Video on demand boosts students’ math scores

Short video clips that reinforce key concepts are effective in increasing student achievement, according to a second research project. An earlier study found that video can improve learning in science and social studies. Now, brand-new research shows judiciously selected video clips also can produce statistically significant gains in algebra and geometry scores.

The new study, conducted by independent research firm Cometrika, headed by Franklin J. Boster, a distinguished-faculty-award winner at Michigan State University, was released June 21 during the National Educational Computing Conference (NECC) in New Orleans.

Approximately 2,500 sixth and eighth grade students from four Los Angeles area middle schools participated in the study. Each student was given a pre-test to assess comprehension of specific California state education standards for math, and at the end of the quarter, post-test assessments were given to gauge improvement. Throughout the quarter, teachers assigned to experimental-group classes incorporated approximately 20 standards-based, core-concept video clips into their daily lessons, while teachers in control group classrooms continued with their traditional lessons.

Boster and his team found that sixth-grade students whose teachers showed them video clips during instruction improved an average of five percentage points more than students in the control group during post-testing. Eighth-grade students in Los Angeles improved an average of three percentage points more than students in the control group.

The clips came from the unitedstreaming video-on-demand (VOD) service provided by United Learning, a division of Discovery Education, whose parent company produces the Discovery Channel.

These latest results come as educators are looking for ways to help students meet the rigorous testing requirements of the No Child Left Behind Act (NCLB). To help more schools experience the same kinds of gains, Discovery Education has announced it will offer its unitedstreaming service at no cost to one school in every non-subscribing public school district in the United States during the 2004-2005 school year. School districts already subscribing to the service are not eligible for the introductory program.

From July 1, 2004, through June 30, 2005, the company’s new “VOD Pass” program offers free access for one school building in every new district. According to the company, the service provides access to more than 2,200 full-length videos and 22,000 video clips correlated to individual state education standards.

Educators in the Los Angeles Unified School District (LAUSD) had an inkling of what the study’s outcome might be even before the results were official. Jill Longman, a sixth-grade teacher at LAUSD’s Olive Vista Middle School in Sylmar, Calif., said she wasn’t surprised by the latest study results. She knew the videos were working, she said, by the way her students had responded to them.

“We were feeling the positive effects long before the results came in,” said Longman. “The [students] were telling us it was working.”

In January, the research team approached officials at LAUSD, the nation’s second-largest urban school system (behind New York City), with a proposition: Open your doors to a group of independent researchers for five months, and if you like what you see, Discovery Education will give participating schools free access to its content for one full year.

Aware of favorable results involving science and social studies in a similar study conducted across three rural Virginia school districts in 2002 (see Virginia schools boost student achievement with video on demand“), LAUSD officials signed on to the idea.

For Discovery Education, it meant a chance to achieve, for the second time, what has become the gold standard in the school field: a control-based experiment designed to demonstrate a product’s effectiveness in the classroom, as required by the scientifically based research provision of NCLB.

But for LAUSD officials, the project was risky. If the technology worked as they hoped, it would provide a new tool for educators to use in reaching the district’s 750,000 students–especially the more visual learners, who sometimes struggle to grasp concepts related by educators in classroom lectures. However, if the project failed to show improvement–or worse, if teachers’ use of the technology resulted in a drop in student achievement–school officials would be faced with the prospect of explaining to angry parents why the project was approved in the first place. They decided to let teachers participate on a voluntary basis. In the end, the results proved to be worth the risk.

In an interview with eSchool News, Discovery Education Vice President Jim McColl branded the project a success and said the combination of the two studies is proof that unitedstreaming can be deployed effectively by educators at almost any grade level, across a wide range of disciplines, regardless of rural or urban locales. The company’s program currently is used in approximately 26,000 schools from coast to coast.

In the classroom, educators saw results quickly. At Olive Vista, where two-thirds of the student population speaks English as a second language, Longman used the power of video to highlight mathematical concepts where words sometimes failed.

“Visuals are helpful when language is a barrier, especially for math,” she said.

Olive Vista Principal Jean Whitaker said students were so enthusiastic about the use of the videos that many went home and told their parents about the project. In turn, many parents requested that the videos be demonstrated during community meetings and asked when school officials planned to roll out the service to all students, not just those involved in the study.

As word of the study spread throughout the district, Whitaker said, many teachers and parents began asking for access to the clips. Of course, one problem with any control-based experiment is that educators must agree to offer the solution to some students, while withholding it from others.

To sidestep a potential headache, McColl said, Discovery offered participating schools access to its full video library for one year following the conclusion of the research.

“We hope this will be a really valuable resource that they will continue to use from this point forward,” said McColl, who added that LAUSD’s willingness to participate in the survey was predicated upon the success of the earlier research, researchers’ ability to explain the intricacies of experimental-control design, and a pledge to cut the project short should it have any adverse effect on student achievement.

It also didn’t hurt that the program was easy to introduce. The technology is web-based. Unlike some educational solutions, where cumbersome installations and training programs divert attention from busy school technology staffs, the unitedstreaming model requires no installation and little training, according to Olive Vista Technology Coordinator Robert Benavidez.

Throughout the district, participating teachers underwent a two-day training program to learn how to navigate the site, Benavidez said. Meanwhile, Discovery Education kept representatives on hand to answer any technology questions and to ensure the implementation went as smoothly as possible.

At Olive Vista, officials downloaded more than 100 video clips to a local server and also burned them onto CD-ROMs for participating teachers in the event that the web site went down or teachers ran into traffic problems online. Despite an ongoing construction project at the school, no problems were reported, Benavidez said.

Educators at Olive Vista already have begun planning how to deploy the technology in the upcoming school year. Besides using the application in the classroom, Principal Whitaker said, the school also will offer access to unitedstreaming from a private area in the school library, where students who were absent on a given day can watch the videos to review any concepts they might have missed in class.

“To see the look on a child’s face when they connect with a concept and share in their joy when they truly understand the subject matter is a wonderfully gratifying experience for all of our teachers,” said Whitaker of the technology.

Hoping to replicate those feelings in schools across the country, Discovery Education on June 22 announced the creation of its VOD Pass initiative.

“By providing the unitedstreaming VOD Pass to every non-subscribing public school district, we’re introducing educators across the country to the only video-based learning offering scientifically proven to improve student performance in math, science, and social studies,” Steve Sidel, Executive Vice President for Discovery Education, told eSchool News.

To apply, district instructional technology coordinators can log on to the initiative’s web site at Once eligibility is verified, information and instructions for accessing the unitedstreaming service will be provided via eMail, the company said.


Summary report of study (PDF format)

Los Angeles Unified School District

Olive Vista Middle School

Discovery Communications


eSchool News Staff

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