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As chemistry teachers, we are aware that many of our students’ parents are not able to help when the students struggle with course material outside of the classroom. While resources like Khan Academy and Bozeman Science provide some support to students, they are not necessarily relevant to the specific content the students are learning in the classroom, nor do they present concepts using the same terminology as the teacher.

Because of these disconnects, we looked for a way to digitally support students that would be (1) helpful and accessible for the students, (2) individualized to the way we deliver the content in our classrooms, (3) reasonable for the teachers to produce, and (4) low cost (but not at the expense of quality). We discovered that short tutorial videos posted on a YouTube channel met all of our criteria.

Goals and uses

Instructional YouTube videos can be adjusted to the students’ needs and the scope of your school’s course content. The need for a video on a specific topic can be identified either at the teacher’s discretion or at the request of a student. These videos can be used for students to get help on their homework, review material before assessments, or make up work when absent. Our AP colleagues have also used this method to flip units due to time constraints before the AP exams, though the methodology of flipping the classroom is not the primary focus of this article.

Figure 1. Sample outline for a video on electron configuration and Bohr models. The video can be viewed on YouTube.


Note: Download the Appendix for instructions on creating a step-by-step tutorial.

Once a topic is identified (either by the teacher or at student request), the teacher develops an outline (or storyboard) for the video. The development of the outline helps the teacher identify the most relevant content to deliver on the topic, guides the teacher through the topic while filming, and also provides a backdrop for the video, which will be made by screencasting the outline. The outline can be made using Microsoft PowerPoint, Google Slides, or any word-processing software. The outlines typically include a brief review of the theory behind the topic, followed by several practice problems. The outline should be printed out and filled in so the teacher can follow along while recording. A sample outline is shown in Figure 1 or can be accessed here.

After the outline is made, the teacher sets up a tablet and screencasting software in preparation to record the video. We use the Wacom Cintiq display, which allows the user to extend the desktop and see the text on the tablet screen; another option is a simpler drawing tablet that allows screen annotation, such as the XP-Pen Star 05 tablet. We have experience using both of these tablets, but other devices with similar capabilities would work as well. We also use either a webcam to capture the presenter’s face or, if advanced functions are required, a document camera to show the students how to use their calculator. The webcam image will be a smaller window within the recording area.

To capture the annotations being made on the screen, any screencasting software can be used. Free versions of screencasting software, like Screencast-O-Matic, allow ample recording time and are easy to use. For unlimited recording time, licenses to full versions of screencasting software such as Camtasia are required. For simple recording, we have used free versions of screencasting software, because we have found that the typical 15-minute recording limit is about the amount of time that students are willing to spend watching any one tutorial video.

Figure 2. Sample outline for a video on electron configuration and Bohr models. The video can be viewed on YouTube.

We publish the videos to a course channel on YouTube. We recommend having an individual channel for each course to keep content organized. For example, we have a “Chemistry” channel for CP Chemistry students, an “Honors Chemistry” channel for Honors Chemistry Students, and a “Physics” channel, since we also teach Physics. Channels are free to create and you can create as many as you would like. Within each channel, the videos are organized into playlists for each unit. This allows the students to easily find the topic they are looking for and watch the sequence of videos that follows the in-class course content. We also recommend disabling comments on the videos. We encourage you to view our demo channel, which incorporates our suggestions.

Once the videos are published to the YouTube channel, students can be alerted in several ways. First, if they have subscribed to the channel using their own YouTube account, they will get a notification that a new video has been posted. Otherwise, the link could be posted to a content-sharing site such as Google Classroom, or sent via email or a texting service. We have also had success creating QR codes for the videos and putting the QR codes on the related homework assignments. While the students are working on their homework, they can scan the QR code with their phone, which will bring them to the relevant YouTube video. A simple web search will provide many options for free QR code generators.

Figure 3. Student responses to the question "How have you used the [YouTube channel] videos?"


To learn how students actually used our channel, we surveyed 39 Honors Chemistry students after our channel had been live for three months. Most reported that they used the videos to study for assessments, which was confirmed by an increased amount of traffic on the channel on the days approaching assessments. They also reported using the videos for homework help and reviewing material presented in class. In addition, a small number of students use the channel to learn material that was covered when they were absent.

In a separate survey, we asked 50 Honors students if they used our YouTube channel videos during both the first and second terms of the school year. We saw a slight rise in the percentage of students who watched the videos in Term 2 compared to Term 1 (from 65% to 69%). We also compared the grades of each Term 2 “new user” with their grade from the preceding term, and saw either a similar performance or an increase in average grade from Term 1 to Term 2. (For a few students, the grade did decline from Term 1 to Term 2, possibly because the second term content is more complex.) Additionally, students have described the videos as a “great source of help if needed out of class” and “very helpful if you don’t understand the [class notes].” Students have also given feedback in person and requested videos on a specific topic or type of problem that they are struggling with. Consequently, our library of videos on the channel will continue to grow. We launched our channel in the spring semester, and began creating content based on where we were in the curriculum at that point; now we are filling in by creating additional videos related to the earlier part of the curriculum. The channel can and should be a dynamic resource for the students, with the content growing every year.

Tips and tricks

  • Partner with a colleague who teaches the same course(s) as you and give them administrator access to your channel so you can “divide and conquer” your content creation!
  • Set a goal to create one video per unit in the first year of content creation, and create videos based on any student requests. If you’re working with a colleague, you could create two videos per unit! The next year, continue building your channel in the same way.
  • If you make a small error while shooting the video, just correct yourself and move on! Being a perfectionist will make the production process take much longer than it is worth.
  • Print out the video outline to help you stay on track while you are recording!
  • Disable the comments on your YouTube video posts.
  • If the idea of posting your videos to YouTube scares you, you could post your videos on a course website (ex. Google Sites) that is private to you and your students. You could also change the privacy settings on your YouTube channel.
  • Once you have the hang of creating videos, it should only take about 45 minutes to produce your video from start (writing the outline) to finish (completed upload)!

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