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March 3, 2021

Integrating How-To Videos to Empower Student Learning

As adults, we often rely on people with practical knowledge to model procedures for certain tasks we intend to do on our own. This is why we sometimes turn to YouTube for guidance whenever we need to change a tire, assemble furniture, or roast a turkey. You may have even used video as a support for some of your professional development initiatives.

In my freshman Ethnic Studies classroom, we use resources like Google Classroom and Edublogs as an early scaffold to support the work students will produce in upper grade levels. However, when students first come to our school, they bring with them a wide range of competencies using these tech tools. One way I’ve been able to overcome this challenge is by creating instructional videos to provide directions for my students. The amount of time I spend managing the process of digital projects has decreased, and the time I’m able to spend engaging students in the challenging work of an Ethnic Studies class has increased.

I use video to support digital projects that showcase the shadow box auto-ethnographies that students develop. Students create digital graphic organizers and infographics that explore the many elements of their personal identities and embed them into blogs.

Our students also use video instructions to support larger blogging projects, like identifying where resistance to oppression has occurred and using tools like SeeClickFix to gain agency in the face of challenges in their communities. Replacing the question, “How do I do that?” with moves that empower students to find answers for themselves, has freed me to support my class in meaningful ways without dedicating valuable time to process.

Producing Instructional Videos

To produce these instructional videos, I typically record myself modeling the tasks I expect students to do. Free tools like Screencast-o-matic and the chrome extension Screencastify allow me to record the actions modeled on my own screen. I then create video files to upload and share with the class.

If you’ve ever turned to YouTube to learn how to navigate editing a picture in Photoshop, you’re probably familiar with the concept. Students are just as familiar with that learning strategy, so it made sense to employ it in my instruction. Providing this resource to my future writers and bloggers has helped in the following ways:

  • Videos can guide students through complicated processes. When I assign projects that use online applications, I often worry that the application itself will be too complicated for some to master. Even though I always model the steps to a process, if a student misses something (or happens to be absent during the modeling process), it’s possible for that student to get so lost that they give up on the project entirely. Instructional videos empower students to find their own way through digital projects regardless of how many steps there are or how convoluted the instructions may be.
  • Students are empowered to learn at their own pace. Differentiated instruction becomes significantly easier when students can take advantage of a “pause” and “rewind” video function. Instructional videos allow students to manage the speed of the information presented and the number of times they engage with directions before they “get it.” Video is also an alternative to text-heavy instructions that frustrate many students before they can truly engage with their work. Students who complete projects quickly can also be challenged to take on extension activities described with videos.
  • Videos empower students to teach their peers. As educators, we know that one of the best ways to demonstrate an understanding of a concept is to teach it to someone else. Another way instructional videos support student growth is by challenging students to share their knowledge with others. The only obstacle to this practice is training students how to manage video recording applications. But once that hurdle is cleared, students will be able to demonstrate and share expertise without ever leaving their seat.


Some challenges exist when using instructional videos to provide digital support, and it’s important to consider them before moving forward with developing your resources.

  • Time and Preparation. Instructional videos seldom take a long time to make, but an obstacle you may face is effectively demonstrating the process you mean to teach. Be prepared to show your students exactly how you want a process to be executed — because they tend to replicate tasks presented on screen exactly as they appeared on your instruction video.
  • Student Facing vs. Teacher Facing Tools. Some websites or applications appear different from a user/student perspective as opposed to the owner/teacher’s view. A best practice would be to create student accounts to demonstrate resources exactly as students will see them so that there are no inconsistencies.
  • Instructional videos are seldom “evergreen.” Once you’ve created a library of instructional videos to support students, it’s not safe to assume that all of those videos will still work the following school year. Websites and applications often make changes to their offerings that will render the video you produced less valuable. Before rolling out an instructional video used in the past, be sure that the website or app still appears and works exactly how it did when you first produced the video.

Challenges aside, the practice of developing instructional videos has been a valuable tool in my instruction, and I highly recommend using them. My advice? Start small and establish technology fundamentals. The investment in time spent developing videos and training students early should pay dividends when larger, more thoughtful projects are introduced later on.

Do you use instructional “how-to” videos in your classroom? How do you use them to scaffold and support students? If you haven’t tried “how-to” videos, what are some ideas you have about where they would fit into your classroom routine? Share your ideas in the comments below.


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