Using an external video resource in your course

Posted on Jul 20, 2014

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Some course topics have an abundance of external video content available to use in your course. This guide will help you use videos in a way that will encourage learners to be actively engaged with them, rather than watching them passively. I like to call this the instructional “wrapper” that makes the video relevant to achieving instructional goals.

But first, why is watching a video different than reading a textbook or research article, or posting in discussion forum?

For one, watching a video is a fundamentally different in its experiential conventions than reading a textbook. A textbook or article does not “play itself” for the reader. The reader has to actively decode symbols and construct a narrative of meaning from phrase to phrase.

With a video, the engagement is more passive. Students may “lean back” and zone out, as they have done most of their lives while watching video as entertainment. Or they may disengage with it because there is too much information to take in and they don’t know where to focus their attention.

So instructors need to take action to counter this possibility. We’re going to wrap the video with prompts and other media to guide the focus of attention, task learners with note taking, and then utilize their observations in a form of engagement.

In this model, we preface the activity with a description of the video: who is in it, what is it about, and where did it come from. This is good scholarly practice in general, but more importantly, it prepares learners for what to expect when they play it so that they are not burdened with trying to it figure out when they should be listening for more important information.

Next, we offer information that places the video into the context of the instructional goal, such as how it is relevant to other instructional material or prior topics. We provide prompts to learners that guide their focus of attention while they watch. These could be suggestions to look for certain themes, key ideas, or propositions – but not too specific that learners ignore everything else but what you tell them to look for. This stage is where you can bring in references to other media, such as textbook readings.

Next, direct learners to take notes on their observations so that they may be used in preparation for an activity. This is where their engagement is intended to pay off, so your choice of video should align with what you want learners to produce or demonstrate for you. And you may find that your video choice doesn’t work with what you really need — which is a good thing to happen while you are still doing your course development!

So up to this point, we have offered learners some instructional media, prompted them to observe the video purposefully, and they’ve taken some notes. Now we need to challenge learners to take a position in an activity where they can refer to their experiences, such as in a discussion forum, a paper, presentation, etc.

Your direction can take the form of a brief preface prior to the assignment task, such as in this example.

This is how we use a video resource and place it in a pedagogical wrapper to get the most out of your learners’ engagement experiences.

Why is video useful in online instruction?:

Video is not a cure-all or a do-all for online instruction. It is, at best, a cognitive guide, an advance organizer, or focal point for observation.

At worst, videos can be perceived by learners as a poor substitute for something that should have been presented in-person, or a distraction that causes more disorientation in learners than co-orientation to subject matter.

Your decision to use video should be based on its strengths and potential benefits.

Consider using video when:

The content reproduces a situation-based context where observation of human performance or interaction is a critical component of a learning activity, i.e. observing the verbal/non-verbal interaction between individuals in a conflict situation and what resolution strategies the participants employ.

The content reproduces an environment for learners where their observations and responses are analogous to those they will rely upon in authentic situations, i.e. simulation of events in a typical nursing practice scenario where the learner’s observations of the video are useful in in-service practice.

The content includes a time-based component that helps the learner to observe changes in conditions and variables over time, i.e. scientific experiments where observing cause and effect are critical in testing hypotheses.

The content reproduces spatial relationships among objects.

The content demonstrates a complex process or procedure where the benefit of on-demand access, repetition, and freeze framing would be advantageous for learners to engage with at their own pace.

The content offers access to events or phenomena that cannot be accessed by any other way with equal impact, i.e. a presentation recording of a prominent person, a film/commercial/program from the past, etc.

On the downside:

  • It may be difficult to find a video that encompasses only the content you wish to cover. You may find the perfect video for your needs – except the section you want is 33 minutes into an hour-long presentation! There are ways to make this situation work, but it requires a few extra steps.
  • Captioning is a must. Hopefully, you will find something already captioned. If not, it is your responsibility to make it so. Each case is different.
  • Some students may have difficulty accessing the video. Streaming video over the Internet requires a typical broadband connection for the best user experience. Some students may only have dial-up access or may use a mobile device or tablet for accessing their course content. This creates barriers to access that could cause problems. It is best to know if any of your students have issues with these variables. 

On the upside:

  • Video is a powerful medium, as described above.
  • There are gazillions of videos out there on just about any topic. There has never been a better time to utilize the cultural bounty of our generation. This is the world your students dwell in, so reap its benefits to your advantage.
  • You are able to control the engagement conditions and the focus of attention. As the instructor, you hold editorial discretion over what is played and how to frame it in context for students.

What is the best plan to make this work?:

Let’s address a typical scenario from the beginning:

You’ve located a video of a prominent lecturer/presenter or a historically significant clip that you want to use in your course. Your primary goals are:

  1. Find the best, freely available version of your video online, if there are alternative versions available.
  2. Determine if the video has a Share feature so you can post it in your course. Not all videos are allowed to be shared.
  3. Determine if it already has captioning. If not, get help for further guidance.
  4. Plan how you want your students to engage with this video in terms of the instructional outcome, and then write/develop the preparatory “wrapper” content.
  5. Post the video in your course.

1. Find the best version of your selected video

If you are using video resources from YouTube or another repository, be mindful of the quality of the version you have found. See if there is a better version of the same thing before you post your video into your course.

For example, an instructor once found a YouTube video of the famous “Daisy Girl” TV commercial shown during the 1964 presidential campaign:

However, a basic Google search located a much better quality version of it – both on YouTube and on

If there is a possibility that your video can be found with better playback quality, captioning features, or an ad-/comment-free environment, search for it.

2. Can it be shared? Look for a share feature. Sometimes sharing is represented by an icon, such as connected dots or a paper airplane.

3. Determine if it already has captioning. If not, get help for further guidance.

Captioning of video content is required under ADA compliance. In your selected video, check if there is closed captioning included – usually displayed when you click on a “CC” or “Captions” button on the video player controls.

Some videos, such as those on, tend to be captioned already. If you have created your own video, be sure to caption it. If you do not own the video and are curating it from YouTube, you will need help to be guided through the process of having videos captioned through an alternative method.

4. Plan how you want your students to engage with your video in terms of the instructional outcome. Then, develop the “wrapper” that will support it.

This stage is perhaps the most important part of using video as a resource for your course.

Foremost in your efforts is to ensure that learners are engaged with the content with a clear purpose, with tasks to attend to while watching. You will want their engagement experience to be a “lean forward” (attentive) activity rather than a “lean back” (passive) activity.

Producing this effect is a challenge because you will be battling against your students’ experience of having watched a lifetime of videos as entertainment. Thus, when you provide students with a video to watch as part of your course activities, you cannot expect that they will engage with it as they would other typical instructional media, i.e. textbook, a research article, discussion forum, etc. 

We need to place engagement prompts and tasks around video resources so that the focus of attention is purposeful rather than passive (Fleming & Levie, 1993).

We recommend the following plan:

In your course module, preface the video with a brief description.

Describe what the video is about in broad terms, such as,

“The following video features Clay Shirky, a renowned writer, educator, and presenter on the impact of the Internet on global social and economic discourse. The recording is from a presentation made at the WIRED Conference in 2012 about Future Social Systems”.

This description helps the learner get some sense of the kind of media they will be watching – a lecture, documentary, or an entertainment piece – and also provides some background for further independent exploration.

Before they watch the video, provide some guiding thoughts and questions for learners to think about while they watch.

Your goal here is NOT to tell them what to watch for, specifically. This will cause them to shut out their attention to everything except what you tell them to look for.

Instead, ask learners to watch for certain themes: What assumptions does the speaker depend upon to make his/her case? Which principles from the textbook readings are being applied here? What ideas do you feel were left missing from this presentation, and how do you justify adding them?

Tasked with these or other thoughts, your students will direct their attention to important themes rather than trying to decode the entirety of a given presentation for some unknown purpose. Remember, you have seen this video before – but your students likely have not.

Make their time engaged with it as optimized for learning as possible. Remember that what you ask learners to observe for should anticipate what they will need in able to respond appropriately to discussion questions.

Learners should be directed to document their engagement with the media in some form for future reference.

Since we are asking learners to consider certain thoughts or questions while they watch a video, we should also ask them to document their reactions to it. We recommend a directive along the lines of:

“While you watch Shirky’s presentation consider the following thoughts and questions: What assumptions does Shirky depend upon to make his case? Which principles from the textbook readings are being applied here?

“Take notes as you watch so that you will be prepared to use them in your Discussion Forum responses. Try to watch the video and respond in the Forum as soon as you can while your experiences are still fresh.”

Your goal with this prompt is to add anticipation of engagement into the viewing experience, have them document their experiences, and then participate in discussion as soon as possible to activate their recent experiences into long-term memory by using them in a writing activity.

Create interaction that draws from learners’ viewing experiences.

In a Discussion Forum or other interaction, prompt leaners to draw from their notes to support a position, observation, or hypothesis. For example:

“In his video presentation, Shirky claims that the more we share of ourselves online, the greater good can come of it, even if it involves exposure of our personal information.

Suppose your spouse was diagnosed with a serious illness. What ideas in Shirky’s presentation could you use to persuade your spouse – who treasures privacy – to blog about her/his serious illness?

In contrast, what ideas could you use to argue against making your spouse’s illness public? Why would you take this position, given the possibility of contributing to a greater good?

Refer to your viewing notes and other research to support your case.”

Final notes:

There are many ways that a single video resource could be used as a focus of inquiry. However, you would write different prompts for graduate students compared to what you’d write for freshman undergraduates.

To help you with this, Bloom’s Taxonomy may be a useful guide in determining the level of thinking that would be most appropriate in this kind of activity, specifically in the wording and tasks activities.

Consider, too, the character of the learners and the degree of prior knowledge with the subject matter.

In the process of writing the “wrapper” for your video resource, you may find it may not meet your needs. If so, at least you will have a more clear idea for what you will need – either in a different video or by utilizing a different strategy. 

5. Post the video in your course.

Once you have written the “wrapper” for the video, post the video and all of the supporting content into your course.

To do that, you will need to use the Share feature from wherever you are curating your video.

Most videos published online have a Share feature, but not all. When you locate your video, look for a button or link near the video player that will show you its various Share options. There are a few.

Your goal is to locate the Share feature and copy an embed code. You can then paste the embed in a page in your course.

DoNotUseWARNING! DO NOT UPLOAD VIDEO FILES TO MOODLE. If you upload a video file directly into Moodle (like a file upload), it will adversely affect the overall performance of Moodle. Streaming video requires lots of Internet bandwidth to playback cleanly, which affects how responsive Moodle is to other interactions. It is bad idea to stream video from a video file upload.

Embed code, on the other hand, allows your video to playback from the publisher’s media server – not Moodle – even though the video images appear in your course.

videoWHAT IS EMBED CODE? In short, embed code is a chunk of HTML code that “phones home” to the place where a video (or some other sharable media) is located and places it into the user’s web page. Embedding media is a way to present media without actually uploading it.

Where does embed code come from?: Video publishing outlets like YouTube, Vimeo, myBrainshark, SlideShare and other hosts for media content include a button (usually a Share button) next to the video itself that will generate embed code for you.

All you have to is copy the text (PC: CTRL + C, Mac: CMD + C), and then paste it wherever you want to place the video (we’ll get into that later in this post).

Tip: You might want to temporarily paste the embed code into a text document (NOT Microsoft WORD!) until you have the course module or page open to paste it into it.

In the illustration below, you will see how to obtain the embed code from a YouTube video. But you can do the same process with other platforms that include a Share button.

 In YouTube: Follow the steps below by number


In Moodle:


How do I use it?: Embed code is not normal text – it is a combination of HTML and javascript. In order for your embed code to work, go into HTML mode (see above). This will load a panel for you to paste in your embed code (see below).

Once you have pasted the embed code into the panel and clicked Update, you are done, but you might not see the video in your content area yet. To see the video, save the page and view it from the usual course display mode.


What’s the difference between embedding and linking?: When you embed a video, you are literally programming the video to display in the location you want it, such as in your course module or web page.

With linking, the students will click on it and then they will be taken out of the page to the publisher’s website to play the video. There’s nothing wrong with linking to a video, though it is better that the student stays inside their course environment whenever possible.

Remember that the most important consideration in using video in an instructional activity is that it aligns with a Learning Outcome or instructional goal for your course: 

The Learning Outcome/Instructional Goal =>

The “wrapper” you write around the video asset =>

The evidence of learning your students will produce in response to engagement =>

The assessment, based on criteria written in the Learning Outcome


Fleming, M. & Levie, W. H. (Eds.) (1993). Instructional message design: Principles from the behavioral and cognitive sciences (2nd ed.). Englewood Cliffs, NJ: Educational Technology Publications.

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“Recording videos of yourself on a PC” by Steve Covello is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NoDerivatives 4.0 International License.

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