Students give YouTube assignment an A pass

Universities are turning to the digital world and YouTube in an effort to engage students increasingly uninterested in traditional teaching methods.

Waikato University senior economics lecturer Michael Cameron gave his first-year economics students the option of completing a YouTube video instead of the course's only written assignment, because he found the written work was of an increasingly poor standard or was not handed in at all.

"We have got a ... problem which has been getting worse over time with students not necessarily engaging with the paper," he said.

The previous year only three-quarters of students handed in the assignment, with an average mark of 50 per cent, but this year there was an almost 100 per cent completion rate. About 20 per cent of the class opted to make YouTube videos.

"All lecturers at university face the same problem – trying to keep students engaged when they have got so many competing demands for their time and attention," Mr Cameron said.

Although there was a risk of losing writing skills by broadening assignment methods, "it's probably less relevant for a graduate as well, than being able to communicate effectively online and face to face".

Management studies student Trent Norman, 18, was one of those who completed the YouTube assignment. "I'd never had to do anything like that before ... it just seemed like something new, so I was excited."

He was more involved in the project than he would have been in a written assignment. "The concepts we used in the video definitely sank in more."

He wanted more digital options to be available in assignments and teaching. "Technology is the way of the future, isn't it?"

Victoria University e-learning adviser Irina Elgort said there was an increasing expectation that universities introduced technology into teaching. But it needed to happen effectively.

"I'm a little worried about the effect to some degree of primarily visual and audio media on the ability of students to express themselves in a written form," she said. "We can become really surface learners in a way if we look just at the shiny bits."

Massey University education technology manager Duncan O'Hara said Massey had many extramural students, which meant they had well-developed "virtual classrooms" where students and lecturers gave presentations via web camera as well as discussing subjects online.

"You can't discount the importance of social media on teaching ... it's an important part of how young people live."

The Dominion Post