Online Learning 2.0: Using Videos for Online Teaching

We are finally entering an era of online content built specifically for the online environment. Much of this is being drive by MOOCs, which are starting to include quality video content with imagery that is designed to fit the communication principles of the Web. Happily, it is very easy to produce quality video for online courses. The tools are free to cheap, and all that is really needed is a genuine desire to communicate with students. Below are directions for creating videos for online classes.

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All new technologies are initially misused when people apply the old paradigm to the new technology. The much-lauded Stanford and MIT open-course projects began as nothing more than a camera put at the back of an auditorium to record a face-to-face lecture. Not only was the sound quality poor, but student questions were not picked up, and much of the recording was of the instructor giving directions to his or her face-to-face class that did not apply to the online version. But we are finally entering an era of online content built for the online environment. Much of this is being drive by MOOCs, which are starting to include quality video content with imagery that is designed to fit the communication principles of the Web. Happily, it is very easy to produce quality video for online courses. The tools are free to cheap, and all that is really needed is a genuine desire to communicate with students. Below are directions for creating videos for online classes. Format A perfect example of confusing a new technology with an old technology is the use of bullet points in PowerPoint presentations. PowerPoint came along when people were using 3x5 cards for their notes, and they assumed that the imagery was for broadcasting their notes to the audience. But this is wrong. Your notes are for you, not your audience. Bullet points only distract the viewers by sending them the same content in two media—visual and audio. The audience reads the bullet points at one speed, and hears the speaker at another. Look at a good presenter, such as a TED speaker, and instead of bullet points you will find imagery that complements the audio by focusing and enhancing the message. Use your words to communicate, and your imagery to enhance. If your topic is a Napoleonic battle, show a painting of a battle while you describe it. You can easily find something like this at a national art gallery website. Build your video like a documentary, which, after all, has the same fundamental purpose as a lecture—to inform. Be guided by this model, and include the kinds of elements that you would expect to see in a documentary. First and foremost, videos should be designed with an eye toward captivating the viewer. Whether we want to admit it or not, teaching is fundamentally a performance, and a boring performance undermines learning. Always start a video by capturing the audience's attention. One way to get students' attention and motivate them is to explain why the content is relevant. You are teaching the subject for a reason—not because the students need the credits, but because the information has some value for them outside the classroom. So you can start by saying what that value is. You might also start with a question that gets the learner thinking. Ideally, your video should be five to 10 minutes long, since we tend to mentally check out beyond this limit. If the subject merits longer discussion, break it into shorter videos to be viewed in sequence. It's also helpful to give students a viewing guide for jotting down notes as they follow along. This keeps the students actively engaged. You can ask questions along the way that students must answer on the viewing guide, and require them to turn in a copy of the guide afterward. Process Always start by recording the audio, as the audio sets the pacing. Get a decent headset microphone for around $60, not a stand-alone microphone, which produces poor sound quality unless it is of the very expensive variety used by radio broadcasters. Sound quality is important; poor sound quality quickly distracts us and makes it impossible to focus on the message. Audacity (http://audacity.sourceforge.net/download/), a free, open-source audio product, is perfect for recording and editing audio. You will need to decide whether you want to read from a script or use notes. Creating a script ahead of time saves the frustration of having to re-record. However, it is hard to read from a script without sounding like you are reading from a script, which instantly turns learners off. You should sound as though you are speaking to the audience, not the microphone. Whether you use a script or read from notes, try to speak naturally. Use the same voice inflections that you would use with a student in a one-on-one discussion. One trick is to tape an image of an audience just below your monitor and speak to it. This will help remind you that you are speaking to people, not a machine. If you choose to read from your notes, don't stop to re-record the entire segment from the start every time you make a mistake—it will take forever. When you make a mistake, simply pause in order to create a flat line on the audio track. Then restart from the last pause, such as the beginning of a sentence. That way you can easily cut out the early version afterwards, as the flat line will provide a visual cue as to where to edit. Once the audio is done, export the result as an mp3 or wav file, and then add it to a video editor. From here you will simply play the audio track and layer on imagery as you go along. Windows Live Movie Maker comes with the Windows operating system and does an adequate job. While it does not have many editing options and can only export as a WMV file (Microsoft's video format, naturally), the limited options make it simple to use. YouTube has also added a really slick video editor (www.youtube.com/watch?v=A3ypVoN4NVM&feature=youtu.be) that is well worth a look. Simply upload your audio to the editor; then pick images to add. This program even comes attached to a royalty-free library of music and imagery that you can search and drop right into your project. The resulting video can be accessed on YouTube, and it can be made private and linked to your course or downloaded into your LMS. The nice thing about leaving it on YouTube is that students can add comments using YouTube's built-in comment function. WeVideo (www.wevideo.com/) is a fine cloud-based video editor. One advantage is that it has an app that allows you to save videos to your Google Drive account—an excellent way to share any content. Plus, because it is cloud-based, it is good for collaborative editing in group projects and is something you might recommend to students. As for paid programs, Camtasia Studio (www.techsmith.com/camtasia.html) is an excellent screencasting and video editing system from TechSmith, maker of a variety of good audiovisual software systems. The software is quite powerful, with a lot of features that will interest you once you advance beyond the basic stage. It is worth investing in the system if you also plan to record screencasts. Finally, the choice of imagery is important to the effectiveness of the presentation. Bland images are like bland wallpaper—they recede into the background and cause daydreaming. Once again, the goal is to capture the viewer's attention and imagination. Avoid anything that smacks of clip art or those ugly stock images that you see in advertising. Instead, look for images that grab the viewer's attention. For instance, in one presentation in which I was talking about how much of what we communicate comes through nonverbal cues, I showed an image of a young girl giving an absolutely icy, blank stare at the viewer. The girl didn't have to say a word—you knew that she was mad—and people loved the way that image illustrated the point. There are a variety of good places for royalty-free images, including Google's Advanced Image Search (www.google.com/advanced_image_search), which now allows you to filter by copyright permission. Other options are Flickr's The Commons (www.flickr.com/commons), Creative Commons (http://creativecommons.org/), and FreeFoto.com (www.freefoto.com/index.jsp). It's fun to type a term such as “nuance” or “angry” into Google's Advanced Image Search and scan the results until you find that perfect, eye-catching image. Take a look at this example from a class for faculty on how to establish relationships with online students: