5 Ways to Use Video to Support STEM Students at Community Colleges

Supriya Kamath
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As a greater number of students head to community colleges to begin their journey in STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics), the need to find effective ways to support them — as well as their STEM course instructors — has become increasingly apparent. Here are 5 ways educational video resources can help meet challenges faced by STEM educators and students at community colleges.

1. Use video as an affordable (yet effective) alternative to costly textbooks

Textbooks can add a significant amount to course expenses. In the current economic climate, these extra costs can be especially hard on students. “One aspect that strikes me about this [COVID-19] disruption are student finances,” says Prof. Rukmani Kuppuswami, biology professor at Hill College (a community college in Hillsboro, TX). “Many of the students I serve have jobs that they hold to sustain themselves entirely or partially. My understanding would be that those jobs are either not available at all, or available in a highly severed form.”

Video resources can serve as an effective, engaging, yet low-cost alternative to textbooks. Resources like JoVE Core: Biology, for instance, span the gamut of topics covered by popular textbooks like Campbell Biology. When such video resources are acquired through the library, students of all financial means can use these resources at no cost to them, helping to level the academic playing field.

Video can also be paired with open access resources like Openstax — this helps students visualize complex methods and scientific processes, which may be difficult to understand when presented in text form alone. Prof. Kuppuswami, for instance, taught a near zero-cost introductory biology course using videos that covered the bulk of the content for her course, and notes that her students “found them extremely useful and enriching.”

2. Support engaging & individualized developmental education

The skill levels of students entering community colleges can vary widely. Students are often required to take developmental courses (often referred to as ‘remedial coursework’) to achieve the skills and background knowledge necessary to succeed in credit-bearing STEM courses.

Some reports, however, note that there are challenges associated with developmental education: not only are students required to spend time and money on non-credit-bearing courses, but students at different skill levels might also be placed in the same developmental courses. Consequently, students at higher skill levels, who need to review fewer topics to bridge the gap, may feel unengaged and unmotivated to continue.

By using video, community colleges can develop engaging and individualized developmental education programs. Research by Ramachandran et al. (2019) shows that after watching educational science videos, 96% of students reported better comprehension of key scientific concepts, and student engagement improved by over 50%. Instructors can, therefore, design developmental coursework to support specific students by choosing videos that meet their individual needs. 

3. Save teaching time in lab classes

At 4-year institutions, research students often support STEM courses as Teaching Assistants (TAs): they might facilitate lab sessions, prepare materials for lab activities, inform students of safety guidelines and demonstrate key experiments. Without such support from graduate TAs, STEM instructors at community colleges — which typically do not have graduate research programs — are faced with heavier workloads and less time left for higher-level lab activities. Science videos, however, can help fill this gap.

Research by Mutch-Jones et al. (2020) shows that after viewing videos that show step-by-step demonstrations of basic lab experiments, students reported feeling more confident, and had a better understanding of how to conduct the lab. Videos clearly illustrating lab guidelines also help students better visualize, and abide by, safety protocols. “They’re ready to perform and to do all the skills with minimal amount of extra discussion and extra explanations,” says Peter Ronai, Clinical Professor of Exercise Science at Sacred Heart University, who assigned preparatory videos to students in his exercise testing lab course.

4. Support students who require flexible course schedules

There are a variety of reasons why both non-traditional and traditional students may seek flexible course schedules — be it a part-time or full-time job, or care responsibilities at home. Educational video content that is accessible off-campus can be used to design engaging online courses, which afford students such flexibility and support self-paced learning.

Videos can also be used to scaffold hybrid science courses that blend synchronous with asynchronous learning. Students can view videos that explain key scientific concepts in their own time, and instructors can use in-class time for discussion, questions, or problem-solving. Dr. Nir Ohad (Director, Manna Center Program for Food Safety & Security at Tel Aviv University), suggests that instructors also incorporate quizzes into asynchronous aspects of the course, to motivate students to engage more fully with the material.

5. Equip prospective transfer students for a smoother transition to 4-year colleges

After completing general education credits and prerequisites, many community college students opt to transfer to 4-year colleges. This transition, however, is often a difficult one — students may find it hard to form connections with others in their class year, and some researchers suggest that students diving into advanced STEM coursework might experience “transfer shock”. Challenges like these sometimes lead students to doubt their ability to academically succeed in their new environment.

How can community colleges help students better adjust to this transition? By providing them with the tools for self study in their selected STEM discipline — and educational video resources are a key part of this toolkit. Access to engaging, comprehensive video resources affords motivated students the opportunity to stay ahead of the curve, learn upper-level skills or content relevant to advanced courses in their intended major (alongside their prerequisites), and grow more confident in their ability to successfully complete coursework at a 4-year institution.

In community colleges without undergraduate research programs, videos showing scientists performing cutting-edge research and explaining key concepts can also provide students with exposure to real-world science. This can be invaluable for students hoping to enter STEM research careers and volunteer at research labs at their 4-year college. 

Works Cited

Ramachandran, R., Sparck, M., & Levis-Fitzgerald, M. (2019). Investigating the Effectiveness of Using Application-Based Science Education Videos in a General Chemistry Lecture Course. Journal of Chemical Education 96(3), 479-485.

Mutch-Jones, K., Sengupta, N., Minor, V. C., & Goudsouzian, L. K. (2020). Professional science education videos improve student performance in nonmajor and intermediate biology laboratory courses. Biochemistry and Molecular Biology Education. Advance online publication.