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Simple Tips for Improving Your Online Videos

Teaching Strategies and Techniques Teaching with Technology

Simple Tips for Improving Your Online Videos

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Videos grab the viewer's attention better than any other form of online education content, and with webcams built into nearly all laptops, and cheap external ones available from any electronics store, a straightforward webcam shot is probably the easiest type of video to make. Plus, our face humanizes us to others and captures the nuance conveyed by voice inflections and facial gestures that are lost in text communication.

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Videos grab the viewer's attention better than any other form of online education content, and with webcams built into nearly all laptops, and cheap external ones available from any electronics store, a straightforward webcam shot is probably the easiest type of video to make. Plus, our face humanizes us to others and captures the nuance conveyed by voice inflections and facial gestures that are lost in text communication. 

Unfortunately, most videos in online education fail to engage the viewer because they violate one or more simple rules. Dann Hurlbert, from Carleton College in Vermont, offers some practical hints about a handy little device that will allow anybody to make highly effective videos on their own computer.

1. Look at the camera. The number one mistake instructors make with webcam videos is speaking to the monitor to read their notes. Because the camera is above the monitor,  the speaker appears to be talking to the viewer's chest, and nobody likes to see others talk to their chest.

Until now, the only alternative has been to speak without notes. But Hurlbert has invented a device called the “Little Prompter,” which solves this problem. This ingenious device attaches to a computer monitor to broadcast a script that can be read while the webcam shoots through the back, just like a professional teleprompter. You load the script onto a cell phone app and then read it while filming.  The camera does not pick up the script, only your face looking at it.

This project is currently in the Kickstarter phase, but you can preorder one for $99, with expected delivery in March 2018. This device will make the job of producing webcam videos much easier, with fewer reshoots. See Hurlbert's website for more information on how to order one: http://kck.st/2jjF2vy.

2. Show enthusiasm. Some instructors have the unfortunate tendency of draining all of the emotion out of their face on camera. Lack of enthusiasm tells your audience that the topic is boring. Instead, you should show enthusiasm by including smiles and other facial gestures and using voice inflections for emphasis. If the topic interests you, express that interest with enthusiasm in the delivery, and the audience will pick up on that enthusiasm.

3. Quick delivery. Another unfortunatetendency among academics is to slow down their cadence in front of a camera, as if their audience is not a native speaker. If you watch the popular channels on YouTube, you will notice that speakers actually talk more quickly than we do in real life. If speeding up seems unnatural, at least avoid slowing down. This change might require some practice, but with conscious effort you will eventually be able to speak as fast, if not faster, on camera than you do in face-to-face conversation.

4. Shorter is better. Another common tendency is for educational videos to go on for too long. We have a limited attention span for watching one topic on a video. A variety of recommended video time limits are floating around. Hurlbert recommends no more than six minutes, which is probably right. 

This does not mean you need to cut your content down for online delivery. It just means you need to break up your videos. Although documentaries can go on for up to two hours, no one scene will last more than a few minutes. If you have 15 minutes of content to deliver, do it in no fewer than three videos, ideally interspersed with questions or some other interaction to engage your viewers and get them to retain the information.

5. Lights and sound. Too often, academics do not pay attention to lights and sound in their recording, and deficiencies in these areas will quickly turn off the viewer. First, make sure plenty of lighting is facing toward you from behind the camera, not from your side or back, which will lead to creepy shadows across your face. Don't mix artificial and natural light; natural light will overwhelm artificial light and bleach out areas of your face. Quality sound is generally not a problem with external webcams, but it can be a problem with the pinhole microphones found on laptops, so it is a good idea to use a headset microphone from a seller like Logitech when shooting with a laptop.

Following these simple rules will have you creating highly engaging educational videos in no time.