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No Child Left Behind: Scientific Research Indicates that Using Video in the Classroom Improves Learning

No Child Left Behind In the world of education, one question raised with more and more frequency is whether the use of video as an instructional tool in the classroom improves learning. Although this issue has always been important to educators, the question takes on an even greater significance as schools grapple with high-stakes assessments and compliance with the No Child Left Behind Act (NCLB).

The No Child Left Behind Act, enacted in 2001, mandates that any educational initiatives funded by federal NCLB dollars must be scientifically proven to increase learning. Currently, these federal funds, a $22-billion-dollar federal program, are distributed to states and local education agencies either through formula fund grants (for example, Title I) or competitive federal grants. In order to qualify for federal NCLB dollars, applicants must demonstrate with "scientifically-based research" that the educational initiative to be funded by the grant improves learning.

Because of this mandate, we have taken this opportunity to compile existing scientific research that demonstrates a link between the use of video as a teaching tool and improved learning. The presentation of this research is a central component of the application process for NCLB funding, in which educators must provide evidence that educational initiatives, or interventions, are proven effective and increase learning. Additionally, as schools and districts continue to grapple with the mandated high-stakes testing and assessments associated with NCLB, it is our assertion (based on the evidence) that the use of video in the classroom improves learning and retention, and therefore will improve test scores.

According to Section 7891(37) of the No Child Left Behind Act, the term "scientifically-based research" is defined as "research that involves the application of rigorous, systematic, and objective procedures to obtain reliable and valid knowledge relevant to education activities and programs." Under the parameters of this legislation, scientifically-based research would include research that:

  • Employs systematic, empirical methods;
  • Involves rigorous data analyses;
  • Relies on measurements or observational methods;
  • Is evaluated using experimental or quasi-experimental designs;
  • Ensures that experimental studies are presented in sufficient detail and clarity to allow for replication; and
  • Has been accepted by a peer-reviewed journal or approved by a panel of independent experts.

Educators have begun to receive additional guidance in how to comply with the NCLB research standards in terms of applying for, allocating, and spending federal NCLB dollars. In a nationwide webcast convened in the fall of 2003, John Bailey, Director of Educational Technology for the U.S. Department of Education, stated that schools should "demonstrate a concerted effort to comply with NCLB by providing some research-based evidence of success." (Murray) Bailey further asserts that, although the Department of Education defines randomized, controlled trials as the "gold standard" of research, they would also take under consideration other research models such as quasi-experiments (otherwise known as comparison group studies) with statistical controls, correlation studies, and the use of case studies. (Murray)

Additionally, the Department of Education's (ED) Institute of Education Sciences published a document in late 2003 entitled "Identifying and Implementing Educational Practices Supported by Rigorous Evidence: A User Friendly Guide." This guide, released on December 10, 2003, has as its purpose the objective of assisting educators in evaluating research studies with the goal of determining whether those studies are supported by rigorous evidence. Additionally, it also points educators to a list of web resources in which they can find evidence-based educational practices and interventions. A copy of the guide is posted on the Department's web site at http://www.ed.gov/about/offices/list/ies/news.html#guide.

To further assist educators in navigating through the rigorous NCLB research standards, the Institute of Education Sciences created the What Works Clearinghouse (WWC). The WWC (www.w-w-c.org), one of the web resources recommended by ED's aforementioned guide, was developed to "provide educators, policymakers, researchers, and the public with a central, independent, and trusted source of scientific evidence of what works in education." According to its web site, the purpose of the WWC is to:

  • Develop standards for reviewing existing research.
  • Produce Evidence Reports, written by a team of researchers, to evaluate existing research and produce final reports about the effectiveness of that research.
  • Communicate the findings of the Evidence Reports by providing access to fully searchable online databases.
  • Create an online registry of individuals and organizations that have conducted research on the effects of certain educational interventions.

In April 2003, the WWC announced seven initial topic areas for evaluating existing research. Among the initial topics areas under evaluation are Beginning Reading, K-12 Math Development, Adult Literacy, and Reducing Delinquent, Disorderly and Violent Behavior. The WWC accepts actual research studies or citations that support any of the initial seven topic areas. This procedure of selecting and announcing topic areas, accepting research, evaluating the research, and posting the results in the form of Evidence Reports is the central purpose of the WWC.

However, to date, the WWC has not published any Evidence Reports or offered other information regarding the educational value of using video or other audiovisual tools in the classroom. Nevertheless, an abundance of research on this subject does exist.

One of the earliest studies done on this topic was a persuasion study commissioned in 1942 and headed by psychologist Carl Hovland. This government study involved the use of a film series entitled "Why We Fight" on new recruits and its impact on soldiers' attitudes and motivation about war, as well as the ability of the films to provide facts and information about the war. The results of the study concluded that "The films had marked effects on the men's knowledge of factual material..." (Hovland)

In fact, the training was so successful that a German Chief of General Staff remarked:

We had everything calculated perfectly except the speed with which the Allies were able to train their people for war. Our major miscalculation was in underestimating their quick and complete mastery of film education. (Rowe)

More recently, there have been numerous studies conducted about the use of multimedia (including film, instructional television, and video) to enhance learning. Dr. James M. Marshall, a member of the Department of Educational Technology at San Diego State University, recently prepared a white paper summarizing these studies, which provide compelling examples of how television and multimedia support and enhance learning.

  • Watching the television program Blue's Clues has strong effects on developing preschool viewers' flexible thinking, problem solving, and prosocial behaviors. (Bryant)
  • Court TV's Choices and Consequences program reduced middle school students' verbal aggression-including tendencies to tease, swear at, and argue with others. (Wilson)
  • Viewing Sesame Street was positively associated with subsequent performance in reading, mathematics, vocabulary, and student readiness. (Wright)
  • A "recontact" study with a sample of 15- to 20-year-olds found that those who had been frequent viewers of Sesame Street at age 5 had significantly better grades in English, science, and mathematics; read more books for pleasure; and had a higher motivation to achieve. (Huston)

Additionally, Marshall also cites a variety of learning-theory studies that have been conducted which help explain why the use of multimedia to present information is so effective in teaching and learning. Three of these educational theories — the Arousal Theory, the Short-Term Gratification Theory, and the Interest Stimulation Theory — specifically address the ability of "entertaining media to engage the learner, activate emotional states, initiate interest in a topic, and allow for absorption and processing of information." (Marshall)

Another well-known theory is Howard Gardner's Multiple Intelligences Theory. In it, Gardner formulates a list of eight intelligences:

  • Logical-Mathematical Intelligence: mathematics and complex reasoning
  • Linguistic Intelligence: the meaning and order of words
  • Spatial Intelligence: ability to perceive the visual world accurately and recreate it on paper
  • Musical Intelligence: understand and create music
  • Bodily-Kinesthetic Intelligence: use of one's body in a skilled way for self-expression or toward a goal
  • Interpersonal Intelligence: understanding of others' moods, desires, and motivation
  • Intrapersonal Intelligence: understanding of one's own emotions
  • Naturalistic: ability to recognize and classify cultural artifacts and items in nature

Based on this, the conclusion is that traditional teaching methods, including lecture and textbook approaches, may only appeal to learners who lean towards a linguistic approach. However, teaching methods that include the use of video and audio will, in effect, "reach more students and provide more opportunities for neural development and learning." (Marshall)

Another excellent source of information regarding how the use of television and video improves instruction is a document produced by the National Educational Telecommunication Association (NETA) Center for Instructional Communications. This document, entitled "Unleashing the Power of Classroom TV: A marketing and advocacy document for the use of classroom television professionals," cites several important studies regarding how the use of technology and multimedia improves instruction. (Barnes).

  • The first study cited was conducted by the Teacher's College at Columbia University and WNET Thirteen's staff. The goal of the study was to determine the impact of Instructional Television (ITV) on students' learning over a six-week period. A summary of the findings concluded the following:
    • ITV students outperformed non-ITV students on tests.
    • ITV students scored higher on writing assignments.
    • ITV students used more figurative language than non-ITV students.
    • ITV students applied more varied and creative approaches to problem solving.
    • ITV students were more active in classroom discussions.
    • ITV students learn better when more ITV is used. (Barnes)
  • In a series of studies conducted by the Children's Television Workshop (CTW) on their series 3-2-1 Contact and Square One TV, the overlying conclusion was that the children involved in the study not only had an improved ability to recall facts and showed improved problem-solving performance, but their overall interest in math and science had increased after exposure to the programming. (Children's)
  • In August 1995, TVOntario published the findings of three teacher surveys regarding the use of instructional television and video in the classroom. The overwhelming majority of the teachers in the survey concluded that the programs:
    • Help students learn new information;
    • Spark student interest;
    • Help students understand concepts;
    • Encourage classroom instruction. (Stern)
  • An independent study examined the impact of The Eddie Files, a series of classroom television programs about mathematics. After viewing episodes from The Eddie Files over a two-month period, the study determined that "students were better able to define concepts covered in the episodes, more likely to give 'correct' answers to content-related questions, and better able to list applications of the curriculum topics which had been addressed." (Skolnik)

The Corporation for Public Broadcasting has also been instrumental in studying and surveying the educational community about the uses of television and video in the K-12 spectrum. Beginning in 1976, they have conducted a series of four studies with teachers and principals in the United States about their use of instructional television, video, and computer technologies. The most recent study, conducted during the 1996-1997 school year, noted that TV and video are highly valued as teaching tools, and that these audiovisual technologies are being used more and more by teachers.

Additionally, teachers overwhelmingly reported "positive student outcomes as a result of using instructional television and video." Specifically of note are the student outcomes in which 85% of the "frequent user" teachers surveyed said that students comprehend and discuss content/ideas presented, 69.1% reported that the use of TV and video increased motivation and enthusiasm for learning, and 66.3% said that students learn more when TV or video is used in the classroom. (Corporation)

Finally, there are three recent studies worth noting that also demonstrate the link between the use of video/television programming and learning. The first study of note was conducted in the 2001-2002 school year utilizing PBS's Between the Lions series. Two communities in Mississippi — the Choctaw Indian Reservation and the town of Indianola — were the focus of the study. Called the "Mississippi Literacy Initiative," it was commissioned by WGBH Boston and Sirius Thinking, Ltd., the producers of Between the Lions, in conjunction with the local public television station Mississippi ETV. Funding for this study was provided by the Public Broadcasting Service and the Corporation for Public Broadcasting through a Ready to Learn grant from the ED.

The study involved almost 1,000 students in three age groups: preschool, kindergarten, and first grade. The results of the project "found that children who watched half-hour episodes of Between the Lions regularly and whose teachers carried out related activities, significantly outperformed control groups on several key reading skills." (Between) Additionally, teachers and administrators noted other un-measurable benefits of the project, including an "unprecedented enthusiasm about learning and reading among their children" and the fact that the students were visibly joyful in learning that they would receive a book of their very own at the end of the project. (Between)

The second study of note involved the use of a health video, "Dynomotion," on K-2 students. The goal of the project was to discover whether the use of a health video in the classroom could be used to promote health in general, as well as improve children's knowledge about physical activity and heart health. The results of the study not only showed a positive impact on the children's attitudes towards physical activity, it also proved that increased learning did occur and concluded that "viewing a short, carefully designed, and innovative videotape increased young children's knowledge and self-efficacy as measured by a questionnaire." (Levin)

The last and final study of note involved the use of a video entitled "Basic Theory and Techniques of Psychodrama" on college undergraduates. Almost 100 college freshman participated in the study. They were broken down into four groups: Group 1 watched the video presentation of an actual psychodrama combined with narration, Group 2 watched the video presentation without the narration, Group 3 received only written information about the concept of psychodrama, and Group 4 received no video presentation or written instruction. Afterwards, each group was given a multiple-choice test designed to measure their knowledge of psychodrama theory and techniques. The results of the study showed that the group trained with the video and the narration performed better on the multiple-choice test than any of the other experimental groups. (Bashman)

The evidence is in, and the research supports what most of us in education have known intuitively all along. Not only does the use of video as part of a lesson plan help students understand concepts and retain information, but it also has the effect of increasing the students' enthusiasm about the information presented to them and causes them to become more motivated to learn. Video's ability to provide a unique learning experience, one which will engage the student in ways beyond traditional textbook and lecture, is at the heart of the scientific research that demonstrates that the use of video in the classroom improves learning, retention and test scores.

Note: For more information about maximizing the effectiveness of using video in the classroom, see the article, Using Video in the Classroom.


Department of Education: www.ed.gov
No Child Left Behind Act, desktop reference: http://www.ed.gov/admins/lead/account/nclbreference/index.html
No Child Left Behind: www.nochildleftbehind.gov
What Works Clearinghouse: www.w-w-c.org


Barnes, Brandon. ed. "Unleashing the Power of Classroom TV: A Marketing and Advocacy Document for the Use of Classroom Television Professionals." KERA/KDTN — Dallas, Texas, October 1997.

Bashman, Janice Gable, and Thomas W. "Assessing the Effectiveness of a Psychodrama Training Video." Journal of Group Psychotherapy, Psychodrama & Sociometry, 48, No. 2 (Summer 95).

Between the Lions Mississippi Literacy Initiative. Project Overview and Research Findings. http://pbskids.org/lions/about/mississippi.html

Bryant, J., L. Mulliken, J. McCollum, L. Ralastin, A. Raney, D. Miron, S. Thompson, Y. Stuart, N. Mundorf, J. Mundorf, B. Wilson, and S. Smith. "Effects of One Year's Viewing of Blue's Clues". (Tuscaloosa, AL: Institute for Communication Research, The University of Alabama, 1998), quoted in James M. Marshall, "Learning With Technology: Evidence That Technology Can, and Does, Support Learning" (May 2002).

Children's Television Workshop. The Power of Television to Educate. April 1990.

Corporation for Public Broadcasting. Study of School Uses of Television and Video, 1996-1997 School Year, Summary Report.

Hovland, Carl I., Arthur A. Lumsdaine, and Fred D. Shefield. Experiments in Mass Communication. Vol. 3, Studies in the Social Psychology in World War II, American Soldier Series (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1949), 254.

Huston, A.C., D.R. Anderson, J.C. Wright, D.L. Linebarger, and K.L. Schmitt. "Sesame Street Viewers as Adolescents: The Recontact Study." Chap. 8 in "G" Is for Growing: Thirty Years of Research on Children and Sesame Street, ed. S.M. Fisch and R.T. Truglio (Hillsdale, NJ: Erlbaum, 2001), 131-143, quoted in James M. Marshall, "Learning With Technology: Evidence That Technology Can, and Does, Support Learning" (May 2002).

Levin, S., M.W. Martin, T.L. McKenzie, A.C. DeLouise. "Assessment of a Pilot Video's Effect on Physical Activity and Heart Health for Young Children." Family & Community Health, 25, no. 3 (October 2002).

Marshall, James M, Ph.D., "Learning With Technology. Evidence That Technology Can, and Does, Support Learning." A white paper prepared for Cable in the Classroom. May 2002. http://www.medialit.org/reading_room/pdf/545_CICReportLearningwithTechnology.pdf

Murray, Corey. "Webcast Probes Meaning of 'Scientifically-Based Research.'" eSchoolNewsonline. October 22, 2002.

Rowe, Allen A. "Interactive Language..." CALICO Journal, 2, no. 3: 45.

Skolnik, Raquel. FASE Sr. Research Associate. FASE Research Report &emdash; Classroom Television: A Useful Resource for Mathematics and Science Education. Evaluation of THE EDDIE FILES. 1996.

Stern, Janet. Television and Video in the Classroom: A review of survey findings. TVONTARIO & The Ontario Educational Communications Authority, August 1995

Wilson, B.J., D. Linz, J. Federman, S. Smith, B. Paul, A. Nathanson, E. Donnerstein, and R. Lingsweiler. "The Choices and Consequences Evaluation: A Study of Court TV's Anti-Violence Curriculum" (Santa Barbara; University of California, Santa Barbara, Center for Communication and Social Policy, 1999), quoted in James M. Marshall, "Learning With Technology: Evidence That Technology Can, and Does, Support Learning" (May 2002).

Wright, J.C., A.C. Huston, and J. Kotler. "The Early Window Project: Sesame Street Prepares Children for School." Chap. 6 in "G" Is for Growing: Thirty Years of Research on Children and Sesame Street, ed. S.M. Fisch and R.T. Truglio (Hillsdale, NJ: Erlbaum, 2001), 97-114, quoted in James M. Marshall, "Learning With Technology: Evidence That Technology Can, and Does, Support Learning" (May 2002).