By DeLeon L. Gray, PhD, and Briana Green, BA (NC State University). The writing of this essay was supported by the National Science Foundation under award no. 1614107.
Whether the social media platform is Instagram, Twitter, Periscope, or YouTube, brief educational videos can be valuable tools for bringing psychological research and findings into K–12 classrooms and schools. Brief educational videos are not the only form of information dissemination, but the reality is that we now live in a digitally networked world in which technology impacts “nearly every aspect of the work that educational psychologists do” (Mishra, Koehler, & Greenhow, 2016, p. 29). And social media is where people are right now. So let’s get with the times.
Our research team at The SMART Collaborative recently launched a National Science Foundation–funded project that involves unpacking the concept of motivation for teachers, parents, and other education stakeholders. We’ve been using educational videos to recruit and retain middle school teachers in our STEM-based afterschool program, the iScholar Project. Part of our strategy involves uploading our videos to YouTube, which we find to be a highly effective venue for disseminating such information. Here are three ways researchers can use educational videos throughout a research project to make psychology a brand education stakeholders can trust.
Strategy #1: Initiate partnerships by ensuring that education stakeholders understand the “why” behind the work.
When psychologists visit schools to establish research partnerships, educators do not always embrace them with open arms. Sometimes school leaders are on board with a project, but teachers may be reluctant—viewing the project as yet another task they must do. In a chapter of the Handbook of Competence and Motivation: Theory and Application, we shared at least four reasons why teachers may view research-based partnerships in schools as costly (Anderman & Gray, 2017): (1) not knowing whether research-based instructional strategies actually result in more effective classroom instruction, (2) competing time demands during the school day, (3) possible additional time demands outside of the school day, and (4) anticipating feelings of frustration if research-based instructional strategies and other forms of intervention don’t work for their students.
Many research projects have the potential to improve the lives of teachers and students in a partnering school; and videos can help to clarify the vision and goals of a potential partnership and help to address teacher concerns surrounding the new initiative. As part of our teacher recruitment and retention efforts for the iScholar Project, we developed a six-minute talk about research partnerships (recorded by NC State’s College of Education), entitled Using Voice, Choice, and Action to Create Transformative Experiences for Students in Predominantly Black Schools. Within the first 20 seconds of the presentation, we communicated our “why.” We also explained that our philosophical approach to collaborating with schools involved honoring the knowledge and perspectives of teachers and students.
Our stakeholders expressed their enthusiasm for the project and suggested ways to extend this work within their district. We were also approached by other teachers who want to take part in this project next year. To our delight, a few educators even shared the video with their colleagues and friends at other schools. As a result, we’ve been invited by other principals to conduct similar activities with teachers on the high school level.
Strategy #2: Sustain partnerships by acknowledging the strengths teachers bring to university-led professional development sessions.
Among our strategies for increasing trust in our brand is convincing educators that we have theory-driven insights to offer, but we also highly value their methods, experiences, and insights. When teachers are recognized for their dynamic classroom instruction, it can be affirming and inspiring—particularly given the scope of school-based intervention projects, which can sometimes require a high number of contact hours between researchers and teachers. Video clips of classroom teachers’ instruction can be used to: (1) signal to participating teachers that university researchers recognize the value they are creating for their students, (2) enable other participating teachers to see, in effect firsthand, some of the high-quality instruction techniques that can be used with students who are similar to those they teach.
Psychology research reveals that exposure to individuals who have achieved outstanding success in a certain profession (such as teaching) is likely to inspire others in that same profession to believe that a similar level of success is also within their own grasp (Lockwood & Kunda, 1997). Sharing video clips of teachers in action during follow-up professional development sessions is also a great way to build morale and to establish open lines of communication among teachers who may not typically work together. This approach differs from more traditional teacher professional development activities because it requires that psychologists devote time to observing teachers and their classrooms. Field observations, in turn, are currency that can be used to tailor research-led activities in ways that build on the assets and strengths that teachers bring with them into the professional development space. And interactive experiences with videos provides opportunities for the teachers being highlighted to share reasons why they chose to engage students in the ways they did. In our experience, this strategy helps facilitate meaningful group reflection and trust-building by honoring and privileging the on-the-ground experience that teachers bring with them to professional development workshops. When implementing this use of videos, we recommend that researchers set the stage by explaining (1) why particular video clips were chosen, (2) that there were many additional videos showing highly effective classroom instruction, but for time constraints were not included.
These video recordings do not always need to be made with a camcorder resting on a tripod at the back of a classroom. Footage captured from a first-person perspective (i.e., a recording device, like a smartphone, held in someone’s hand) is more authentic when the videographer is moving throughout the room. In so doing, the distance between researcher and participant is bridged. Further, when a recording device is placed into the hands of participants, such recordings can privilege the multiple realities that exist within a single classroom environment.
These Snapchat-like videos are often more appealing to millennials. This type of videography strategy is supported by an article in Forbes magazine, which points out that millennials desire to co-create products with organizations and to use social networking sites to engage with brands. And if you’re unsure of how to “snap” a video, don’t fret. Simply ask the first millennial you can find. They’ll have you squared away in no time flat.
Strategy #3: Disseminate school-based research innovatively to reach a diverse public.
It is incumbent upon us as psychologists to ensure that our findings are accessible. By accessible, we mean (1) disseminating our work in places where educators can interface with it, and (2) communicating our work in a way that uses clear and inclusive language.
Part of our long-term vision for the iScholar project involves a strong emphasis on publicly accessible scholarship; and we have spent considerable time developing a blueprint for how to place our future findings in the hands of education stakeholders. So far, we have found no stronger example of this within the domain of educational psychology than the work of Stanford Professor Carol Dweck. The website, Mindset Works, serves as a model for how psychologists can take their research into spaces where educators are likely to find them and put them to use. One of the many lessons her growth mindset research teaches us is that educators are open to learning about psychological concepts that have practical significance for their schools and classrooms. Dweck’s Growth Mindset Video Library contains more than twenty YouTube videos that are grounded in empirical research. Because these videos are available in the public domain—many of them possessing the same qualities of videos that have gone viral—the information they contain becomes public knowledge that is more difficult (but not impossible) to mischaracterize than is other psychology advice found in the popular press.
Many educators who encounter information on growth mindset do not have subscriptions to peer-reviewed journals, and so cannot access Dweck’s articles (or the articles of other psychologists who conduct rigorous empirical research on students and teachers). Besides, journal articles aren’t written for teachers. They’re written primarily for other researchers. So, even if these educators could identify and obtain peer-reviewed journal articles that had implications for their classroom instruction, they may encounter difficulties in translating the material in ways that can benefit their students.
Lessons Learned and Concluding Comments
We conclude with a few lessons learned from using brief educational videos and social media platforms in our work thus far. The first is that we live in a generation in which the impact of our social media presence is often measured in ways that are more short term and immediate. Rather than focusing solely on a video’s total view count and the number of likes, you can create high-quality content that can be leveraged in ways that are specific to your project’s needs. For us, this has meant sharing our educational videos directly with people in the communities we serve—from barber shop and restaurant owners to state senators. Their reactions have been priceless, and they have since supported our work in immeasurable ways. Second, you do not have to be a professional. Phone-recorded videos can elicit high levels of video engagement and are cheaper to create. In other words, “low-tech” does not always equate to low quality or low impact. So do what you can today, and strive to get better over time. Finally, the exclusivity of a video can make the content seem special to the viewer. We have used a tablet device to show school and district level administrators educational videos that were created from the research projects they endorsed. We find that is a nice way to demonstrate research progress, and it creates a more personal touch.
By using brief educational videos via social media platforms, we are able to further define our brand as educational psychologists. Specifically, our stakeholders are able to see what we do and why it matters. Professor Eric Anderman (2011) of The Ohio State University reminds us that “our work will not be embraced by practitioners and policymakers by osmosis; rather it is our responsibility to initiate and continue to have conversations with specific audiences” (p. 187). Digital platforms like YouTube make it more possible than ever before to reach out to education stakeholders and engage in school-based research partnerships.
Using videos can enhance—but are not a replacement for—consistent, meaningful, substantive exchanges between researchers and education stakeholders. Like any path to brand acceptance, the process of becoming a trusted brand among schools and teachers takes time. Educators take note of subtleties, and they use them to inform their evolving impressions of educational psychologists. Nevertheless, in the digital age, impressions of educational psychologists—and the relevance of our work—can be guided by our own efforts in ways that were not always possible in previous decades.
This post is part of a special series curated by APA Division 15 President Bonnie J.F. Meyer. The series, centered around her presidential theme of "Welcoming and Advancing Research in Educational Psychology: Impacting Learners, Teachers, and Schools," is designed to spread the dissemination and impact of meaningful educational psychology research. Those interested can learn more about this theme in Division 15's 2016 Summer Newsletter.
Anderman (2011). Educational Psychology in the twenty-first century: Challenges for our community. Educational Psychologist, 46, 185-196. doi:10.1080/00461520.2011.587724
Anderman, E. M., & Gray, D. (2017). The roles of schools and teachers in fostering competence motivation. In E. Elliot, C. Dweck, & D. Yeager (Eds.), Handbook of competence and motivation: Theory and application (2nd ed.) (pp. 604-619). New York, NY: Guilford Press.
Lockwood, P. & Kunda, Z. (1997). Superstars and me: Predicting the impact of role models on the self. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 73, 91103. doi:10.1037/0022-3518.104.22.168
Mishra, P., Koehler, M. J., & Greenhow, C. (2016). Handbook of Educational Psychology (3rd ed.) (pp. 29-40). New York, NY: Routledge.