Learning and Teaching in Action: Open Issue

Group of students at a computer

 

Use of vidcasts and their link to the performance of first year undergraduates at MMUBS

Kieran Maguire

Background

Nick Scott and I had discussed using podcasts as a means of increasing support to students on undergraduate and part time professional accounting courses for which we are unit leaders. We were awarded a shared Fellowship in Academic Practice (FAP) in 2006 to develop material and consider alternative ways of engaging with students.

The objective of the FAP project was to provide complementary support to existing lectures and tutorials for accounting. For the first year International Business, Business Studies and BITS degree course, for which I am a unit leader, Business Accounting is a compulsory unit. The students’ numerical and analytical skills may not have been utilised in their prior studies, so the aim was to provide them with a back up resource.

Chan and Lee (2005) and Gribbins (2007) have observed that podcasting can give students additional opportunities to learn course content, with the benefit of being at times and locations convenient to them. I hoped that by extending traditional podcasting to give visual as well as aural content that students would be able to see the techniques used to produce financial statements, as these are a cornerstone of understanding accounting processes and procedures. It was also hoped that this would allow students to engage with the course to a greater degree, and would therefore have a positive impact on student retention and give greater confidence for those encountering accounting again in their second year.

This article reviews the use of video podcasts in the MMUBS Business Accounting unit for first year undergraduates, delivered in 2006/7 and 2007/8.The vidcasts served two different functions: tutorial vidcasts showed students solutions to tutorial questions. We were concerned that students spend so much time copying the solutions given by tutors that they were unable to absorb both the technical and technique issues discussed in generating correct solutions. In addition revision vidcasts covered the exams from 2006/7, to give students further insight into the style and nature of the exam, and also show them the methods used in generating correct answers.

In total there were 9 tutorial and 1 revision vidcasts produced.

1. Introduction

The course is delivered across the business school to candidates enrolled on the Business Studies, International Business and BITS degree courses. The student cohort is in the region of 450-550 undergraduates, and so student contact was delivered in each of the years reviewed as shown in Table 1.

Table 1: Delivery of the Business Accounting Unit
Contact Method 2006/7 2007/8
Lectures: Same lecture delivered three times a week due to lecture theatre size constraints and large intake. yes yes
Tutorials: 12-15 tutorial groups delivering follow up to previous week's lectures. yes yes
Tutorials: Vidcasts of each tutorial question available via iTunes. no yes
Lecture Material: Powerpoint slides and numerate examples, available as both standalone package from the start of course and embedded within course text book. yes yes
Practice Exam: Practice exam in same style to January exam, given to candidates during first term. yes yes

 

With so many students enrolled on the course, there are limited opportunities for them to engage with the course leader outside normal lecture times. I had given all the students my cell phone number and told them they could contact me outside traditional hours if they had any queries in relation to the course. This facility was taken advantage of, especially close to exam time. However, following one call at 1.30am two days prior to an exam from a student and the resultant domestic discussion that ensued between my wife and me, some drawbacks were noted.

2. Use of vidcasts

Vidcasts were originally recorded for the summer 2007 Business Accounting exam and hosted on the MySpace social networking site (see Figure1), due to a lack of server space at MMU, and concerns that a large number of simultaneous downloads/viewings on the MMU server might cause it to crash. The World Wide Web provides an ideal medium to deliver learning material as digital content (Shim et al. 2006) and (Campbell 2005) stated that the use of the internet as a hosting facility gave educators “one more way to meet today’s students where they “live” – on the Internet and on audio players. (see Figure 1).

Figure 1: Vidcast example hosted on Myspace

screenshot of vidcast on MySpace

The vidcasts were recorded at home, using a Tablet PC, Camtasia 4 screen capture software, and Windows Journal software, which enables the creator to write on the face of the PC screen using a special tablet pen. I had originally recorded vidcasts using both Microsoft Excel and in the handwritten form, and the latter was preferred by students, on the grounds that it was more personal, and more flexible. (See Figure 2.)

Figure 2: Vidcast example with screen annotation hosted on iTunes

screenshot of vidcast on iTunes

Two vidcasts were recorded before the Easter vacation in Spring 2007, covering the 2006 Business Accounting exam questions. These generated a total of 2,875 viewings. Although it is not possible to confirm that all of these viewings were from MMU candidates, the vidcasts would have been of no assistance to anyone who did not have a copy of the 2006 exams. The number of viewings increased dramatically as the exam date approached.

Due to the popularity of these vidcasts, it was decided to extend the vidcasts for the 2007/8 candidates. In November 2007 I purchased an Apple iMac computer, and created a .mac website account, which allowed me to host the vidcasts on both this website, and also on iTunes, the proprietary software issued by Apple. I created a dedicated website called www.kieranmaguire.co.uk in June 2008 for the vidcasts so that students would be able to access the material more easily, following requests from part time students studying for the professional accounting ACCA exams. (See Figure 3).

Figure 3: Vidcast example hosted on www.kieranmaguire.co.uk

screenshot of vidcast hosted on www.kieranmaguire.co.uk

A user subscribes to a podcast by entering the permanent feed location into an aggregator program that reads Really Simple Syndication (RSS) feed, such as Apple iTunes (Gribbins 2007). Once subscribed, new podcast episodes are automatically delivered to the user’s computer (Chan & Lee 2005). The downloaded episodes can then be played, replayed, or archived as with any other computer file.
The advantage of using such an approach is that once a candidate subscribes to the Business Accounting iTunes area, every time a new Vidcast is created it is automatically downloaded onto the computer of the subscriber. This is referred to as ‘push’ technology, as opposed to the ‘pull’ technology of using MySpace, where a viewer has to actively seek any new vidcasts.

The tutorial vidcasts average about 5-11 minutes in length. This is within the recommended time parameters for such broadcasts. These were hosted on iTunes, and some were also shown on MySpace.
In addition the answers to the January 2007 exam were provided by a vidcast (22 minutes in length) hosted on MySpace (267 viewings) and also on iTunes. It is not possible to determine how many students downloaded the iTunes version of the vidcasts due to the nature of the software.

3. January exam

The initial assessment of performance is via a multiple choice exam held in the first week of the spring term. The questions were of the same standard in both years, and covered the same broad topics as have been examined in Business Accounting since I became joint unit leader in 2004. The exams were marked by an Optical Character Reader.
The results are summarised in Table 2.
The distribution of results from each exam is Shown in Table 3.

Table 2: Overall Performance in the Business Accounting Unit
  2006/7 2007/8
Candidates 493 423
Average mark 48.8% 57.3%
Highest mark 100% 92%
Lowest mark 13% 24%
Standard deviation 15.2% 14.4%

 

Table 3: Distribution of Results in the Business Accounting Unit
Exam Result 2008 % of total 2007 % of total
<29% 8 1.9% 62 12.6%
30-39% 33 7.8% 78 15.8%
40-49% 100 23.6% 112 22.7%
50-59% 88 20.8% 128 26.0%
60-69% 116 27.4% 61 12.4%
70-79% 39 9.2% 45 9.1%
80-89% 31 7.3% 5 1.0%
90-99% 8 1.9% 2 0.4%
Total 423 100% 493 100.0%

 

Therefore the number of students achieving a mark of 60% or higher, equivalent to a second class (upper) or better degree award at final level, increased from 22.9% to 45.8% of candidates. Rachel Forsyth (Centre for Learning and Teaching, MMU) has secured some funding to survey students (questionnaire and discussion groups) in relation to these results. The survey will also include the views of second year Accounting and Finance students, for whom vidcasts have also been created.

The draft results from the Accounting and Finance degree course second year Accounting Theory and Practice (ATP) unit exams for 2008 indicate a similar shift in results, with 51.5% of candidates achieving 60% or higher in their summer exam, which was supported by vidcasts, compared to 19.9% in 2007. The exam format for ATP has changed since 2007, but there does appear to be a strong case for further research into the causes of the movement in marks.

4. Feedback

Relatively little feedback has been received to date on the assistance provided by the vidcasts. The comments that have been posted on MySpace have all been positive (see appendix). There is a case to seek out formal feedback from candidates, which will be carried out due to the program initiated by Rachel Forsyth. Work carried out by Nick Scott (2008) of MMU indicates that this form of assistance to students is very popular.
5. Conclusion

The use of vidcasts as a revision/tutorial tool seems to be popular, in terms of being used by students, and has had a positive impact on the results in the January assessment. Further work is required to see if this also has an impact on a long form exam, but the initial results suggest that this is worth exploring. Gribbins concluded that podcast based content provides educators with a

“low-cost method to distribute timely audio content seamlessly to students. At the same time, podcasting can give students additional opportunities to learn course content, with the benefit of being at times and locations convenient to them”

Appendix

Comments on vidcasts on the MySpace website

1. Hey sir, these vids are pretty spot and thanks for the link! I believe many people are facebook lovers but as exams draw nearer, so will their love for myspace!!!
2. Thank you for this, it has helped clear things up for me, i’m sure it was useful to everyone that viewed it, and whoever didn’t has probably suffered. many thanks.
3. These are brilliant Kieran, much appreciated. Probably the best way to revise, anything forgotten from lectures can be picked up here and every question is answered. Thanks for the effort.

4. I cant believe the people who viewed these revision vids haven’t even comment on it! this is realy helpfull!! only wish the other lecturers would do the same!!! thanks keiren for putting your time into it!!

5. Hi really appreciate this. I think this is a really good idea and as the person below has said, I think it would be a very good idea if other lecturers did this as I think it is really helpful. Thanks a lot for going to so much effort!

6. Thank you very much, these vedios are really helpful to review the konwledge and prepare for exams. by the way, i prefer you to write it up freehand, cos we can get enough time to thinking about what you say. Thanks for spending ur time to do these.

7. Hi. Thanks for putting the videos up they were really helpful especially for the consolidated question. Using videos is a great supplement to the lectures as it solidifies our knowledge. It will be fab if a video was put up for each lecture! Cheers
8. So far only up to Q 8, but very helpful with your explanations in the background. thanks so much
9. Yeah Very Helpful Thanks, Well Appreciated.

Comments on vidcasts from student survey

1. Easy excess (sic) to resources through podcast and voice recording supertutorial solutions are very helpful while understanding the subject.

2. The use of additional videos…these were unbelievably helpful and increased my understanding so much I got 90% in the January exam.
3. The accessability of exam questions and videos, taking step by step through difficult questions was excellent, and these videos on iTunes were an excellent idea.
4. The online video solutions are extremely helpful.

References

Chan, A., and Lee, M. “An MP3 a Day Keeps the Worries Away: Exploring the Use of Podcasting to Address Preconceptions and Alleviate Pre-Class Anxiety Amongst Undergraduate Information Technology Students,” in Good Practice in Practice. Proceedings of the Student Experience Conference, D.H.R. Spennemann & L. Burr (eds.), Sept. 5-7, 2005, pp. 59-71.

Gribbins, M “The Perceived Usefulness of Podcasting in Higher Education: A Survey of Students’
Attitudes and Intention to Use. Proceedings of the Second Midwest United States Association for Information Systems, Springfield, IL May 18-19, 2007

Shim, J.P., Shropshire, J., Park, S., Harris, H., and Campbell, N. “Perceived Value of Podcasting: Student Communication-Medium Preferences,” Proceedings of the 12th Americas Conference on Information Systems, Acapulco, Mexico, August 2006, pp. 2186-2194.

Campbell, G. “There’s Something in the Air: Podcasting in Education” EDUCAUSE (Nov/Dec), 2005, pp. 33-46.

Scott, N. ‘’An evaluation of enhanced student support (including podcasting) on assessed course work achievement and student satisfaction’’ Learning and Teaching in Action 7, 2008, http://www.celt.mmu.ac.uk/ltia/index.php (accessed 2.6.08)

about the author

Kieran Maguire
Accounting and Finance, MMUBS

e-mail: k.maguire@mmu.ac.uk@mmu.ac.uk
telephone: 0161 247 3852

Download this article as a .pdf file

Summer 2008
ISSN 1477-1241