John Seely Brown on Tutored Video Instruction

From The Social Life of Information (2000)
by John Seely Brown and Paul Duguid
(p. 221 – 223)


One of the most intriguing social aspects of learning is that, despite the metaphor of apprenticeship, the relationships involved in enculturation are not simply ones of novice and expert. Putting learners in contact with “the best in the field” has definite value. Peers turn out to be, however, an equally important resource.

An early attempt at distance teaching by video revealed this quite unexpectedly. Jim Gibbons, former dean of engineering at Stanford, taught an engineering class to Stanford students and engineers from Hewlett-Packard. When it became impractical for the engineers to attend, Gibbons started recording the class and sending the video to the engineers. The engineers would watch these tapes as a group. At regular intervals they would stop the tape and discuss what Gibbons and the class were talking about, coming to some sort of collective understanding before going on. [24]

To Gibbons’s surprise, the engineers, though they had lower academic credentials coming into the course, consistently outperformed the classroom students when tested on course material. This finding has proved remarkably robust, and other courses using the “TVI” method have had similar comparative success.

Gibbons has been careful to note, however, that the success did not simply result from passing videos to learners. The name TVI stands for tutored video instruction, and the method requires viewers to work as a group and one person from that group to act as tutor, helping the group to help itself. This approach shows, then, that productive learning may indeed rely heavily on face-to-face learning, but the faces involved are not just those of master and apprentice. They include fellow apprentices.

The ability of a group to construct their education collectively like this recalls the way in which groups form and develop around documents, as we noted in chapter 7. Together, members construct and negotiate a shared meaning, bringing the group along collectively rather than individually. In the process, they become what the literary critic Stanley Fish calls a “community of interpretation” working toward a shared understanding of the matter under discussion. [25]

TVI is not an easy answer. As Gibbons and his colleagues argue in one discussion, “The logistics of creating videos, organizing training for small groups, finding and training tutors, etc. can be daunting.” [26] For many individual learners, of course, the logistics of finding a group – which in Gibbons’s approach precedes finding a tutor because the tutor comes from the group – can also be daunting. So colleges and universities play a critical role in providing this sort of access.

Gibbons’s results provide positive evidence for the importance of a cohort for learning. There is interesting negative evidence, too. Studies have shown that people doing course work in isolation, though they may do as well on the tests, find the credentials they receive are less valuable than those of their peers who worked in conventional classroom groups. Employers, the research of Stephen Cameron and James Heckman reveals, discriminate between the two. Those who possess all the information of their peers but lack the social experience of school are not valued as highly. This discrimination has led to what Cameron and Heckman call the “nonequivalence of equivalence diplomas.” [27] It will be important to see on which side of the equivalence divide the degrees of providers who allow students to take their degrees wholly on-line will fall. [28]

In making these distinctions, employers would seem implicitly to distinguish degrees according to the type of access they reflect, access not only to practices and practitioners, but also to peer communities. Stanley Fish once called an essay about communities of interpretation “Is There a Text in this Class?” With distance education, where texts are shipped to individuals, it will become increasingly important to ask, “Is there a class (or community) with this text?” [29]

[26] Gibbons, Pannoni, and Orlin, 1996.

[27] Cameron and Heckman, 1993.

[28] Cammeron and Heckman, 1993; Duke and Marriott, 1973. Much of the difference here can be traced to the socialization that colleges provide. See also Peter Cappelli, 1995

[29] Fish, 1980.

Cameron, Stephen, and James Heckman. 1993. “The Nonequivalence of High School Equivalents.” Journal of Labor Economics II (I): 1-47.

Cappelli, Peter. 1995. “Is the Skills Gap Really about Attitudes?” California Management Review 37 (4): 108-24.

Fish, Stanley. 1980. Is There a Text in This Class? The Authority of Interpretive Communities. Cambridge: Harvard University Press.

Gibbons, Jim, Rob Pannoni, and Joy Orlin. 1996. “Tutored Video Instruction: A Distance Education Methodology that Improves Training Results.” Paper presented at the American Society of Traning and Development International Conference and Exposition, Orlando, FL, June 3, 1996.


Other References Not Included in Social Life of Information

Beshears, Fred

High Tech Small Study Group Saga
by Fred M Beshears

FMB: My efforts to introduce Tutored Video Instruction at UC Berkeley.

Thoughts on the Costs of Flipping Big Lecture Classrooms
by Fred M Beshears

FMB: Compares the Flipped Classroom idea with Tutored Video Instruction.

Gibbons, J.F.

Gibbons, J.F., Kincheloe, W.R., and Down, K.S. Tutored videotape instruction: A new use of electronics media in education. Science 195, 3 (1977), 1139-1146.

Myers, Andrew

Lessons in remote learning from the 1970s: A Q&A with James Gibbons

The former dean of Stanford Engineering looks to experiments he did more than 45 years ago to help answer the question that’s on everyone’s mind: How will online learning work out?

By Andrew Myers
August 14, 2020

FMB: In this article, Andrew Myers interviews J.F. Gibbons. Their discussion provides a history of and update on Tutored Video Instruction.

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