Teaching Multidisciplinary Science with Video

Bruce Anderson, full professor and associate chair in the Department of Earth & Environment, took a major step into student-centered learning this year when he transformed his Climate & the Environment course to meet the needs of students of varying background and skill levels. With guidance and a grant from DL&I’s Center for Teaching & Learning and technical support from DL&I’s Educational Technology Department, he replaced the standard lecture format he had previously used to a flipped classroom model.

With the support of DL&I, Anderson learned how to use Camtasia to record lecture videos and Echo to deliver them through the Blackboard Learning platform that all BU instructors use. His goal was to enable students to master lecture material outside of class, so they could come prepared for discussion and exercises in class.

Over the summer Anderson converted a semester’s worth of material into 50 recorded, online lectures, complete with online assessments and exercises. His goal was to have students cover this material between classes so valuable class time could be spent on deepening their understanding and retention.

Instructors at BU often use Echo360 to create these types of supplemental lecture videos, or Camtasia software, both of which record a screen capture that can be narrated live or after the fact. Anderson recorded an entire semester’s worth of content into these online lecture videos.

Many Side Benefits

“What really surprised me was just how vast the library of materials was that eventually went online,” said Anderson. “And I was very pleased to discover that giving the students online lectures freed up class time tremendously. I no longer had to race to relay a huge body of content through in-class lectures. Now I had more time to check in with the class to see how well each student was understanding the material, and to deepen their grasp through homework exercises connected to each video, and through in-class exercises.”

Anderson can now interact with his students at their pace, rather than the pace mandated by the range of the curriculum. Anderson used online quizzes and in-class activities as a check for comprehension of each video’s content. Since he no longer needed to spend all of his class time lecturing, he could use the information from the online quizzes and in-class activities to choose topics to review with his students, and choose further in-class activities based on the areas students were actually struggling with. This method is more effective than only identifying problems from tests or when a student comes for help during office hours.

“Not once did I feel like I was clawing to catch up,’ said Anderson, “that I was missing out on giving them some of the material, or that somehow I was letting them down because of time limitations,”

Anderson found it valuable to have his students arrive at class with a basic understanding of the content. He also noted the convenience of establishing an online library of lecture material that can be used again and gain.

“I get to use all of this material again, and it’s easy to update as new material comes to the fore within the discipline,” Anderson explained. “This has been one of the most rewarding teaching experiences that I’ve had at BU.”


Anderson recently compared the results from his student evaluations for the fall of 2015 (the year that his course was first made a requirement) and the fall of 2016 (the year that the course was flipped). Evaluations are broken into categories rated on a scale of 1 to 5. All of Anderson’s scores went up by between ⅓ and ½ of a point, and “ability to stimulate interest” and “encouragement of class participation,” which both went up by a full point. Interestingly enough, Anderson received higher scores in all of these categories despite the fact that the “workload” score also rose, from 3.2 to 3.8. This indicates that students found the course to be more rigorous, but were also happier with their learning.

Creating online lecture materials is an option that many professors opt to do, since technology like Echo360 and Camtasia – and now mymedia.bu.edu — all make recording videos straightforward. Blackboard provides a distribution mechanism, allowing the videos to be integrated with assessments and exercises to increase retention.

Anderson noted another and truly unexpected side benefit. “I no longer have to worry if we have a snow day or I have to be home because of a sick child,” he said. “Not only does this approach improve learning outcomes. It ensures that I will always be confident that the students will get the material they need to be ready for the next class.”


BU Bruce Anderson

Bruce Anderson

Professor Anderson is the Associate Chair of Faculty Actions for Boston University College of Arts & Sciences. His research focuses on the following areas: Global and regional climate change; atmospheric dynamics and hydrology; large-scale ocean/atmosphere interactions; regional impacts of climate variability; and climate/land-surface/vegetation interactions and