Making teaching videos can be an excellent way of engaging learners. After 15 years of helping educators create video in various forms I’ve learnt that it can also be complicated, infuriating and time-consuming. At a time when you’re already under a lot of pressure, you want to spend what time and energy you have wisely.
There are plenty of websites and YouTube videos giving how-to advice just a Google away so I want to share a few of the lessons I’ve had to learn over the years (sometimes painfully!).
Does it need to be a video?
Could what you are trying to communicate be done more effectively using different media? Producing a few minutes of video can sometimes take hours to write, film, edit and produce. Ask yourself if you could get equally good results from making your job simpler.
Could you record just the audio and turn it into something like a podcast? That has the benefit of being simpler to produce as well as being simpler for learners to access. In a time when getting away from the screen is important, they may thank you!
Here’s a useful set of hints and tips on podcasting from home by Sequoia Carillo at NPR.
Keep it simple
Video technology is great for combining film, audio, graphics, music, sound effects and so on. It’s possible to do too much.
Every new element you try to include will take time to place correctly, edit and mix. Each element is going to make things more complex and add to your time budget.
It is possible to dispense with filming altogether and just rely on a voiceover with simple images or text. Don’t overload the screen and keep the language concise and you can create something reasonably compelling.
Here’s one I did as an intro to a workshop I was running a few years ago… https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=hGQyzsjhosI
Keep it short
…or as short as possible.
Grabbing and holding your audience’s attention is going to be a challenge. The temptation for a lot of teachers is to just create video version of face to face lectures they know work well. But the dynamic between leaner and teacher is different on video.
The longer your video lasts, the more effort you have to put in to holding someone’s attention. And that effort grows exponentially over time!
Having a clear and obvious structure will help you here, as will storytelling tricks of using surprise, mystery, cliff hangers and teases.
But the best advice is to make your own job easier by making your videos as short as possible. Once you’ve written a first draft of a script, think how you could do the same job in half the time. And then edit it some more.
This might seem counter-intuitive for a visual medium, but I’d recommend making sure you can get the best quality audio possible for your video. Poorly captured audio can be very disengaging, even if the picture quality is good.
Here’s an example https://youtu.be/hHEIjukBSq8
Mic yourself as closely as possible. Lapel (lavalier) mics are good. Even the little headphone/mic combination you get with most smartphones nowadays is better than nothing.
Think about your recording environment. You want as little background noise as possible. Traffic, wind, fans etc can be a nightmare. You can try to remove the noise afterwards but that’s time-consuming and difficult to do well.
Also, reduce echo as much as you can. A neat trick is to cover hard surfaces like walls and floors with towels, blankets or duvets. Off camera, of course.
Think about your audience
When will your students be watching your video? What might be going on around them? What sort of device will they be using?
If you are creating videos that are really only effective if someone is sitting in a quiet room with a large screen in front of them, then you are ignoring a lot of constraints that students are experiencing at the moment. If you are unsure, talk to them about it to find out what works best.
The important thing is not to make assumptions.
This can be technically tricky and time consuming, but subtitles benefit everyone, not just those with impaired hearing. It also helps students who are playing a video in something other than their first language or even those who are unable to find a quiet place to watch.
YouTube does a pretty decent job of auto-subtitling as does Microsoft through tools like Teams and Stream.
Transcripts are OK, but subtitles are better.
Watch YouTubers for inspiration
Students will be used to watching online video content so in a sense, this is your competition. But they can also be the most useful sources of inspiration, even the ones with sky-high production values. Watch plenty of other people’s work and you’ll start to pick up loads of ideas.
Here are a few to get you started:
- Up and Atom – Science and mathematics
- Adam Neely – music
- Nahre Sol – music
- Veritasium – Science
- Tom Scott – Digital culture
- Adam Westbrook – History and society
- School of Life – social sciences and philosophy
(This post was originally a guest publication on an internal staff development blog for a UK university)