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How long should a pre-class video be?

According to the Western tradition of flipped learning, the pre-class study resource for students is usually in the form of a video, though in reality, other types of material (e.g., a PPT, an article, a podcast episode) can also be used. The purpose of the pre-class video is to present the main concepts of the upcoming live lesson. Experts in flipped learning unanimously assert that such videos should not be too lengthy. Some of them even suggest a maximum length of 7 to 8 minutes. In case it is not possible to include all the teaching content in a video of this length, the alternative should be to break the whole presentation down into more than one video, instead of continuing with the original one. 

One reason for the experts advocating shorter rather than longer videos has to do with human beings’ attention span. Another reason that has been put forward – and this is an interesting one – is that it forces teachers to be concise with their presentation of the lesson content. 

I have been producing my own videos for my flipped classes at the university, and I have learnt from my experience that being concise may not be as easy as we think. On many occasions in the past, when I had finished recording a video which I had thought was below 7 minutes and then when I checked the duration of the product, I was in for a surprise. Although I had reminded myself to be concise while planning and recording the video, the resulting creation often lasted much longer. 

This is an interesting phenomenon. Perhaps as teachers, when we present the lesson content in a live lesson, we often insert questions, jokes, discourse markers when we develop our talk. And very often, we repeat our main points, develop our arguments, or cite examples. Of course, that makes perfect sense in a live lesson. But when we have to crystallize our lesson content down to a few minutes and leave out all the supplementary discourse, we are simply not used to doing that. 

So, in a way, producing pre-class videos for the flipped classroom may turn out to be a useful training opportunity for us teachers to be concise with our presentation which, after all, is a desirable speech habit. Who likes to listen to a speaker who keeps rambling on? 

In case we are concerned that if our pre-class video is too concise then students will lose interest, take note that our psychological readiness for viewing an instructional video is different from that when we attend a live presentation. When we view an instructional video, we tune in quicker, and are more focused and more eager to listen for the information that we are after. In fact, I have found that when I’m viewing a Youtube video in order to get some information, I often just skip along. As to the pre-class videos we produce for our students, if they miss something, or if there is something they don’t understanding at first viewing, they can always view the video again. So the implication for us is: Don’t be afraid to be concise.

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