YouTube has become the go-to for quick tutorials on almost any topic, from how to replace a zipper to how to install a water heater. But could some of the most memorable parts of a STEM course — live demonstrations — be brought to the screen effectively? In a new paper, Harvard researchers show for the first time that research-based online STEM demonstrations not only can teach students more, but can be just as enjoyable.
Researchers hope these findings will help spur the creation of a catalogue of free online STEM video demonstrations to supplement lectures at institutions that cannot conduct their own. “We have an incredible group of scientists who present live demos for our students, but very few schools have these dedicated resources,” said co-author Logan McCarty, director of science education in the Department of Physics, who oversees Harvard’s Lecture Demonstration team. “With YouTube and other online channels, we can share Harvard’s technical and pedagogical expertise with the world.”
The research was based on previous literature by Kelly Miller, a lecturer in applied physics and co-author with McCarty. The previous article, published in 2013 by Miller and Eric Mazur, Balkanski Professor of Physics and Applied Physics, showed that students often misunderstand lecture demonstrations. They turned to science demos after hearing time and again that they are students’ favorite part of the lecture. After all, who could forget a ball levitating on a sound wave or a laser bending into a tank of water?
“Our research suggests that when live demos are unavailable, videos can provide students with an equally effective — or possibly even more effective — learning experience,” said co-author Louis Deslauriers, director of science teaching and learning in the Faculty of Arts and Sciences. “Even when live demonstrations are available, it may be helpful to supplement them with high-quality videos.”
Their paper in the February issue of Physical Review, Physics Education Research was spun into motion by first author Greg Kestin, a preceptor in physics who produces a series with NOVA called “What the Physics?!”