When online faculty or course developers are approached about adding videos to their content, they tend to think of either webcam shots of themselves at their computer or screencasts of themselves reading bullet points to students. But there are a variety of highly effective and easy-to-produce video formats for online education. Here are the different options, along with their best uses and the best technology for creating them.
Yes, the webcam shot does have a place in teaching. For one, it is the fastest way to make a video. Just start the webcam, speak to the camera, save the file, and upload it to the course. But the time savings is usually lost by the need to reshoot multiple times due to errors. It is unlikely that you will get through a video much longer than a few minutes without some verbal errors, and it can easily take five to ten shoots before you get a clean version.
For this reason, webcam shots are best used for content that does not need to be flawless. A good example is discussion posts. Instructors can use them to summarize important points in a discussion at the end. The “ums” and other verbal pauses or corrections do not matter. We do not worry about them in live conversation; our audience just listens right through them. So an instructor does not need to worry about them for video discussion. Leaving them in might even better demonstrate that the instructor is speaking from the heart, rather than a script. A good idea is for instructors to include thoughts that have occurred to them as a result of the discussion, demonstrating to students that the instructor is paying attention to their posts and thinking about them. An instructor can also assess discussion, saying that “I thought it went well because . . .” Online instructors rarely provide students with an assessment of a discussion as a whole, instead focusing on individual comments, but talking about it as a whole will help students understand what the instructor is looking for from students. Take a look at this example: https://youtu.be/h7vj8j_gZuQ
Webcam shots are also good for videos that welcome students to a course. While they do require multiple shoots to get a clean version, the time investment is worth it due to the way that they humanize the instructor to the students and make students feel comfortable expressing themselves. Students should be encouraged to make their own as well. See this example: https://youtu.be/6KfM_JaVJ6E.
Studio shots are one step up from webcam shots. I use “studio” to include any live action shots with a camera other than a webcam. These can be shot in a studio, office, living room, or elsewhere. Tom Richey makes exceptional history videos from his office. Take a look at this example: https://youtu.be/p4uOPBFHRMA
Studio shots require attention to lighting, audio, and background. Because they take time to make, they are best for persistent content, such as an introduction to a module. Another good use is for an overview of the course that will sit on a public site so that students thinking of taking the course will know what it is about. Colleges tend to give students a description of course topics, but not information on format, expectations, how the content will be delivered, and so on, and these are best covered in an overview video.
A good place to learn the basics of shooting video is Vimeo's Video School, which has over a hundred easy-to-follow tutorials covering all aspects of shooting a live video: https://vimeo.com/videoschoolvideos
Another option is to shoot in a more formal studio using a green screen, which allows instructional designers to put up images, graphics, or even other videos to the side or in the background to illustrate what the speaker is saying. Your institution almost certainly has a green screen studio. If not, it is easy to put up a cheap green screen yourself. Barbara Oakley and Terrence Sejnowski at the University of California, San Diego, made their own studio in a basement and used it to shoot the now-famous videos for their class on Coursera. Take a look at an example of their videos: http://bit.ly/1KnYZIt
. Also take a look at the article on how to shoot green screen videos in the June 2016 issue of Online Classroom
If you would prefer not to appear on camera, the digital storytelling format might be right for you. Digital storytelling combines narration with imagery to create a highly engrossing and effective outcome. The use of striking images can grab the viewer's attention and keep it more effectively than long periods of staring at a webcam face. Take a look at this example from my course on the neurology of learning: https://youtu.be/f_tIrA1ZXhg
One advantage of the digital storytelling format is that you do not feel as much pressure to avoid mistakes because your face is not on camera. You can also easily change the imagery later without the jarring effect of a face's suddenly changing positions, as you can get when editing a live video. The downside is that it can take a while to put together.
Take a look at the article on digital storytelling in the May 2016 issue of Online Classroom
to learn how to make your own video, as well as the article on where to find images for your videos in the December 2017 issue.
Animation sounds like it would require high-level technical skills, but systems like VideoScribe (http://www.videoscribe.co
) and PowToon (https://www.powtoon.com
) make it simple to create an animated video. You simply record the narration, import it and any images you want to use into the online software, and then instruct the software to create a visual that matches the story.
The software uses the image of a hand dragging images onto the canvas as well as writing out the text. The hand can even draw out images that are imported as black-and-white line drawings, which is an eye-catching effect.
The YouTube channel Wireless Philosophy has numerous examples of this method at: https://www.youtube.com/user/WirelessPhilosophy
. One particularly effective video is by Tyler Doggett on the ethics of eating animals: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=3HAMk_ZYO7g
A screencast is a video recording of a computer monitor, along with narration (as opposed to a screen capture,which is picture of the elements on a monitor). This is an excellent method for making tutorials, as it allows the creator to demonstrate processes. If students have trouble using a function in the course, the instructor can record themselves walking through it. Screen casting is also good for providing feedback: the instructor can pull the student's work up on the screen and talk about it, moving text around, circling text, and so on, just as if the student were sitting next to the instructor in an office.
I use Camtasia Studio's screen casting feature because it allows me to edit the results in the same software. This is a paid system costing around $100 for the education version, but it's well worth the investment if you make quite a few videos. A web-based option is Screencast-o-matic, which comes in free and premium versions. The system allows for recording and editing screencasts and even hosting the end video. Learn more about screen casting in the March 2016 issue of Online Classroom
, and how to provide screen casting feedback in the August 2017 issue.
A few more
We have covered the most popular formats for videos in teaching, and creative teachers have gone beyond them. Jack Stamp, a music teacher, used puppets to make an excellent video explaining why music education is important, which can be found at: https://youtu.be/bCDJFhgum9g
. The YouTube channel Vihart shoots an individual's hands manipulating objects on a table to make excellent math videos. See this one on hexeflexigons: https://youtu.be/VIVIegSt81k