Flipped Classroom: tracking student interaction with time-shifted material

*Update 12/10/11 – I’ve given up on using YouTube’s RSS feed due to the time lag. Now I just create a homework post that includes the video AND the response form. My blog RSS updates immediately and then MailChimp scrapes it to send home.

In my experimentation with a time-shifting flipped classroom model, I’ve been building videos for both students and teachers but have been searching for a way to automatically collect data on how much of my intended audience is using the material.

I’m happy with my mid-video interactive self-quizzes: In an attempt to test for comprehension while within content consumption-mode, I’ve been using YouTube annotations to create interactive quizzes and review markers that allow students to self-test for comprehension.

I’m happy with using a Google Form to check for comprehension post-video: Ramsey Musallam taught me to use a post-video survey to collect student responses with material, a quick question and answer check-in that asks students to regurgitate but then synthesize the information they’ve just reviewed.

I’m wasn’t yet happy with figuring out how often my students are accessing content. I can look for number of video views and average time spent on video, but that doesn’t tell me who or when. This desire is complicated by the fact that my students are 10-12 years old, and I don’t want to sign them up for any third-party accounts to receive notifications. My current system relies on YouTube’s hidden RSS feeds, Google Apps for Edu’s email system, and GApps free MailChimp service.

Step 1: YouTube’s hidden RSS feed

With the current YouTube system, to subscribe to a channel or create a personal channel, YouTube asks my students to create their own YouTube account and then link it with their school Google Apps account. I can’t and won’t ask a 10-year-old to create an account, so I need a different solution.

Fortunately, YouTube actually generates a hidden user RSS feed. This isn’t publicized and it isn’t perfect – in my testing it takes up to 6 hours for a new video to be added to the RSS feed.

The feed address is always:

http://www.youtube.com/rss/user/USERNAME/videos.rss, meaning that my TechWithIntent feed is located at:


Step 2: MailChimp & Google Apps for Edu

Once I have the RSS feed, I had to figure out how to get new post updates into my existing student system. I could have used Google Reader, but that would require that students visit the Reader site to check for updates. I want an automated system that would push new content directly to my audience.

If students use Apple Mail or Microsoft Outlook, they can subscribe to the feed and receive updates directly in their email program. My students only use the Gmail interface or IMAP to Mail for iPad, neither of which have an RSS subscription feature.

I took a tip from email marketers and decided to look for a way to send a note to student inboxes when a new video is posted. Within my Google Apps for Edu deployment, I enabled the brilliant and free MailChimp Marketplace Solution.

Step 3: MailChimp & RSS integration

With MailChimp enabled, I authenticate into the service and build a new campaign to send out an email update to my subscriber list when a new video is posted. This allows me to automatically email my students every time there is a new video and track who clicks on the link and how often they do so.


The real test of comprehension is the conversation and project-based learning that occurs in the classroom after students have engaged online content. However, with accurate data on which of my students have clicked through to the new video, in-video self-quizzes with chapter markers for key concepts, and a post-viewing survey, I can get a better understanding of how my students use  the material prior to classroom arrival.

It also allows me to make connections and support students on an individual level. I can keep an eye out for inconsistencies – a student that doesn’t complete the online survey but can speak with understanding in the classroom; a student who doesn’t share at school but expresses themselves at-length online; a student who only accesses content during study hall; a student who can regurgitate information word-by-word but can’t put their learning into open-ended practice, etc.

My current MailChimp integration system isn’t perfect due to the time lag between posting a video and the RSS feed update. To ensure that the assignment email blast goes out on the right day, I typically post the video first thing in the morning, giving YouTube enough time to update the RSS feed. Some students visit the site of their own initiative, and so their clicks aren’t recorded.

However, this solution keeps my student information safe and doesn’t require additional accounts, services, or software for my students or myself. This solution is fully automated once I post a video online, and the combination of click-through rates, average time spent-on-video, and Google Form results create a fairly comprehensive collection of individual and group habits.


If readers have an alternate way of scraping YouTube for new content, I’d love to hear about it in the comments and incorporate into my existing practice.


I just uploaded a test video to Vimeo to compare the time between posting and RSS feed update. If the time lag is significantly less, then this may be a better video sharing option for automation.

3 thoughts on “Flipped Classroom: tracking student interaction with time-shifted material

  1. Jac
    I love this idea. It sounds like a bit of work to set up but the benefits sound great. It really is about making sure all students have an understanding of the concepts. I love that they can go back and watch the videos again and again, and for that matter complete the quiz. I am going to try this with my own classes. Great article.

  2. A great new alternative to scraping RSS feeds is to use ifttt.com (“if this then that”). This lets you wire up a rule in the form of: when something happens (this) then do something else (that). With a few clicks, I was able to set up a new rule that sends an email notification whenever a new video is appears on my youtube account. Looks like the delay is less than 15 minutes. Here it is: http://ifttt.com/tasks/428716

    As for the comprehension checks, I recently created a video Q&A tool that may be quite helpful. Grockit Answers (https://grockit.com/answers) lets you punctuate a YouTube video with time-anchored comprehension questions, and share this page with your students to answer the questions. Here’s an example of this in action: https://grockit.com/r/cf2 . As a teacher, you can create a private page just for your classroom. This lets you moderate the page, get additional insight into participation, etc.

    If you want more info on this, feel free to email me at answers@grockit.com

    1. Thanks for the tips Ari. IFTTT is an incredible tool – one with a ton of uses for educators.

      I can’t get IFTTT to connect directly with Mailchimp, but can use it as an intermediary, interesting case use.

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