If you have ever picked up a "How to" leaflet in Bamp;Q, in order to do a spot of DIY, you will know the feeling of frustration when trying to follow the instructions. Whether it's lack of detail, or ambiguity, nothing beats seeing the real thing.
For the past two years at Cumbernauld College, the real thing has been available in video format, with students having access to recordings of practical techniques which they themselves have demonstrated in class, working in pairs as therapists and clients. The videos are shown in class, then made available in the virtual learning environment at college, and via Moodle and MP4 players at home.
The idea was first trialled in beauty therapy, where visual demonstrations are more effective than leaflets. But it has also been used to standardise the way different therapies are taught, as each therapist has her own method of practising. Therapists were consulted to ensure a consensus on techniques used.
In the beauty therapy class, the video plays silently in the background. The girls perform their massages and refer to the screen from time to time. Nineteen-year-old Sharelle Stewart is studying for her HND in beauty therapy. "If you forget something, you can look up to see what order it comes in," she says. "It's also good being able to look at it at home. Leaflets are OK, but it's good to see it getting done as well."
Michelle Madden, 22, also takes advantage of home access. "It's good being able to look at the books and then back it up by looking at the video," she says.
Their lecturer, Margaret Hendry, agrees. "It is good for reinforcing, particularly at home. Some students need more practice, and it gets everyone working at the same rate. Lots of our students are visual and pick things up better this way, rather than reading about it. We have it on in class and they look back and fore to it while practising."
Learning and teaching technologist Colleen Hurren introduced the videos and has done much of the filming. "It is a natural way to learn," she says. "They do get handouts with the movements, but nothing can describe it as well as seeing it being done. You just can't compare it to handouts. We try to make information available to students in as many ways as possible"
Knowing they are being filmed puts the students under pressure to perform to the best of their capabilities, a pressure the college takes advantage of.
"It is a formative assessment in itself," says Ms Hurren. "And using it for peer assessment is another option we might explore in the future. Lots of colleges use videos, but they may not involve students working in them."
The initial video of Swedish massage proved popular and other therapies were added to the list for filming. Ten videos were placed on Moodle initially and the list has grown. As word spreads, the hairdressing department is now keen to get involved. At present, there is no audio aspect to the video. A small bit of text on the screen acts as a reminder, with relaxing, salon-type music as per normal.
Over in the catering department, the idea is working equally well. Vegetable preparation; bread making; the perfect poached egg - all have been the subject of videos in the college.
As lecturer Paul Clark says, it is about taking practice to theory classes: "They can cast their minds back to when we did it in class, but they would need a good memory. This is instant 24-hour access.
"Some students are not the most academic, and reading and writing is not something they are keen on. It is difficult for them. This is like learning without learning. They don't realise they are learning. We have had very positive feedback as it is a form of media they are used to, and I would like to see more of it used, with the students getting involved more."
Ms Hurren agrees. "We are definitely looking at more student involvement, perhaps with them filming instead of me. But even now, they are leaving a legacy for the next group, and they do really concentrate on what they are doing, ensuring they are doing the movement correctly. I can guarantee you they will never forget that movement."
Angela McAfee, deputy head of faculty, says: "We don't want them too dependent. It is a reference for points of clarity. But it is good if a lecturer is off and a different lecturer has to pick up. It provides continuity of learning."
Head of faculty Anne Lynch is convinced that this is the way forward. "Students are so much more aware of technology than they used to be. It helps as a class and as an individual," she says.
"Confidence is improved and the lecturer can give targeted questions. Before, we used to say, `If you're not in class, we can't teach you.' But that has changed.
"It doesn't replace the lecturer but it is a good support."
Skills on Video at the Scottish Learning Festival, September 22, 3.45pm.