April 6, 2016

Course video trailers: Coming soon to a classroom near you

Posted by Laura Guertin

“Course trailers have become increasingly common at universities across North America, as a strategy for attracting students and for putting a public face to the institutions… Short videos can be shared across social networks to boost student interest and attendance… they have an intimacy that course catalogs and posters lack.”  —  Daniel Gross, “To Attract Students, Professors Produce Hollywood-Style Previews,” The Chronicle of Higher Education, April 6, 2015

Harvard University is doing it. So are Baylor, Berkeley, Boston and Brown Universities. Not long after the launch of YouTube, university course trailers began making an appearance online. Some faculty are embracing the concept, taking advantage of the opportunity to promote their discipline and to encourage a broader audience of students to enroll in their courses. Yet there are other faculty that feel that the pop culture mix is inappropriate, and a student drawn in by a “slick commercial” is not the type of student you necessarily want in your course (comment by JPvonGundling).

Some course trailers are all “flash” and do not present any actual content about the course, such as Centennial College’s summer Calculus II course trailer. Some course trailers will focus on showcasing students, while others emphasize the “fun” that will be had in the course. Here, I share some course trailers I found on YouTube.

This is Carleton University’s first-year Chemistry course trailer.

This course trailer is for a Spring 2012 offering of Pomerening Biology 211, at Indiana University.

This is the course trailer for VISD 2B36: History & Evolution of Typography, at OCAD University.

And here is a course trailer for CS50 at Harvard University, a course focused on an introduction to the intellectual enterprises of computer science and the art of programming.


Screen Shot 2016-04-03 at 8.48.18 PMI like the idea of a course trailer, and I decided to record one for my own summer course. This summer, I’ll be teaching an introductory-level oceanography course online, designed for non-science majors. My purpose for the course trailer was not to generate interest for student enrollment – in fact, online summer courses at my campus fill immediately once registration opens. The challenge I see each year is that students sign up for an online course, not knowing anything about the course, and not realizing how much work they are responsible for in the condensed summer academic time frame. So I generated this video and started emailing it to students once they registered, well before the summer term began so they could adjust their schedules. And I am finding that some students are dropping the course. I can’t guarantee that it is because of this video, but I’m hoping it leads to better prepared students in terms of the course expectations once we get the course started in May. If you are curious, my course video can be viewed in Box.PSU.

Like it or not, online videos are a significant part of our culture – including the academic culture. If you are not ready to jump in and generate a course trailer, you may soon be required to have a “manuscript trailer”, or a video abstract for your next publication (I previously blogged on this topic, Are geoscience journals ready for video abstracts?).

But the following tweet makes an interesting point that would also apply to a course trailer.


Have you generated a course trailer for your STEM course? Please share in the comments field below so we can view more examples.