While animation used to be the purview of professional studios, today software like Vyond makes it easy for those with no animation skills at all. I design and teach an online college-readiness course that includes a wide variety of engaging content; however, students continue to insist that the animated videos help them the most. In addition, animations can have a staying power that other course content simply can’t. Given the unique nature of animated content, I can still use the videos I created six years ago, whereas all other live-action videos and interactive content quickly become outdated and require radical revision over the years. There are just a few steps to follow in making animations for your courses.
If you are looking for places to incorporate more animated content in your course, here are some options:
Text. Do you have a large block of text in your course—text-heavy explanations or long assignment instructions? Transform some of that into animated content. For example, I recently reimagined the “How to Write a College Research Paper” instructions inside our course by creating four short animated videos to communicate key parts of the content: paper titles, introductory paragraphs, body paragraphs, and conclusions. Not only do these embedded animated videos help visually break up the text, but they also give students a whimsical way to learn and experience the information.
Concepts. What complex concept intimidates or confuses your students? An animation can demystify it and make it more approachable. For instance, I introduce students to two different note-taking strategies, both of which can seem a bit overwhelming at first. So, rather than simply providing the texts that explain the note-taking strategies and then creating an assessment so that students can apply these strategies, I made an animated video for each one, introducing the relevance and basics of the strategies so that students understand the big picture before reading the specifics about each strategy in the longer texts.
Awkward or boring content. Is there an awkward topic or boring moment where authentic student engagement seems impossible? An animation can help! For example, academic integrity is crucial in the college setting, yet it is such a difficult topic to tackle in an effective, relevant way. Because of this, I created three different academic misconduct scenario videos and embedded them in an Articulate 360 interactive. After viewing each animation, students respond to a series of questions that help them ascertain why academic integrity is important and how it ultimately isn’t worth it to compromise their integrity. Rather than simply linking to our university’s academic honor code and insisting on its importance, or simply trying to scare students with all the potential consequences for misconduct, we try to invite them into three fictional worlds that help them wrestle with the real-life temptations and implications of cheating in college.
Vyond is a user-friendly, cloud-based video animation tool that makes creating animations fun and simple. You can create animations from scratch (by manually selecting all the characters, props, movements, etc.) on your own, or you can start with one of the program’s ready-to-use templates. Vyond offers a free 14-day trial, and although it costs more than other animation tools, I have found that the level of customization it offers is worth it.
Because Vyond provides such a wide variety of options, it can feel overwhelming to start the animated-building process, especially if you haven’t created one before. I suggest wrestling with these questions before building an animation so that you have a clear purpose and direction when you begin:
As you build the animation, here are some additional tips:
As you can see, creating your own effective, meaningful animated content requires intentionality, but it is possible. As the instructor, you are the expert on both your subject matter and your students, meaning that you are best positioned to develop effective animations for your course.
Inviting students into animated worlds that are simple and substantive is more than an attempt to increase student engagement or promote escapism. Instead, it is an opportunity to stimulate imaginations and allow learning to happen when it happens best: when students are confident, relaxed, safe, and delighted.
Stefanie Buckner, MA, is an instructor of college readiness at The University of Alabama.