What Teachers Can Learn From Air New Zealand

If you have flown Air New Zealand recently you will be familiar with their latest air safety video. If you haven’t, watch it here.

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Normally while taxiing to the runway, a bored flight attendant stands in the aisle and mimes a robotic demonstration of seatbelt fastening, and life vest inflation. This scheduled interruption to my reading, is only made tolerable because I can amuse myself looking at the faces of fellow passengers. Very few are really watching. Some, out of a sense of obedience/courtesy, are gazing in the general direction of the hostess – but they are not really watching. They are judging her hair style and guessing her age. Many passengers just ignore her and continue reading.  (I’m sure I don’t need to spell out the similarities between this and some classrooms).

Things are quite different on Air New Zealand flights. There, the cabin crew don’t perform the safety mime. Instead, safety information is delivered as preflight entertainment. The safety video is so creative and well made that passengers really want to watch. It’s far, far more effective than the live demonstration perpetrated on passengers by other airlines. Air New Zealand’s most recent safety video features characters from The Hobbit: elves, orcs, dwarves and wizards. Brilliant! It’s safety demontainment. By putting the safety message into a recording, they have presented it in a style that would be impracticable as a live safety demontration. In doing so, they have made it watch-worthy; memorable.

A second, but equally significant advantage is that the actual, human flight attendants are no longer tied up performing a dehumanised, routine act during those precious pre-flight minutes. Instead, they are able to move freely through the cabin, interating with passengers, asking if they are comfortable, and ensuring their seat belts are fitted and their baggage is stowed safely.

A recorded safety message has not degraded the Air New Zealand passenger experience at all. Quite the contrary, by automating the routine components of a traditional air hostess’ role, and freeing her to focus on the rest, the airline has made passengers’ experience at once more fun and more personal.

I think there is much we as teachers can learn from that. If a concept needs to be explained at all (a matter for a furture blog post), and if you find yourself explaining that same concept, in the same way, over and over, year after year. Maybe it’s better to record it once, really well, and thereafter instead, focus your attention and time in class on the things that can’t be automated because they are interpersonal.

Aside: If you live in Victoria, and are interested in attending a workshop on doing exactly that – recording your best explanations in ways that are more effective than if you presented them live in class –  I have several such workshops coming up.  Each has sufficient numbers to run already (Ie. this is not a sales pitch ;-)).   If you’d like to attend, contact me and I will furnish you with the details.

Less is More: Why audio podcasts are more powerful than video for flipping a class

It’s counterintuitive.

Most of the talk around flipping classrooms assumes the use of video.  That’s understandable.  One would intuitively think that a vodcast or screencast is more effective than a humble audio podcast, but that is not my experience.

I have been flipping my classroom using audio podcasts (see example) since 2005.  Then, as screencasting tools became increasingly user-friendly, I started in 2008 to make e-podcasts and screencasts (see example) – thinking that the visual element would augment the effectiveness of my out-of-class tuition.  I was wrong.

The response my students gave me was quite unanticipated!  Almost unanimously they said that they preferred the audio podcasts!  While this was initially unexpected, their reasons actually make sense, and highlight a fundamental advantage of audio podcasting.

One boy explained that he likes to listen to the podcast while working on the farm on the weekend.  He could no longer do that now that he had to watch the screen.  Another said he likes to listen to the podcast while working out at the gym.  One of the girls said she likes to listen to the podcast while soaking in the bath, another on her morning walk.  Yet another student said she just likes to sit on the bus after a long day at school, shut her eyes and listen – without having to look at anything.

We all have daily activities that preclude us from watching a screen: driving, washing the dishes, walking the dog, shopping or mowing the lawn.  An audio podcast fits perfectly in that space, allowing a student to focus his mind on biology (in my students’ case), while using his hands and eyes for some other mundane chore.  It’s a win-win.  The Podcast makes the chore less boring, while the chore makes the learning feel like a good use of time!

A video on the other hand, can’t be multitasked with anything else.  It competes for time with reading, traditional homework, watching TV and in fact, with most of our other daily activities.

There are of course, some topics that can’t easily be explained in an audio-only podcast (think: calculus, fine art or in my case, genetic pedigree analysis). That’s where video is the right, and only choice.  But in my experience, when there’s an option, audio podcasts have proven more effective and certainly more popular with students.

As an indication of their relative popularity, my weekly 90-minute biology podcast gets more than 1000 downloads per day on average.   Even my most popular 10-minute YouTube screencasts might only get 1000 views per month.

Have others found this too?