I’ve taken so far, you are the first professor I’ve had teach this way.
  • I like that you supplement the text with videos of yourself explaining the topics as well as additional videos and powerpoints. This is very helpful and it absolutely reinforces the text.
  • Mind Tap is easy to follow. Videos/Power points informative.
  • I like all the videos, I think it helps with distance learning.

I’m surprised, but should not be. It would be easy and tempting, as student or faculty member, to set up an online course and step back. In fact, Smith and Taveras (2005) concluded that although most online faculty report being online frequently, 25% of their students reported receiving little or no feedback. In the same survey, 95% of faculty surveyed reported spending a lot of time replying to student queries, while 85% of students reported feeling “insecure, isolated or confused at least part of the time” (para. 8).

The literature has repeatedly suggested that strategies that encourage student/faculty and peer/peer interactions are best practices in college teaching both in the classroom and online (Chickering & Gamson, 1987; Ragan, n.d.). In fact, Lowenthal (Dunlap & Lowenthal, 2014; Kilgore & Lowenthal, 2015) recommends three types of instructor presence in the online classroom: social presence (to help students see the instructor as a real person), teaching presence (strategies to build student understanding), and cognitive presence (constructing meaning through sustained communication). Although I did other things in my courses to attempt to build each of these, the videos almost certainly contributed.

* * *

I’ve made a number of changes based on my students’ feedback. I’ve added another survey, asking whether they would prefer a wiki or group discussion board for their last assignment. I’ve given them additional instruction for some of the technological problems they were having (e.g., how to do a screenshot, how to take the case studies more effectively). I’ve also explained why I don’t give them the correct answer to missed questions (i.e., doing so focuses their attention on the answer rather than the learning).

And, although I’d give my videos a B/B-, I’m feeling affirmed and am continuing to record videos to go along with the course, now knowing that my students are watching and appreciating my efforts.


Chickering, A. W., & Gamson, Z. F. (1987). Seven principles for good practice in undergraduate education. AAHE Bulletin. Retrieved from

Dunlap, J. C., & Lowenthal, P.R. (2014). The power of presence: Our quest for the right mix of social presence in online courses. In A.P. Mizell & A. A. Piña (Eds.), Real life distance education: Case studies in practice (pp. 41-66). Greenwhich, CT: Information Age Publishing.

Kilgore, W., & Lowenthal, P. R. (2015). The Human Element MOOC: An experiment in social presence. In R. D. Wright (Ed.), Student-teacher interaction in online learning environments (pp. 373-391). Hershey, PA: IGI Global.

Ragan, L. C. (n.d.). 10 principles of effective online teaching: Best practices in distance education. Faculty Focus. Retrieved from

Smith, G. G., & Taveras, M. (2005, January). The missing instructor: Does e-learning promote absenteeism? eLearn Magazine, 1. Retrieved from

Jeanne M. Slattery is a professor of psychology at Clarion University. She is interested in thinking about what makes teaching and learning successful, and generally describes herself as a learner-centered teacher. She has written two books, Counseling diverse clients: Bringing context into therapy, an Empathic counseling: Meaning, context, ethics, and skill (with C. Park), and is writing Trauma, meaning, and spirituality: Research and clinical perspectives. She can be contacted at

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