Showing videos in your online class

Several faculty have asked us how they can show videos live, in real-time, in their online class being hosted in Zoom, in order to have discussion with students about the videos during class. The videos in question have ranged from those in library online streaming reserves or in library video databases, to videos on YouTube, to videos on Netflix or other streaming services, to clips from physical DVDs.

Technical Considerations

Watching videos together live using Zoom can present some technical challenges, because bandwidth and the technical capabilities of the faculty (and student) computers can be a constraint when trying to screen-share a video in Zoom without choppiness. When screen-sharing, the video is being transmitted from the faculty’s computer, compressed and redistributed through Zoom’s servers and will have quality loss at each retransmission point in this chain. If the video is located on a streaming service to start with, rather than the faculty computer, the quality loss can be even greater, as the video is transmitted to the faculty, prior to the steps mentioned above. Following the process below can mitigate the quality issues to the extent possible (also see this help document):

  • restart your computer, open the Zoom desktop client (rather than the web version), and close all other unnecessary applications,
  • in the Zoom desktop client click Preferences (or Settings) > Video > Advanced, then disable any checkboxes related to hardware acceleration,
  • when screen-sharing, check the boxes “Share computer sound” and “Optimize for video clip,”
  • be sure you (the video sharing host) and ideally also the video viewers have a high-speed connection to the Internet (ideally above 400Mbps download and 800 Mpbs upload speed; you can check your speed here). Use a location on Duke campus if your home internet isn’t sufficient, and connect via Ethernet if at all possible. Ideally use a relatively new computer with a good processor and graphics card for playing the video.

Note that copyright protection on some services and media will prevent the video from being shared with the Zoom application, showing only a blank grey screen. To determine if the video you want to watch has copyright protections, do a test before your class to see if a colleague or TA can see the video. If a video you want to use is copy protected in this way and won’t play, an option is to check with the Library Streaming Reserves or in the library licensed streaming video databases to see if the video can be provided via that service.

Popular Streaming Service Considerations

The suggestions above for watching videos and clips synchronously via Zoom might technically work for videos available via streaming service such as Netflix or Amazon Prime, as long as the video host has a paid account on those services. However, screen sharing videos from these services to others, particularly those without paid accounts on those services, is in violation of the terms of service for those providers, so faculty should not use Zoom to screen share videos from those paid providers.

You may have heard of “watch party” apps, such as Netflix Party and others, which would allow you and your class to login together and watch while discussing a video accessed through a paid streaming service such as Netflix. “Watch party” apps have a technical advantage over Zoom in that the video from the streaming service is directly transmitted from the streaming service to the faculty and students individually, with no quality loss. The app functions just to synchronize play-back for all participants in a “party,” rather than transmitting the video itself. Some of the apps allow concurrent web conferencing with video and audio for discussion; others allow only simultaneous text chat.

However, none of the watch party apps has been reviewed by Duke OIT Security and approved for use by Duke classes; therefore, we don’t recommend their use at this time. In addition, to have a “party” with a video from a streaming service, the party host and all viewers must have paid accounts on the service. If you want to watch a video with your class which is hosted in Netflix, Prime, etc. and don’t want to ask all of your students to get a paid account in that service, contact Library Streaming Reserves to see if the video can be obtained and streamed by the library.

Recommended Solutions

If you find that synchronous watching of your desired video via Zoom won’t work for you, then rather than attempt to watch videos together live, our recommendation is that you use one of these other approaches to meet your learning goals:

  • Require students to watch the video on their own, before a particular live class meeting, and then discuss during the live class (as mentioned above, note that if the video is in a paid streaming service such as Prime or Netflix, students will need to have a paid or free trial account to do this).
  • For shorter video clips, during a live class meeting, post the link to the video in the Zoom chat (or post before class in the course website). Pause the live class for the length of the video, ask students to click the link and watch the video on their own computer while muting their Zoom audio/video feed, then return to the Zoom class meeting to discuss.
  • Have students convene in the live Zoom meeting, each mute their Zoom audio and start playing the video on their own computer at the same time. Use Zoom text chat or other group text chat application for “sidebar” conversations in real-time, as the video plays on each student’s computer.
  • If the video is a long film, consider asking students to start the film at the same time and comment during the screening in Twitter, MS Teams or Zoom chat, and also stop the film at certain points so the class can discuss the section they have just seen in a Zoom meeting.

We hope these suggestions are helpful, but also encourage you to drop by DLI office hours for guidance, or speak to Danette Pachtner, the Librarian for Film, Video & Digital Media for help sourcing videos in the most accessible way for you and your students.

Amy Kenyon

Author: Amy Kenyon

Amy plans, implements and assesses faculty development programs for the improvement of teaching and learning, provides programs and resources designed to increase understanding of the teaching and learning process and manages personnel and other resources in the Teaching Innovation group of Learning Innovation. Her interests are in student-centered course and program design, curriculum mapping, assessment and engaging teaching strategies for student learning.