Online Video Tutorials are Popular with Students

Teaching Innovation: Prof uses YouTube as a learning tool

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Jeremy Balka

Jeremy Balka

Need help finding the mean and variance of a continuous probability distribution? Check out Prof. Jeremy Balka’s YouTube channel, which he created to help teach his students about introductory math and statistics.

With 123 videos so far, and with more than 143,000 views and counting, he hopes to enhance students’ learning both inside and outside the classroom. “It’s just another way of helping people learn,” says Balka, Department of Mathematics and Statistics. With several hundred students in his class, he sees his YouTube channel as an efficient way to address their most common questions.

He wanted to enable students to review concepts covered in class and get extra help if needed. Unlike attending a live lecture, students may pause and replay segments as often as they want. Balka says the videos allow students to “get inside my head” as he talks through a problem and its solution using text, formulas and graphs. Unlike a textbook, the videos have audio and visual components for different types of learners. “It comes alive for them.”

He intends the channel to accompany – not replace – his lectures. Skipping class to watch YouTube isn’t a choice, but watching the videos is optional. In class, Balka discusses concepts in greater detail, using different examples for students who are still struggling. “I still think the major learning takes place from reading and working things out, but students can get another perspective if they’re having a little trouble with something.”

Begun in winter 2012, his YouTube videos were an instant hit with students, many of whom responded positively to an anonymous survey after the course. “The students who like them tend to like them a lot,” says Balka. Some said the videos helped them review concepts covered earlier in the term and study for tests. Viewership often spikes before mid-terms and exams.

Each segment lasts less than 10 minutes but takes several hours to produce. A self-confessed perfectionist, Balka edits each video for accuracy and clarity. “I try to make them short and to the point, but there’s still a statistics lesson in there. It’s not just, ‘How do you answer this question or that question?’”

He bases the segments on real data, unlike other statistics videos on YouTube that use hypothetical scenarios. He also gives students free access to his e-textbook, which contains links to the videos. “I think the text and videos combined are pretty cool.”

Balka once sat in the same seats as his students, having completed three degrees at U of G. “In a lot of ways I’m a good fit with Guelph. The types of students that we have, and the level that we teach statistics, are a good fit with me.”