Teaching and Learning Forum 98 [ Contents ]

A creative application of commercial videorecordings to bring 'real-life' issues into the class

Alistair Reid
Construction Management
Curtin University of Technology
Commercial videorecordings can provide a lecturer with a source of rich and relevant real-life issues, which can be used to advantage in student learning. From experience, it can be difficult, if not impossible, to get undergraduate students to discuss and explore issues by using a 'show and lets talk' approach. In response, a student centred presentation approach has been developed to better integrate a video series called "Skyscraper" into an undergraduate course in Construction Management and Economics. This approach has been used for the past four years and has enjoyed the enthusiastic participation of students and has resulted in issues being better identified, explored and critically assessed.

In detail, nominated student groups take turns to review and present episodes of the video series to the class and facilitate class discussion using prepared topic questions. The lecturer has become a learning resource for consultation by groups preparing their presentations and in class is an "observer" with limited opportunity for comment. The exercise forms an assessable component of the course.

It is anticipated the presentation format, with or without adaptation, would be suitable for other video programs of either single or multiple episode formats.


Commercial videorecordings can bring into the classroom a rich source of relevant and real-life issues that support student learning and aid the process of student understanding. But, how can videos be best integrated into the class environment?

From experience with undergraduate students in group sizes of 30 to 45, showing a video and then trying to encourage discussion in a "show and lets talk" approach invariably results in a poor response, with most of the class silently refusing to participants in the discussions. Even breaking the class into small groups and having them discuss set topic questions has been found frustratingly inadequate. Often, what has grabbed the interest of the students is quite different to the points promoted for discussion by the lecturer.

The approach described in this paper was developed to better integrate a video series called "Skyscraper" (Sabbagh, 1989) into a third year project management unit in a Bachelor of Applied Science (Construction Management and Economics) course. The series comprises eight 27 minute long episodes in four volumes and shows technical, interpersonal and social issues that arise from the construction of a major New York skyscraper. It was originally shown on Channel 4 television in the UK and has been shown on SBS television in Australia. Because of recent changes in course structure, the video series is currently incorporated into a second year project management unit.

The video sessions are run as a student assignment, with one episode being shown per week, and it requires:

allocated groups, normally of 4 or 5 students, to present individual video episodes to the class, initiate and facilitate class discussion on prepared topic questions, organise all room layout and equipment needs and self-evaluate their own performance

class members to participate in discussion sessions and provide peer assessment feedback to each presenting group

the lecturer to provide a support resource function outside of class for presenting groups, to be an "observer" during class, with limited opportunity for direct input, and to provide assessment feedback to each presenting group

The new format is enjoyed by students, who appear to thrive on the self-directed learning and mutually supportive nature of the exercise. Also, it has achieved the objective of producing wide class participation and much better identification and exploration of the issues raised in the videos.

Although this paper is based on a methodology developed for a specific video series, it is anticipated the presentation format, with or without adaptation, would be suitable for other video programs of either single or multiple episode formats.

Weekly structure

The class runs for nine weeks and is timetabled as a one hour class per week, which equates to about fifty minutes of actual class time. With the viewing of each video taking approximately 27 minutes, time has to be used well. In addition, because of the format of the exercise, no session can be cancelled or run over into another week. This means that the students and the lecturer must perform. In four years of running the class this way, no groups have failed to meet their presentation commitments. Only one member of a group has failed to present on the allocated day, but his group was aware he would be absent and it did not compromise the presentation.

In week 1, class time is dedicated to reviewing the requirements of the exercise with the students and to preparing them to self-organise into groups for making presentations. To minimise the risk of non-performance, especially due to simple misunderstandings, the requirements of group organisation, presentation format, feedback format and marks allocation is highly structured and is issued in various handouts. Because of space limitations, copies of the handouts are not included with this paper, but can be obtained by email (reida@arch.curtin.edu.au).

In the week 2 class, the lecturer confirms the student allocated groups, agrees with the students the order of group presentations and allocates episodes of the video series to each group. The lecturer then presents the first episode of the video series to the class and facilitates a discussion session on predetermined topics. This gives the students some insight into how the presentation sessions may be run if they follow the model structure and time allocations set out in the assignment handout. Students are allowed to vary this format with lecturer consultation. Mostly, students have elected to follow the suggested model structure, bringing their own creativity into how they conduct each segment and the humour they employ. Often, alternative formats used by students have not worked as well. This may be due more to the presenting groups not adequately explaining to the class what to expect and what is required of them, rather than inherent deficiencies in the alternative formats used.

Over weeks 3 to 9, each group introduces and presents one of the remaining seven video episodes and facilitates class discussion based on topics they have identified as interesting and which they think will challenge class debate, thought and learning.

Presentation model structure

Table 1 shows a summary overview of the presentation model structure that is given to students in the assignment handout. This format can be varied with the approval of the lecturer.

Table 1: Summary of presentation model structure


(6 minutes)
report to the class an overview of the video episode and highlight and explain particular points of interest

allocate to class groups at least three separate topic questions arising from the video that will challenge group debate, thought and learning

(approximately 27 minutes)
run the video episode for the class
3Class discussion
(5 minutes)
guide class to commence discussion of allocated topic questions within their own groups
4Facilitate reports and focussed discussion
(10 minutes)
coordinate feedback from each group about their allocated topic and, for each topic, encourage and facilitate additional class-wide comment

briefly conclude the presentation and advise class how their comments on topic questions related to the views of the presenting group

5Lecturer review
(2 minutes)
invite lecturer to give comments about issues from the video

Presentation requirements

Each presenting group normally comprises 4 or 5 students. This appears to be a good group size as it allows everyone to make a significant contribution to the preparation and delivery of the presentations. However, group size is dictated by class numbers and larger group sizes of 6 and 7 students have been successful.

The episode of the video for review is given to the presenting group by the lecturer at the end of the class one week before their scheduled presentation. However, an exception is made for groups presenting on the first week after the mid-semester break; they are given the episode two weeks before presenting (ie at the last class before the break), which discounts the actual week of holiday when it is probable they will be out of touch with each other. This ensures the same preparation time is available for all groups and acts as a constraint to prevent students from spending excessive amounts of time on the task, ie out of proportion to the value of the assignment (30% of unit assessment).

Each group decides how to manage the assignment task and how to allocate duties to individual group members. As a guide, the assignment information identifies each group should have a "reporter" to present the video overview to the class, a "topics presenter" to issue topic questions to the class, a "co-ordinator" to start class discussion and to facilitate class feedback and discussion, a "timekeeper" to help keep the group on time and a "scribe" to record points from class reports and discussion. It is a requirement that all group members participate in the presentation. Often, the task of "co-ordinator" are shared by two students, partly because it is the most demanding role and partly to ensure there is an equal sharing of presentation tasks.

The assignment exercise requires all presenting group members to collectively view the video for content and understanding and for formulating topics for class discussion. All group members are required to meet with the lecturer, at least two days before the presentation date and at a mutually agreed time, to discuss what they have seen, to clarify queries about issues of content, to review intended topic questions and to explain their intended presentation format. In these sessions, which usually last about an hour, the lecturer relies mainly on questioning as a means of guiding and probing student learning and understanding. This questioning technique is also used to get students to consider and answer their own queries. This helps prevent the lecturer from imposing ideas on groups and helps prevent any unfair assistance being given to individual groups.

On the day, presenting groups are responsible for setting out the lecture room in a way that best suits their needs and they also set up the television and video equipment. Normally, tables are set out in six groups, corresponding to the number of other presenting groups in the class. Students normally sit in class in their assigned presentation groups.

As part of the assignment, groups are required to submit a brief two page written report at the conclusion of their presentation. The report identifies:

the topics used for class discussion and the aim of each topic

a timekeepers report detailing actual time of segments against planned time

tasks undertaken by each group member in preparation for the presentation and during the presentation

The purpose of the report is not so much for the benefit of the lecturer, but for the benefit of the group. By producing the information required in the report, it is anticipated the students will have given sufficient consideration to their topic questions to be able to reasonably facilitate feedback discussions in class and they will be more likely to keep to time. In addition, by noting who in the group did what, it allows the lecturer to check if the workload has been evenly distributed and it also gives a visual record that may help the students agree on an individual redistribution of marks, should it be merited. Once the lecturer has awarded a group mark for the presentation, the students are required to submit details of how the marks should be allocated to each person. Mostly, groups allocate the same mark to all students, but some groups have negotiated individual marks.


In integrating the "Skyscraper" (Sabbagh, 1989) commercial video series into the class environment, it is considered the student group presentation approach has been much more successful than the previously used "show and let's talk" approach. Students have been enthusiastic in their participation, both in delivering group presentations and as participants in class. Issues from the videos have been far better identified, explored and critically assessed by the students. In addition, students have benefited from using a wider skill base than before. The short time available to the lecturer at the end of the sessions is sufficient to quickly cover any issues believed to be important, but not covered by the class. The change in presentation format has added only one more hour and one more week to the time taken over the original "show and let's talk" approach.


The author thanks Mrs Alex Radloff from the Teaching Learning Group, Curtin University of Technology, whose suggestions four years ago helped develop the assignment format and presentation model structure described in this paper.


Sabbagh, K. (1989). Skyscraper [Videorecording]. An InCA Production for Channel 4 in association with WGBH, Boston, vol. 1-4.

Please cite as: Reid, A. (1998). A creative application of commercial videorecordings to bring 'real-life' issues into the class. In Black, B. and Stanley, N. (Eds), Teaching and Learning in Changing Times, 295-299. Proceedings of the 7th Annual Teaching Learning Forum, The University of Western Australia, February 1998. Perth: UWA. http://lsn.curtin.edu.au/tlf/tlf1998/reid.html

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