In the age of digital literacy, educators have to find balance between traditional teaching methods and the integration of digital materials. The balance is particularly important for students with disabilities.
One useful technological tool that research has shown is effective is video-mediated instruction (VMI). VMI capitalizes on the visual processing strengths of students with autism spectrum disorders. VMI helps to seamlessly integrate direct instruction and video modeling techniques. Video modeling is an evidence-based teaching method whereby an individual watches a video of someone completing an activity and imitates the activity.
All of the students at our school, the Center for Discovery, have been diagnosed with intellectual/developmental disabilities and complex medical conditions, secondary to a diagnosis of autism spectrum disorder. The students, ages 5 to 21, thrive in highly structured, predictable environments. Changes in schedule, location, or instructor cause a significant increase in anxiety, often resulting in behavioral overreactions of avoidance or, in some cases, aggression.
A traditional science fair would overwhelm our students’ sensory systems, but we used VMI to create a virtual science fair for an individualized, inclusive, and collaborative learning experience.
Creating the Fair
The virtual science fair consists of a series of lessons and labs that can be accessed at any time using a tablet, computer, or interactive whiteboard. Each experiment addresses a different topic, and teachers have the flexibility of accessing the labs collaboratively or at their own convenience.
Using a free web service, we created a teacher avatar who captivates the audience and introduces the experiment for each lab. The virtual teacher provides directions to the class and guides them through each step of the procedure.
The video clips incorporate multiple video modeling techniques. We used basic modeling, or a recording of someone other than the learner engaging the skill, as well as point-of-view modeling, where the target skill is recorded from the perspective of the learner. We also used video prompting, which breaks the task into smaller steps with built-in pauses for the learner to watch and practice.
Timing and Pacing
Step-by-step guidance in each lab includes built-in pauses to allow the learner to easily follow along. By chunking the video, the teacher is able to reduce the cognitive load as the learner processes information. This provides the student with additional time to complete each step.
We embedded question-and-answer segments into the video using the free web service Edpuzzle. Participants can be prompted to answer multiple-choice, short-answer, or fill-in-the-blank questions throughout the activity. The video will not continue until the student chooses the correct response. Students are able to replay sections of the video lesson and try again if they answered incorrectly. The results of these questions can be sent to the teacher, providing additional progress monitoring opportunities.
A virtual lab experience motivates students by providing clear and concise directions. It increases students’ attentiveness and independence. Each step of the experiment has a concrete beginning and end, taking away some of the ambiguity that can occur when teaching abstract concepts and higher-level thinking skills.
Students are able to see each step clearly and replay the step if needed for further explanation. The lessons provide flexibility in the classroom and school that would not otherwise be possible. Teachers are able to pause and resume the lesson as well as play and repeat to practice skills.
Today’s classroom includes many differences in learning styles and abilities. Differentiation within a lesson is often achieved by grouping students by level. The virtual science lab provides an equalizer, as students can work in groups regardless of level, following along with the same video and lesson and then completing assessments that address individual needs in individual devices. This makes it possible to group students together regardless of ability.
VMI fosters additional opportunities for social development in the classroom. For students with social anxieties typical with the diagnosis of autism spectrum disorders, it can be challenging to attend to a live person or make eye contact. With VMI, the student is able to focus on the avatar and video, which allows the lesson content to become the focus. This further fosters social development by giving students the opportunity to work side-by-side or in a group. For many students, this may be a comfortable way to build up tolerance for social interaction and form friendships.
The Teacher’s Role and Growth Mindset
In contrast to a traditional lesson where the teacher demonstrates and explains the experiment, in VMI the avatar fulfills this role. The teacher can foster a greater sense of self-efficacy by supervising students and providing assistance or prompting as needed. Students follow along with the lesson with greater independence and improved self-esteem.
Without VMI, students often rely on prompting and encouragement to move through each step of a lesson. VMI avoids prompt dependency by giving even the most reluctant students time to complete each step. Video mediated activities give students the opportunity to make mistakes and learn from those mistakes during the lesson. Allowing students to analyze their own outcomes and persist through challenges helps cultivate a growth mindset. When the avatar takes the stage, teachers can focus on celebrating even the smallest successes and the frequency of all achievements.