Creating Instructional Videos to Scaffold Learning

Icon squareby Chris Grabau, Instructional Developer, Reinert Center

Within the short span of a decade, video tutorials have quickly become a common and pervasive aspect of how we share, consume, and communicate information online.  From yoga and guitar lessons, to cooking and home repair, viewers can learn all sorts of new skills through instructor-led online videos.  The tutorial video medium has become so popular that in 2015, YouTube reported over 135 million “how to” videos are hosted on their platform (“YouTube Trends: Search results for “how to”, 2018).  It should also come as no surprise to those within academia that video is now a common vehicle for instruction.   From streaming video, lecture capture, and other forms of video-related media, instructors increasingly rely on how-to videos to convey, demonstrate, and present course content to students. But what are some of the effective practices that help make online video useful for students?  Furthermore, how can instructors use video as a means to help scaffold learning?

Several research studies have identified some of the mechanical aspects of what makes a video tutorial useful for students.  A 2014 study found similarities in the types of videos students found were compelling and conducive for learning.  They noted that videos that were short in length (around 4 minutes), used a conversational language, tie directly to course assignments and assessments, and that often supplement course content are considered compelling for students (Hibbert, 2014).  Also as noted in an earlier Notebook post, a 2015 empirical study of over 6.9 million video sessions identified that videos that are shorter (under 6 minutes), have a personal feel, and that show instructor enthusiasm are often considered more engaging and interesting to students (Guo,, 2014).

However, Guo, also discovered that students watch different types of videos differently.  For instance, lecture based videos that present conceptual (declarative) knowledge are generally viewed in a continuous viewing stream whereas, students typically jump around and re-watch tutorial videos.

Understanding how students watch videos offers a great opportunity to consider how media can help scaffold learning.  Rooted in Vygotsky’s (1978) sociocultural theory of learning, scaffolding is an approach to instruction where new concepts and skills are introduced just beyond students’ existing level of performance and understanding.  Instructors provide important concepts but also provide enough support for students to practice and make meaning out of their own learning.  Video tutorials are particularly well suited to help scaffold learning because they can help introduce new concepts, processes, and skills, and also can offer students an opportunity to learn in a manner that best supports their learning needs.

Below are just a few ways to scaffold learning through the use of video tutorials.

  1. Ask students to recreate what they have watched:  Record a demonstration or a tutorial video and have students recreate what they have watched.  Have students either make their own tutorial, recreate the tutorial in their own words, or have students write about what they have watched in an online discussion board or writing assignment.
  2. Build from basic concepts:  Introduce basic concepts, step-by-step, in video form in a manner that students can understand.  Have students apply what they have learned in an online discussion or classroom assignment.
  3. Chunk course information into short video segments:  Divide course information into shorter videos by offering break points where student will have to pause and answer a few questions before moving on to the next concept.

If you would like to investigate how video tutorials can best help support your course, please schedule a teaching consultation with someone from the Reinert Center by completing the following form.  We are always happy to be a resource for you.



Guo, P. J., Kim, J., & Rubin, R. (2014, March). How video production affects student engagement: An empirical study of mooc videos. In Proceedings of the first ACM conference on Learning@ scale conference (pp. 41-50). ACM.

Hibbert, M. C. (2014). What makes an online instructional video compelling? Educause Review Online.

Mayer, R. E. (2002). Cognitive theory and the design of multimedia instruction: an example of the two‐way street between cognition and instruction. New Directions for Teaching and Learning2002(89), 55-71.

Pan, G.; Sen, S.; Starrett, D. A.; Bonk, C. J.; Rodgers, M. L.; Tikoo, M.; Powell, D. V. Instructor-Made Videos as a Learner Scaffolding Tool. Online Learn. Teach.2012, 8 (4) 298–311

YouTube Trends: Search results for “how to”. (2018). Retrieved 25 January 2018, from

Vygotsky, L.S., (1978). Mind in Society: The development of higher psychological processes. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press.

Call for Application for Innovative Teaching Fellowship

CTTL_ITF banner_sp2018The Paul C. Reinert, S.J., Center for Transformative Teaching and Learning invites applications from permanent, full-time teaching faculty for the Innovative Teaching Fellowship, which prepares and supports faculty for teaching in Saint Louis University’s Learning Studio, a highly-flexible, technology-rich experimental classroom.

This competitive, two-semester fellowship provides either a $3200.00 stipend or funding to cover a 1-course reduction in teaching in order to support course (re)design and instructional development activities during the semester prior to teaching in the Learning Studio, and classroom and ongoing instructional development support during the semester of teaching in the Learning Studio. The course development phase of the fellowship (semester one) includes participating in weekly meetings with a Reinert Center Instructional Developer; creating and/or revising course documents; and submitting a mid-term and end-of-term report on progress. The teaching phase of the fellowship (semester two) includes teaching the course in the Learning Studio, continued contact with the Reinert Center Instructional Developer, and sharing one’s fellowship experience with the larger SLU community.

The current call for applications is for the following fellowship period:

Course Development (semester 1):       Fall 2018

Course Teaching (semester 2):                Spring 2019

Faculty who wish to apply must complete all stages of the application process as described below, including: 1) attend a Pre-Application Information Session; 2) secure approval from both their department chair/program director and dean; and 3) submit a complete application no later than 5:00 p.m. on Friday, February 23, 2018.

Information Sessions will be held on the following dates in Des Peres Hall, room 213:

  • Wednesday, January 31, 8:30-9:30 a.m., in 213 Des Peres Hall
  • Thursday, February 1, 12:00-1:00 p.m., in 213 Des Peres Hall
  • Tuesday, February 6, 4:00-5:00 p.m., in 213 Des Peres Hall

Registration is required; to register, go to:

Detailed information about the fellowship and the application process, may be found on at

Questions about the Innovative Teaching Fellowship may be directed to Sandy Gambill at

Students-as-Producers: Exploring the Transformative Power of Student-Driven Assignments

002by Debie Lohe, Director, Reinert Center

Last week, the Reinert Center held its annual Winter Institute, a day-long series of workshops and presentations focused on some aspect of our annual theme. This year, the focus of the event was Transformative Learning: Students as Producers.

Dr. Derek Bruff (Vanderbilt University) kicked off the day with an interactive keynote and workshop focused on the transformational value of shifting from a coverage-based instructional model to a student-centered one that strategically invites students to see themselves as producers of knowledge rather than simply as consumers of information.

Throughout his presentations, Dr. Bruff shared a wide range of concrete examples of what student-driven assignments and projects can look like. From “Twitter fiction” in a German literature course to infographics in a statistics course to podcasts in a poetry course to policy briefs in a health policy course, the examples inspired attendees to think beyond traditional papers and exams. As he shared examples, Dr. Bruff underscored three key principles that can help to ensure that student-driven projects live up to their transformational potential: open-ended problems, authentic audiences, and some degree of autonomy. In other words, students need to wrestle with real problems, for real audiences, with real power to shape the final product. When these elements are in place, student motivation can skyrocket, moving students beyond a performance-minded approach to coursework into a mastery-minded approach.

For faculty interested in incorporating a more students-as-producers approach, Dr. Bruff offered four guiding questions to jump-start the planning process:

Why this assignment in this course?

What skills will students need to practice?

How will you scaffold the assignment?

How will you grade the work?

Ultimately, for non-traditional, student-driven assignments to work, we must be intentional about how the task at hand aligns with our learning goals, how to break down the larger task into smaller components and lessons, and what successful performance will look like.

If you’re interested in incorporating a students-as-producers activity in your own courses — or in refining assignments that already place students in the role of “producer” — the Reinert Center can help you think through these four planning questions. We also can point you to existing resources in SLU’s new Academic Technology Commons that can support your students’ ability to create the kinds of assignments you’re interested in. To see Dr. Bruff’s presentations, visit his website on Agile Learning at Finally, if you’re successfully using a students-as-producers approach in a course of your own, consider writing a guest post for this blog — we’d love to highlight what you’re doing.


Congratulations to the Fall Certificate Ceremony Recipients

The Reinert Center for Transformative Teaching and Learning honored 7 Certificate in University Teaching Skills recipients and 3 Foundations Certificate in University Teaching Skills recipients at our spring ceremony on Friday, December 8, 2017 in the Sinquefield Stateroom in DuBourg Hall.

Associate professor in the Department of Psychology, Dr. Lisa Willoughby, began the ceremony by sharing a reflection on teaching with the recipients, friends, and family in attendance.

This semester’s Certificate in University Teaching Skills recipients are Cindy Bitter, Farah Habli, Shellie Hill, Sahar Joakim, Calvin Nyapete, Matthew Parker, and James Rooney. The recipients of the Foundations Certificate are Kholood Aldossary, Luis Pinto de Sals, and John Poehlmann.


The requirements for the Certificate in University Teaching Skills are themselves learning experiences that help participants to make deliberate and intentional choices about teaching. This ceremony acknowledged the time and commitment these participants gave to earning one of the Certificates. We also celebrated the dedication to teaching and learning shown by those faculty members who served as teaching mentors to the certificate recipients.

For more information about our certificates visit

2nd Issue of Technology for Teaching ejournal now available

Reinert Center typeset_icon_2014_solid_082214The Reinert Center invites you to read the second issue of our ejournal Technology for Teaching.

Technology for Teaching is a semi-annual publication from the Instructional Developer team in Saint Louis University’s Reinert Center. Each issue will explore innovative ways technology might be used in teaching. It is available online at

The Power of “Disorienting Dilemmas”

Icon squareby Debie Lohe, Director, Reinert Center

As regular readers of this blog know, the Reinert Center is spending the academic year focused on the theme of transformative learning. We’re offering a set of workshops and web-based resources that can help faculty and graduate students to create transformative learning experiences for their students.

However, we also recognize that teaching can be a transformative learning experience for instructors, as well. Often, this happens when we encounter a significant disruption in our expectations — a class discussion takes an unexpected and challenging turn, a student encounter in office hours reveals an unexamined bias, a discovery in our research unsettles our whole way of conceptualizing a unit in our course. Such disruptions often involve a shift in perspective; when this occurs, we rarely can go back to our old ways of proceeding.

One essential concept in transformative learning theory is that of the “disorienting dilemma.” Mezirow’s foundational work (2000) lays out 10 “phases” of transformative learning, which originate with some kind of “disorienting dilemma” — an experience that challenges one’s current beliefs/understanding and – importantly – requires a fundamental shift in perspective in order to resolve the dilemma.

For Mezirow, encountering a disorienting dilemma leads to transformation when that encounter is followed closely by other phases, including self-examination of the feelings associated with the encounter, critical assessment of assumptions, exploration of options, planning a course of action, building capacity to pursue that course of action, practice with new perspectives or roles, and, ultimately, an integration of the new perspective into one’s life (summarized from Roberts, 2006). Educators in Jesuit contexts will likely hear echoes of the Ignatian Pedagogical Paradigm in these phases.

As we head into the winter break, we invite you to use the lens of transformative learning to reflect back on your semester. Devoting some quiet reflection time to the following questions may help you move from “disorienting dilemma” to “transformative learning”:

Were there any “disorienting dilemmas” in your teaching this semester? A disruptive moment in class or in conversation with a student that brought you to up to the edge of your own comfort?

What happened in this situation? What are the textures and details of this story?

How did you feel in the moment? How do you feel now, looking back on the experience?

What assumptions did you have leading up to that experience? In what ways were those disrupted?

What are some alternative ways you could have responded in the moment, or afterward?

What kinds of knowledge or skills would you need to respond differently next time? When and how might you cultivate those knowledge and skills?

Finally, what do you know or understand today that you didn’t then? How will this new knowledge change your teaching going forward?

As you look ahead to next term, let us know if we can help you take action based on these reflections.


Relevant Resources

Cranton, P. (2006). Understanding and Promoting Transformative Learning. (2nd edition)

Mezirow, J., & Associates. (1990). Fostering Critical Reflection in Adulthood: A Guide to Transformative and Emancipatory Learning. San Francisco, CA: Jossey-Bass.

Mezirow, J. (1997). Transformative Learning: Theory to Practice. New Directions for Adult and Continuing Education, 1997 (74): 5–12.

Mezirow, J., & Associates. (2000). Learning as Transformation: Critical Perspectives on a Theory in Progress. San Francisco, CA: Jossey-Bass

Roberts, N. (2006). Disorienting dilemmas: Their effects on learners, impact on performance, and implications for adult educators. In M. S. Plakhotnik & S. M. Nielsen (Eds.), Proceedings of the Fifth Annual College of Education Research Conference: Urban and International Education Section (pp. 100-105). Miami: Florida International University. Retrieved 12/4/17:

Book Review: Feminist Pedagogy in Higher Education

Reinert Center typeset_icon_2014_solid_082214by James Fortney, Instructional Developer, Reinert Center

What is feminist pedagogy and how can it advance our commitment to social and gender justice? Feminist Pedagogy in Higher Education (Light et al., 2015) invites scholars from a variety of disciplines to explore this question from both theoretical and practical perspectives. The editors of the volume synthesize the collection of fifteen essays as follows:

“Building on critical advances in feminist theory, feminist scholars have developed innovative ways of teaching and learning that place issues of social inequality and difference at the center of the curriculum. . . . Feminist pedagogy typically critiques traditional received wisdom, recognizes the existing knowledge of students, challenges the hierarchy of ways of knowing (e.g., book versus experiential learning), renegotiates and re-forms the relationship between teacher and student, and respects and values the diversity of the personal experiences of all students while relating the learning in academic classrooms to the real world” (p. 4).

Each author reflects on both the successes and challenges of employing feminist pedagogy in their teaching. What emerges from these reflections are conceptually rich accounts that offer practical classroom tools to incorporate into any course, including assignments, teaching strategies, and assessment and evaluation techniques to support the goals of feminist pedagogy listed above. They also represent different critical approaches for writing about the process of teaching – a technique that may be useful for anyone working to develop a philosophy of teaching statement or various teaching narratives for job materials, tenure and promotion documents, grant or fellowship applications, and so on.

If you only have time to read one essay, I recommend prioritizing “Classroom to Community: Reflections on Experiential Learning and Socially Just Citizenship” by Carm De Santis and Toni Serafini. The authors teach at a small, liberal arts, Catholic, undergraduate university in Canada and many of their examples align with our institutional teaching commitments to social justice and community engagement. Their reflections also provide a useful situation in which to consider the intersection of feminist pedagogy and the values of the Jesuit educational tradition (Boryczka et al., 2012).

Please reach out to the Reinert Center if you would like to discuss your reading of the essays in this book or to learn more about any of the teaching-related topics mentioned in this review.



Boryczka, J. M., Petrino, E. A., von Arx, J.P., & Currie, C. L. (Eds.), Jesuit and feminist education: Intersections in teaching and learning for the twenty-first century. New York: Fordham University Press.

De Santis, C., & Serafini, T. (2015). Classroom to community: Reflections on experiential learning and socially just citizenship. In T. P. Light, J. Nicholas, & R. Bondy (Eds.), Feminist pedagogy in higher education: Critical theory and practice (pp. 87-112). Waterloo: Wilfrid Laurier University Press.

Light, T. P., Nicholas, J., & Bondy, R. (Eds.) (2015). Feminist pedagogy in higher education: Critical theory and practice. Waterloo: Wilfrid Laurier University Press.

Thompson, L. (1992). Feminist methodology for family studies. Journal of Marriage and the Family, 54, 3-18.

Designing Courses to Account for Digital Readiness

Icon squareby Chris Grabau, Instructional Developer, Reinert Center

In the past, much attention was paid to a “digital divide” between learners who had and used digital devices versus people who did not.  While the ownership of digital devices continues to grow exponentially, research in how digital technologies impact learning is needed.  Recently, a number of studies have been published that examined students’ experiences, perceptions and comfortability with using technology for educational purposes.

One recent study published in Studies in Higher Education, surveyed undergraduate students to identify what forms of digital technologies they found to be “particularly helpful” and/or “useful” during their university studies. (Henderson et al., 2017, p. 1570)

Results from the survey indicate that students value digital technologies related to “organizing and managing the logistics of studying.” These technologies are typically learning management systems and other online services that serve as a one-stop repository of resources and information for students. While the use of such technologies may not be the most expansive, expressive, empowering, enlightening or even exciting ways that digital technologies could be used (Henderson et al., 2017, p. 1578), students expressed these tools as “priceless” in providing structure and guidelines, and in staying informed.  (Henderson et al., 2017, p. 1572)

While the value of using online learning management systems and other organizing technologies may not come as a surprise for some undergraduate educators, it is important to consider students’ preparedness to access and utilize digital tools for teaching and learning. In 2015, the Pew Research Center released survey results to examine digital readiness; a term to help describe “the attitudes and behaviors that underpin people’s preparedness and comfort in using digital tools for online learning.” (Horrigan, 2016a)

While past research has shown how race, ethnicity, socio-economic status, and level of access to broadband connectivity impacted access to learning (Horrigan, 2016b), the current study strived to assess American adults’ relationship with technology use based on five main factors.  These factors include: a person’s confidence in using computers, ability to get new technology to work, their ability to use digital tools for learning, their ability to determine the trustworthiness of online information, and their familiarity with contemporary “education tech” terms. (Horrigan, 2016a)

Results from the survey show that 52% of the participants exhibit some form of hesitation when it comes to utilizing digital tools for learning.  While the first three clusters; The Unprepared, Traditional Learners, and The Reluctant, reported generally lower levels of digital skill and involvement with using technology for personal learning activities.  31% of those surveyed who report high levels of confidence using technology still need to become familiar with using online tools for learning.

While providing online tools for learning is becoming an essential element for education, it is important to be aware that not every student will share the same ability to utilize learning technologies. As you prepare to start another semester of teaching, consider how students may be utilizing technology offered in your course and make accommodations to ensure “best use.”  Think pedagogically about how technology impacts the learning experience. Have students complete a tech-assessment survey at the start of the class to gauge students’ familiarity, comfort, and experience using learning technologies.  Take time to walk through the course hosted on your learning management system and show students how to use the site.  Consider a video recording that offers an overview of how to use your course site or offer a “tech check-in” outside of class to help students learn about technology.

If you would like to discuss ways to design a course that considers students’ digital readiness and comfort with technology, please feel free to contact the Reinert Center.  We are here to help.



Henderson, M., Selwyn, N., & Aston, R. (2017). What works and why? Student perceptions of “useful” digital technology in university teaching and learning. Studies in Higher Education42(8), 1567-1579.

Horrigan, J. B. (2016a). Digital Readiness Gaps. Pew Research Center.

Horrigan, J. B. (2016b). Lifelong learning and technology. Pew Research Center, available at

Reflection on Community-Based Learning: A Praxis Workshop Follow Up

Reinert Center typeset_icon_2014_solid_082214by Yang Li, Graduate Assistant, Reinert Center

Community-Based Learning has become an effective teaching tool for exposing students to reality-based ways to implement their acquired theories or knowledge. During last week’s Praxis Workshop, Leah Sweetman and James Fortney introduced participants to community-based learning associated with different subjects. Participants were introduced to two models of community-based learning: the project-based model and the discipline-based model, and they learned about the potential benefits of each model from community, university, faculty, and students’ perspectives. Participants reflected on their own learning and teaching experience and designed their own community-based learning activities.

What is community-based learning?

Sweetman defined community-based learning as “a teaching strategy that bridges academic theory and real-world practice. Community-based learning promotes students’ academic learning and civic development while simultaneously addressing real world problems and community needs.” Community-based learning includes two common models at Saint Louis University: The project-based model, in which “students will draw from their knowledge to make recommendations to the community or develop a solution to a problem,” and the discipline-based model, in which “students have an ongoing presence in the community and reflect on their experiences on a regular basis using the course content as the framework for their analysis.”

What are the benefits of community-based learning activities?

There are four potential benefits for the students, faculty, university and community. As a graduate student from education, I have participated in both the project-based and discipline-based activities throughout my master’s and doctoral program. Through the community-based learning activities, I better understood demographic information about the American educational system and particularly urban education in St. Louis. Interviewing and consulting with principals and teachers enabled me to enhance my understanding about administrative theories that I read from my textbooks or journal articles. I gradually understood being an administrator or principal is not only about the decent title or respect from parents and students but the responsibility and unexpected challenges in daily life. Working with teachers and students is also very helpful for me to understand the challenges about budget, resources and professional development. The whole experience made me understand the reality in educational settings.

From a faculty or teacher’s perspective, I found the classroom prepared students with a great foundation and knowledge about their professional field. However, students also should be provided opportunities to implement their skills into practice. Community-based learning enables students to find the deep meaning of the theory by application. Sometimes, community-based learning enable students to find the connections through different courses. Sometimes, instructors can find the same community-based learning activities can be offered through different courses to continuously enhance students’ learning outcomes by providing a chance to implement what they have learned.

Community-based learning also benefits the mutual relationships between university and community. It helps the university to increase students’ retention through the civic mission of social justice. It enables communities to use scholarly decision making to solve problems and provide rich learning materials for future civic leaders.

Two common misunderstandings about community-based learning:

  1. Often, communities or students themselves expect students who participate into community-based learning activities to be experts. However, it would not be true that students will know everything about their professional fields. Sometimes, students are learning through the practice and within the community-based learning.
  2. Sometimes, students are invested in the community service and forget to emphasize their critical thinking towards social justice issues. Students’ reflection should not only focus on the service experiences but also the teaching goals of finding solutions to the social justice issues.

After the workshop, community-based learning course design seems approachable and possible for me to implement in my future teaching. In order to make it effective for my future students, I will consult with Reinert Center for Transformative Teaching and Learning about my course design ideas and then work with Center for Service and Community Engagement to reach out to the appropriate community services which will benefit my students’ learning.

Undergraduate Participation in Research: A High Impact Practice

Icon squareby Mitch Lorenz, Graduate Assistant, Reinert Center

This week, a resource guide related to undergraduate involvement in research is being added to our collection of pedagogical materials on our website [link]. This brief overview includes links to articles detailing how undergraduate students benefit from participation in undergraduate research and ways to improve student involvement in research within your department. As a responsible researcher, I decided to support evidence-based claims with anecdotal evidence by sharing my experiences with undergraduate research.

As an undergraduate, I completed an independent research project and subsequently presented it at a regional conference. “Talking shop” with faculty, graduate students, and fellow undergraduates during the conference exposed me to the field of psychology in ways that are not possible in the classroom. This experience led to my pursuit of graduate study and, having transitioned to the role of instructor, I recognize the potential impact of undergraduate involvement in research.

As a graduate student, I have had the privilege of mentoring undergraduate researchers and observing the way they are able to apply their research experience after graduation. As pointed out by David Lopatto (2010), the benefits for student researchers are applicable in both graduate study and the workforce. These benefits can be enhanced when students’ interests are considered as they participate in research, providing more targeted experience and knowledge for eventual pursuit of employment or additional qualifications for graduate study. Many opportunities for undergraduate research are built into the curriculum but, as a teacher, you can look for ways to maximize the effectiveness of these opportunities for your students’ development.

Undergraduate involvement in research is only one of the high-impact practices outlined by the Association of American Colleges and Universities to provide more standardized, evidenced-based methods through which schools may engage students in active learning. If undergraduate research is not good fit in your department or discipline, you may look for other opportunities to engage students in high-impact practices. Other high impact practices include community-based learning, collaborative projects, writing-intensive courses, and common intellectual experiences (Kuh, 2008). Please refer to the resource guide to access more information about undergraduate research and high-impact practices.



Kuh, G.(2008). High-impact educational practices: What they are, who has access to them, and

why they matter. Washington, DC: Association of American Colleges and Universities


Lopatto, D. (2010). Undergraduate research as a high-impact student experience. Peer

Review12(2), 27-30.