Educators: Using videos to teach

Educators: Using videos to teach

There are a number of excellent resources ( and some not-so-excellent ones) out there about online learning and remote teaching that advises using video conferencing. There are ways to use videos to teach really well, and there are ways where using videos might not actually add too much to your teaching. In this blog, we quickly walk through some pros and cons of different video teaching methodologies and give some suggestions of when/how to use each type.

Let’s start with synchronistic and asynchronistic video teaching. What are they and how are they best used?

Synchronistic Video Teaching

This is a video conference happening in real time. You may be speaking in a video to your students on the other end in real time. It’s like a virtual class. You’ll enable/disable chat functions, and if you want, you can have students share their own screens or ask questions. Basically, this works like a virtual class.

PRO: It allows for real-time questions and discussion and tangents that might not otherwise happen. It is more like a organically developing class. Students can feel seen and heard.

CON: It can be unfair to students who do not have equivalent resources (high speed internet, devices etc.) at home at a fixed moment in time. Throughout COVID19’s unprecedented move to have us all work from home, some students are sharing space, devices, etc. with other loved ones. Because it’s spontaneous, you may or may not cover everything you intend to in the allotted time.

Asynchronistic Video Teaching

This is usually a video that is pre-recorded and certainly will be watched by the student on their own time. It does not allow for real time question and answer, but it are paused and replayed if the students miss something or want a repeat of information that they didn’t catch the first time through.

PRO: It is equitable in the sense that students can access it when/how they want or can, based their needs. If they need aids to hear/see etc. they are able to put those in place in advance (or you are, via closed captioning etc.). You’ll polish your material to ensure that you communicate what you’d like.

CON: It can be a bit disengaged both for you and for your students. As well, if you are not familiar with pre-recording without an audience, it can feel very strange to teach to a computer screen! There’s no option for real-time questions, and so students might misunderstand material.

Obviously, there are pluses and minuses to both kinds of video A more thorough approach is one that blends both asynchronistic and synchronistic video teaching options.

  1. Asynchronistic Lessons: Pre-record short (5-minute) videos with mini-lessons on whatever the topic might be that you want to cover. These can be resources that students can refer to time and time again, and short videos are easily consumable by students.
  2. Synchronistic Office Hours: Schedule one-on-one or small group «office hours» or discussion groups where you give students the opportunity to check-in and ask questions. As well, it is nice to touch base with them.
  3. Asynchronistic How-To Videos: If you are using technology that may be new to you or the students to deliver material, you are able to very quick and easy screen capture videos that can be a reminder showing students «how to» use the software that you want them to use. Similarly, you can use voice-over for power point presentations and offer those as stand-alone videos.
  4. Synchronistic Feedback: If you are providing feedback on submitted work during this time when we are all working from home, you may want to schedule brief one-on-one feedback sessions that allow students to get more insight into what they did well or not so well on their assignments.

You can use Google Meet, Zoom, YouTube, Skype, Go to Meeting, or even FaceTime to connect via video with your students.

Make sure you check the settings before you launch your first video conference, and even do a trial run if you can. Where possible, use password protected or invite-only options so that you’ll limit your synchronistic video sessions to your students and your students alone. If you are comfortable with your asynchronistic sessions being more public, then you can easily use YouTube and set your settings to public, making your teaching resources available to a wider audience, including those who may find themselves in classes without dedicated teachers like you!

More than anything, be yourself. If you are most comfortable standing at the front and talking, then establish your phone, turn on the video, and stand up and talk! Record yourself and share that with your students.

There are other platforms, EssayJack included (screenshot below), where you can add in your own short videos as part of larger assignments and lessons.

So get filming and have now fun!

If you found this article helpful, do let me know and reach out to me on Twitter and let me know what other articles around teaching writing and teaching online you’d like to see more of.

Maybe your school or district is now turning to take-home exams. Perhaps your college or university has decided to have you write exams at home. Awesome, right? You’ll have your notes and be able to write in the comfort of your home. But remember: it’s still an exam and you’ll still want to prepare. So here are strategies to make sure you ace those take-home exams!

The Main Elements of a Take-Home Exam

Exams differ from subject to subject, and sometimes they’re far more important for one field than they truly are for others. Some educators think that exams are the most important thing ever, and other educators hate exams. However, many people are turning to take-home exams right now as a way to assess student achievement because everyone is forced to learn remotely due to COVID19.

Educators will administer take home exams in different ways but in most cases they will:

  1. be open book with notes allowed, and
  2. have some timed element.

A take home exam differs from an in-person exam because the stress of memorising a large amount of information is largely gone. But with the timed element, either timing through an online portal or a quick turn around from when enough time the exam is shared to when it is due, means that the stakes are still as high.

Because your instructors know that you don’t need to memorise details, they will expect more from you in a take-home exam setting than in an in-person one.

Below are some tried and true strategies to help you succeed on take-home exams – whether it’s for a qualification or due to COVID19 or simply because your instructors like take home exams!

Short Answer Take-Home Exam Questions & Strategies

We’ve listed three quite common short take-home exam questions and some strategies to master them if and when they appear on your take-home exams.

Multiple Possibility Exam Questions

  • Write many practice questions of this type. Should your text book has practice tests, use them! If there are previous exams from previous years, use them! If there are online practice versions of this test, use them!
  • Study both the big ideas as well as some of the smaller details. Pay attention to relationships, similarities, and differences between and amongst various ideas. How are things similar to or different from one an other?
  • Study sections of the material and then write concepts out in your own words. People always say that you never learn something so well as when you have to teach it, so if you put the concepts into your own words to explain it to someone else you’ll remember it better for the exam.
  • Read exam questions CAREFULLY! Often the trick to being successful on multiple choice questions is to read the nuance in the question, and then choose the very best answer out of a selection that may have a number that are technically correct or okay answers. Choose the best one by paying attention to the information.

True/False Exam Questions

  • Read true/false questions VERY CAREFULLY. Often the «devil is in the details» with these types of questions. For something to be true, all the details of the question/statement must be true. If one of the details is untrue, then the whole statement would be false.
  • Pay attention to qualifying words. Often a statement that is an absolute – the sky is always blue! – is false, but with qualifiers it will be true – as soon as the sun shines, the sky is quite often blue! In this sentence «quite» is a qualifier.
  • Look closely at the use of negatives. Remember that a double negative means a positive. For example, «it is not unfair to ask trick questions» means «it is fair to ask trick questions.»

Fill in the Blanks Exam Questions

  • When making your own notes, leave out key words. Write sentences, and leave out the dates or the names of important people. Then go back and see if you can fill in those blanks in your own notes. In most cases, you’ll be typing your notes, so type up a full set of notes, and then go through and cut out these key words (dates, names, etc.) and paste them in another document as you go along. Then you’ll have one document with blanks, and one with the answers. Take a break and go back and test yourself!
  • Pick out what you think are the most important details in your notes; they truly are likely the ones that will likely be needed to fill in the blanks.
  • Check your text books for interesting bits of trivia. Sometimes instructors choose to have quirky details that you wouldn’t otherwise expect.

Long Answer Take-Home Exam Questions & Strategies

Most long answer take-home exam questions are essay-type responses. There are a few techniques to be successful at these.

  • Write out practice essays. Time yourself. Set a practice essay question. Start writing. See how far you obtain.
  • Prepare outlines for a range essay questions that you think are likely to appear on your take-home exam. By doing this you’ve done the brainstorming and organising work in advance.
  • Pay close attention to key words in the essay question. If the question has something like «compare,» «discuss,» «analyse,» «justify,» etc. in the question, you need to make sure that you are doing what the question asks in your essay response.
  • Make sure that the thesis of your essay gets at the main idea that the essay question is asking. While any good essay question likely offers options for many sub topics to be explored, you want to make sure that your essay centers around what your instructor wants. Avoid going off on random tangents.
  • Spend around a fifth of your time organising and outlining before you start writing. As a rough guide, students should be able to write a 500-word essay in around 40 minutes total, which means around 8 minutes must certanly be spent in the pre-writing, planning stage. Here’s an article breaking down how to write a 500-word essay in 40 minutes.

If you know your teacher or professor is going to give you an essay response question your best option is to practice! You can use the EssayJack templates of Academic Essay (university) or Five Paragraph Essay (high-school) to practice the structure and organisation of your essay.

Getting the Timing Right!

Whether you are writing a take-home exam filled with long-answer essay questions or one with short answer questions or one through a mix of both, it will be important to watch your timing. Should your instructor is giving you three days for a take-home exam, then that means that they are expecting you to take your time and think through your responses quite closely. Their standards will likely be higher than if they had only given you one hour. So don’t leave this take-home exam until the last minute!

On the other hand, should your take-home exam is only available within a short window of time, make sure that you organise it properly so that you set a time limit for each section and move along promptly.

So a take-home exam offers an opportunity to show off what you know and write in the comfort of your home and your pyjamas! Just be organised, be calm, and good luck!

Educators are finding themselves asked not only to be experts in their fields, not only to care about teaching and learning, but also to (quite suddenly!) translate their expertise in the classroom into exciting and equitable online lessons and exams. It’s a tall order. So we have some quick and dirty tricks to assist educators with writing take-home exams, especially with essay or long-answer type questions.

Creating a Good Take-Home Exam

Some educators are confident with the online or take-home exam space. If that is you, then this probably isn’t the blog for you. But it might give you some ideas and bolster your confidence in what you may be already doing.

But if you’re an educator and you know you may be very good at what you do, but are lacking that confidence when it comes to setting take-home or online exams then this is the blog for you.

Some questions educators commonly have around take-home exams are:

  1. How do I make sure my students don’t cheat?
  2. How can I prevent my students from plagiarising if they are at home?
  3. How do I write good take-home exam questions?

So let’s go through these.

Some Guidance on Take-Home Exam Questions

Whether or not students cheat and/or plagiarise on a take-home or online exam are often directly pertaining to the third point, the quality of the questions. Below are some easy-to-use strategies to help limit the temptation for students to cheat and/or plagiarise on your take-home exams or online exams.

First things first, let’s define cheating in this context. Given that a take-home exam or a online exam allows students to use resources at their disposal – notes, texts, cyberspace, etc. – it is quite likely this one of those resources they may use is each other. Let’s agree that it’s not «cheating» for students to get results together or struggle through some questions by bouncing ideas off each other.

What is «cheating,» however, is if students go online and pay someone to write the exam for them or provide them with answers.

So what is the best way to create a situation where latter is very difficult?


  • Include open-ended questions. As much as possible, have open-ended questions, questions where discover room for interpretation, creativity, and critical thinking. In this way, students aren’t necessarily working towards having the «right» answer ( which they can very quickly get from 1 another or someone else), but rather working towards the best expression of their own right answer.
  • Use sight passage. If possible, try to use compare/contrast long answer or essay questions about things that you give them as sight passages on the take-home exam. In this way, you are able to provide them with something where their response matters the most and is harder to share that on-the-spot comparison with someone to write for them.
  • Have a bank of different questions. Mix up the questions for different students. Ultimately if you want to get at their thinking on a particular subject, if you can do it, provide different questions for different students in the exam.
  • Use sight passages that are unknown or not well know. For-instance, in History or Literature classes, find a section of something that isn’t easily googled and ask essay questions directly pertaining to that passage. For other sorts of analyses, have graphs for discussion with data that you’ve made up or supplied yourself, so that the «answer» isn’t easily found anywhere beyond the student’s own ability to analyse what you’ve given them.


Based your institution’s policies, if you can open the exam timeline and close it within a set period of time, make sure to communicate that timeline in advance to students. Often access to devices and internet for take-home exams is not the same as if students were in class or on campus, so communicating the timing of the take-home or online exam in advance to make certain that students can plan is very important.

And when in doubt, it’s often better to be helpful and generous in this time of anxiety and uncertainty in the place of to be harsh. Our job as educators is to assess what students have learned, to the best of our abilities, rather than to try and catch or trap them.

Take-home and online exams may be new to you now, but COVID19 is changing the landscape of education now and into the future and these types of exams are likely going to be here to stay. So why not take this opportunity to experiment with these types of assessments now?

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