Published October 29, 2020
The COVID-19 pandemic may have forced educational institutions to alter the way they present instruction, but one UB faculty member was already ahead of the game.
Stuart D. Inglis, an instructor in the Department of Pathology and Anatomical Sciences in the Jacobs School of Medicine and Biomedical Sciences at UB, has long used a flipped classroom approach in his teaching of gross anatomy. His in-class sessions are active learning, where students are challenged with clinical questions that they work in groups to solve.
“It’s only very recently with all of the massive changes in technology — within the last 20 to 30 years — that we have a lot more options available” besides the traditional lecture format, Inglis says. “So this is really a prime time to be rethinking the best approaches. And you are seeing it right now with the pandemic.
“Empirical evidence suggests that sitting in a lecture hall for 50 minutes at a time, listening to an individual and trying frantically to write down what they are saying is not an effective means of learning material.
“That got me looking more at the educational paradigms and what the educational research was showing, and to think that with the technology we currently have, what would be the best way of being able to educate today’s students.”
The use of videos and video conferencing have become critical components in today’s teaching environment, Inglis says. And while it’s time-consuming to develop high-quality videos that can be put online, the benefits for instructors and students are plentiful.
“If you take the time and effort when it is initially done, you can keep the video up for several years,” he says. “You do want to update them every so often, but because I can go back and do a lot of editing and take out mistakes and make sure everything flows correctly, I now have a recorded copy of the best possible way that I could present the information.”
There are a number of advantages from a student’s perspective, Inglis points out, noting that students can access the videos whenever it is convenient for them, they can pause the recordings if they need to take a break, and they can go back and re-watch a section they don’t understand.
Inglis says that no matter if he is leading a class in person or via a Zoom video conference, students are working through clinical cases that he wants them to be able to solve.
“These are things that would traditionally be worked on outside of class time, but the students have me in the room with them or on the Zoom call while they are working through it so they have direct access to me,” he says. “So it is more of an interaction back and forth, and I can get a sense as to whether the students are understanding the material.”
Inglis has uploaded more than 100 videos to his YouTube channel. And one thing they all have in common is brevity.
“It goes back to the philosophy of attention span lasting 15 minutes. When I first started the YouTube videos, I would take my entire lecture and recorded it en masse. Reviews I got back from students were that they liked the concept, but they found the lengths overwhelming,” he says.
“It occurred to me it didn’t need to be like that. There are certain break points, where I was able to make the videos around 15 minutes.”
Inglis has a long-term goal of creating videos of five minutes or less featuring clinical experts discussing specific topics that tend to be featured on board examinations.
“The idea is they can just create a script, come in and lay down the audio, and I do all the post-production,” he says.
He notes that the production studio — located on the sixth floor of the Jacobs School — is open to anyone affiliated with UB.
Inglis points to an experience he had while teaching at the University of South Dakota for sparking says his interest in using YouTube videos.
“I gave the review for an examination on a Friday. The exam was on Monday. Everyone seemed fine,” he recalls. ”Saturday morning, I woke up and I already had two emails from students who had questions about a very particular topic.
“It was something that was very difficult to explain over email, so here I am in my pajamas, maybe two sips into my coffee, I pull out my cellphone and do a very quick three-minute video where I explain this concept,” Inglis says. “I title it appropriately, upload it to YouTube and then send out the link to the entire class for anyone who has questions. It was about 150 students.”
He notes that several of his students sent emails thanking him for the explanation, but he never thought much more about it.
Then a year later, Inglis was looking for new lecture material and new sources.
“When I typed in that topic, I had a very surreal experience when I looked at the very first thing I saw on the Google page,” he says. “It took me a few seconds, but I said to myself ‘I think those are my hands.’ It was a hand topic. So I clicked on the link, and I had completely forgotten I had made this video. And it was up to 5,000 views. And last time I checked, I think it was over 80,000 views.”
“So the most pronounced, widespread educational thing I had ever done took me all of three minutes while I was half asleep in my pajamas,” he jokes.
“But the thing that made that video work was it was less than five minutes and it was appealing.”
Inglis is also a huge proponent of using Open Educational Resources (OER), which deliver lessons to a wider population base without violating copyright restrictions.
“The easiest thing to do is a Google image search, and under the tools there is a button called ‘usage rights,’ and you can select ‘labeled for reuse,’ and it will only give you material that is not protected by copyright.
“It is the same with Wikipedia,” he explains. “Any images found on that page should be available to use as long as you cite the sources.”
He also suggests Creative Commons, where people who want their work shared can put a Creative Commons license on it. He describes it as “a special type of copyright which says ‘this is mine, but anyone who comes across it can use it for their purposes as long as they cite it properly.’”
Inglis says another advantage of OER is not having to worry about copyright issues when posting content.
“Even for our students, I can generally present all the information they need and not require an incredibly expensive textbook that they have to use,” Inglis notes.
“I still do have a textbook for the class that I do find beneficial, but there is a potential through Creative Commons and other groups, such as Open Stax, where you can develop online educational textbooks that wholly contain OER.
“So essentially, anyone can go to Open Stax, put in a topic they are teaching, hopefully find a textbook that is there, and then send out a link to the students,” he adds. “The students have free access to it. No one has to pay a cent for the textbook.”
Open Stax content is also completely modifiable. “You can delete chapters, add chapters and personalize it for your specific class. Or take a combination of chapters from a variety of different textbooks. That is something that is loaded to Open Stax and that a person’s students can access completely for free.”
Inglis says his experience with the “hand video” going viral had a significant impact on him.
“Although I am a UB professor, I like the notion that I am an educator, and I like the idea that people anywhere can learn something from me,” he says. “It can benefit people who may not necessarily have the advantage of being able to enroll in the university.”