Over the past decade, online education has become an increasingly popular option for both educational institutions and students, with about a third of all college students taking at least one online course. Some of the more popular benefits of studying online include learning asynchronous material at your own pace, access to a larger variety of courses, and learning from the comfort and confines of your home.
Recent events stemming from the COVID-19 pandemic have pushed both universities and K-12 schools to move toward online classes, a change that has left many educators struggling with how to best deliver immersive and engaging content and learning experiences online to students. Although links to YouTube videos and online worksheets are valid and can be helpful content for students learning remotely, some of the best online classes also include videos by instructors that truly help personalize the learning experience and specifically address the curriculum and learning objectives.
In my role as the Coordinator for Distance Learning at the Knight Center at the University of Texas at Austin, I have worked on 24 different MOOC (Massive Open Online Courses) Courses in 3 different languages with over 12,000 participants from over 15 different countries. I’ve edited countless videos and seen enough Powerpoints to put a Tony Robbins crowd to sleep. Through coordinating these online courses I have seen a lot of best practices that have had a positive impact on student learning and the quality of the course. Here are six things you can do to create the best instructional video for your students.
Audio is King
Audio quality is perhaps the most crucial element of any online video. People will sit through poor video with decent audio before they will sit through a video with poor audio. Most computers have microphones that are more than sufficient. Where people really go wrong with sound is the environment where they record.
It is important to record in a quiet environment, free of ambient noise, and in a non-echoey location (a carpeted room works best). And although a computer or mobile device microphone will typically produce acceptable sound quality in the right environment, adding a dedicated microphone can help your audio really shine. My recommended setup includes a wireless microphone (Rode RodeLink FM Digital Wireless Filmmaker System) that plugs into my camera (Canon Digital SLR [EOS 80D]) when I have the luxury of filming the instructors myself. Another great option are on-camera microphones that mount onto cameras (Rode VideoMicPro Compact Directional On-Camera Microphone) or plug into cell phones (RODE VideoMic ME-L Directional Microphone for iOS Devices with Lightning Connector).
High Quality Video
Video quality really makes a difference and different cameras produce varying levels of visuals. Unfortunately, the worst quality camera in someone’s house is often the one they use most: the webcam. My first suggestion for instructors when filming a course is to use a digital camera whenever possible. I use a Canon 80D DSLR Camera. This camera is nice because it has both great quality and an audio output and input, which allows me to use a wireless microphone and listen to the audio with headphones while recording or doing a test.
Oftentimes a DSLR camera is not an option for folks, so in this case I recommend using a cell phone camera whenever possible. Most recent mobile phones record in 4K and have excellent video and good sound.
It is best to use a tripod when recording your videos. This is especially helpful for framing your shot, but if you don’t have one, use whatever necessary to position your camera at eye level or higher. Stacking books is something that works well.
Proper Framing of the Shot
I am shocked at how many instructors get this wrong. Use a medium shot whenever possible. A medium is where the subject is in the middle distance, or waist shot permitting some of the background to be seen.
If you are filming on a webcam, phone or video camera, how you position your camera can greatly improve your videos. Make sure that the camera lens sits at or above eye level, no higher than your hairline.
Show Your Face
A Powerpoint without a face or presenter is a presentation that I could have viewed on my own. A class without an instructor doesn’t feel like a class to me and lacks the personalization and touch that the best courses share. It’s important to show your face as the instructor. One of the things I most enjoy about the courses I take online is that I feel like I am in the classroom with the instructor. It’s important for instructors to remember to give eye contact and smile.
A recent Stanford study “showed that participants’ ratings of which video segments they preferred were strongly in favor of showing the face.” It should be noted that there was no evidence to suggest that retention was any better in this study.
One of the easiest ways to video your class is through screencasting, where you simply record your voice and computer screen. Screencasting is really effective when participants are learning a new program or working with online tools. The following tools are great tools to use when Screencasting:
- Quicktime – Quicktime is a free program for Apple computers that allows you to play video or audio files. It also allows you to create screen-recordings. This is very easy to use. Just open the Quicktime application and click New Screen Recording. Make sure you test the audio before you record a class.
- Zoom – The benefit of zoom is that you have the option to appear in your screencapture. In order to do this, simply go to “Host A Meeting With Video On” or choose “Screen Share Only” if you don’t want to appear. Zoom also provides an option to record to the cloud instead of your computer.
- OBS (Open Broadcaster Software) – This is a free and open-source tool for streaming and recording. OBS has many more features and tools, which I personally find more work than both Zoom and Quicktime. It is however a great free alternative for Microsoft Windows owners.
As someone who edits a lot of video, I will say that editing can be time consuming. However, there are a number of simple edits that can dramatically enhance a video’s quality and ultimately provide a better experience for your students. Removing unnecessary elements, such as time you spend finding a webpage or dead air space, greatly improves your videos. Also, with editing programs you can add text and visuals to the screen to emphasize your message and help improve retention.
Here are a few of my favorite video editing programs:
- iMovie – iMovie is a free software that makes video editing easy. Unfortunately it is only available on Apple.
- Premiere Pro – Premiere Pro is an adobe product that allows you to create amazing videos. Another benefit is that it integrates with all other Adobe Apps. This is more complicated than iMovie and Adobe Rush.
- Adobe Rush – Is an all in one video editing tool that works a lot like iMovie, but with a few improved features, such as the text on screen options.
With more and more classes moving online, instructional videos are increasingly becoming the new norm. Don’t let a great lesson plan let you down by not producing an engaging video that clearly communicates your excitement, knowledge, and enthusiasm for the subject to your students. By following these tips, you’ll be able to not only create great content for your class, but possibly for other educators and students around the world.