Nowadays, technology allows instructors to produce more effective and engaging digital media at ever lower cost. Instructors may decide to release digital media for various reasons. Ultimately, media can help students with understanding difficult concepts, they engage their attention and entertain, and, if used in a flipped classroom, free valuable lecture time for discussion and interaction.

Digital media and flipped classrooms

In a flipped classroom (see Lage et al. (2000), Yamarik (2007), Bishop and Verleger (2013) and Roach (2014)), students are expected to watch videos (or any other type of digital resource) before coming to class, replacing time that would be spent in a conventional lecture. Specifically, video can convey essential information that may be a prerequisite to a specific lecture, including dry and technical material such as the proof of a theorem, solutions to long exercises, etc. Particularly abstract or complicated concepts may be best conveyed using visual support (see for example Vazquez and Chiang (2014)) such as video and dynamic plots produced using mathematical software. This would free time during contact hours to test students’ understanding and to discuss more advanced and engaging material, including real life examples and applications.

Before providing a critical description of types of media that can be used, we offer a general caveat. It is important to make sure that students understand when and why they are expected to access particular media. They have to know what they are required to do and what role the media play toward their learning. In other words, instructors need to make sure that media that are deemed essential for the learning of students are clearly indicated (for example with the description accompanying the link on the learning environment). In addition, students need to be told when and why they are expected to access the media. Flooding lectures and virtual learning environments with digital media without providing guidance would be confusing and counterproductive.

Figure 3: example of media available in the virtual learning environment Blackboard

In what follows we discuss the advantages and disadvantages of various types of digital media that could be produced and released to students.

Audio files

The advantage of audio files (for example MP3) is that they are easy and cheap to create and they can be easily accessed by students.[1] For example, standard mobile phones would allow instructors to create audio files and students to play them in environments where other forms are learning are not feasible, such as while running or at the gym). Audio files can provide an introductory description of a lecture or a topic, or personalised feedback on the work submitted by students[2]. It is important to keep in mind the possibility that students with hearing disabilities may be part of the cohort. In this case, instructors should make sure to provide the same information contained in the audio files using a visual medium. Disability support colleagues can advise on alternatives.

Visual material

Learning via visual experience tends to be effective and long-lasting.[3] Visual media can provide accessible, immediate and sometimes interactive information. Photos, diagrams, graphs can be easily created[4], outsourced[5] and shared with students, whether as part of a lecture presentation or linked in their own right. To be most effective, visual media should be effectively labelled and properly integrated in the presentation (for example adequately introduced and accompanied by text/audio description).

Pictures with humorous content, sensitively chosen, can entertain and engage in an otherwise long and technical section of a lecture.

Figure 4: a humorous description of elementary functions according to the “maths dance”

Videos

As well as images and audio files, economics-related videos are increasingly available online to instructors and students. Online videos on statistics and mathematics are provided via, respectively, the DeSTRESS[6] and Metal[7] projects. Videos from public sources (for example YouTube) can be embedded in virtual learning environments and support the other course material, by illustrating an aspect of it or by providing an alternative mode of explanation.

Figure 5: examples of Youtube videos uploaded on Blackboard for the Advanced Mathematics students at the University of Manchester.

In addition, videos can stimulate discussion, if played in suitably equipped lecture rooms. It is advisable that, before playing a video during lectures, instructors provide some preliminary information to students, for example asking them to consider specific issues that will be then discussed after the end of the video.

It is well-known that the attention span of individuals is significantly less than the one hour of a standard lecture. A video can break up the monotony and re-engage students.

Economics in popular culture

There is an increasing number of sources providing videos that convey economics concepts via the medium of popular culture. For example, Dirk Mateer’s site provides a large number of economics-related videos making use of pop culture examples. A list of “distractions” (including films, video clips and songs) for economics students and instructor is also available on the StudyingEconomics.ac.uk site. There are also sites that present economics concepts using clips from popular TV series. See, for example, The Economics of Seinfeld, Economics of "The Office" or, more recently, Bazinganomics which provides clips from the popular show “The Big Bang Theory” where economics/mathematics concepts are mentioned or hinted at.

Figure 6: the homepage of Bazinganomics.

With these and similar sources, there is a potential to find a clip that lightens the tone and re-engages students (if that is needed) while still connecting to the content of the lecture.

Homemade videos

Instructors do not need necessarily to outsource videos. Advancements in hardware (for example the increasing affordability of tablets provided with a stylus pen) and software[8] allow instructors to create their own videos, populate their own YouTube channels and, ultimately, provide material that students can access online or download. For example, preliminary introductions to a topic, proofs of theorems, or solutions to exercises can be all captured in a video for students to watch before the lecture. As well as providing helpful support to students that complements the lecture, videos also free up contact time for interaction and discussion of more advanced and engaging material, including real-world applications.

Figure 7: Videos on oligopoly theory, created with Camtasia software, available in Blackboard to Business Economics II students at the University of Manchester.

With modern smartphones and tablet devices having quite sophisticated cameras and editing software, students are in a position to produce their own audio and video material. Instructors should consider challenging student groups to create their own material applying economic concepts.[9] This involves students in collaboration, subject knowledge and information skills as well as employable communication skills. We shall discuss student-made media in some detail in Section 6.

Figure 8: Recording and editing a video clip with Camtasia software

Figure 9: a flash video embedded in lecture slides for Advanced Maths students at the University of Manchester.


[1] Text-to-speech tools help instructors to turn digital text into audio files. Text-to-speech tools can be found in Microsoft Office and Acrobat Reader and plugins are available in popular internet browsers such as Google Chrome and Mozilla Firefox.

[2] Online assessment tools, such as TurnitIn (see Stephenson and Cortinhas (2013)) and the assignment tool in the virtual learning environment Blackboard allows instructors to record audio feedback for students.

[3] This pedagogical approach has been adopted by the Montessori method of teaching mathematics to primary school children. Interestingly, algebraic and geometric concepts and procedures (for example how to calculate the cube of a binomial) can be easily and effectively be taught to students using visual objects like the Montessori binomial cube. See also Vazquez and Chiang (2014).

[4] Graphs and diagrams can be created with the Microsoft Office package (or similar open source alternatives). More advanced (for example 3D plots) can be created with mathematical software such as Mathematica or Maple. Pezzino (2016) discusses the use of dynamic plots created with the software Mathematica to teach economics concepts such strategic interaction in oligopoly models.

[5] Alternatively, copyright-cleared images are easy to source from a range of collections including Pixabay, Flickr CC and Wikimedia Commons.

[6] http://www.economicsnetwork.ac.uk/statistics

[7] http://www.metalproject.co.uk/

[8] Screencast-o-matic, TinyTake or Jing are examples of screen capture software that allows instructors to add audio (such as music or their voice) to the capture of their computer screen and produce video files. Latest versions of Microsoft PowerPoint have a screen recording tool under the Insert options. Features such as video editing and online sharing in Youtube channels are also provided in applications such as Camtasia.

[9] Getting students to produce audio/visual material to be used and reviewed by their peers is in the same spirit as using wikis to create text-based material (see Stephenson and Cortinhas (2013)).