What’s the Best Way to Create Video?

More and more often I am asked questions about what tools to use for instructor-created video. Sometimes the question is more specific, as in how do I capture what’s on my screen or how do I get video of my class? And while the questions might sound relatively straightforward the answers are sometimes . . . complicated. Why is that? Because there are lots of possibilities depending on what it is you want to achieve.

Focus on the “What” First

The first place to start is not with the gear or the software. In her blog post Preparing Lectures for Large Online Classes author Anastasia Salter touches on some of the challenges she grappled with in converting a face-to-face class into an online class with a cap of 150 students*. Admittedly, some of the challenges here are unique given the size of the class, but there are points to consider, such as using video to deliver lecture materials, that are relevant to converting smaller classes or to preparing flipped class materials.

Video lectures are a common method of sharing content for both online classes and for flipped classes, but it’s important to think about what roles those videos take on, particularly before you invest a lot of time creating them. In this case, the author has identified three major areas that she wants to address with video: unit introductions, demonstrations for effective use of texts, and technology tutorials relevant to the coursework the students will be doing. Lectures? Yes, sort of. Lectures in the traditional sense? No. And that’s not a bad thing. The point is to identify where the use of video is most effective and to keep those videos topic specific.

Image of laptop on desk

How will you tell it?

Even videos as short as a few minutes benefit from having a script or at least an outline of what you want to say. When planning a demonstration video, for example, drafting a script will help solidify in your mind each step of the demonstration and where you might need to pause to highlight a specific procedure or software feature. In addition, preparing a script puts you that much farther ahead in making your video accessible by providing a transcript for closed captions. Once you have your script prepared you can either print it out or use a teleprompter app on a tablet device. Even with a script you’ll want to practice. Do a practice video to make sure you are comfortable with your equipment and recording software and so that you don’t sound like you are reading from a script. Wait . . . what? Yes, do use a script but pretend you are actually talking to someone rather than reading. Another option is to ask someone to act as your “audience” while you record.

“The most awkward part of online teaching is the problem of talking to myself. . . . However, I’ve talked with other faculty who like to ask a friend or relative to sub in for their audience, which can be helpful for having eye contact and someone’s expressions to gauge interest and clarity.” Anastasia Salter

About the Hardware and the Software

Once you’ve sorted out the subject matter and the scripting it’s time to try out some tools. Simple Screencasting Tips by Amy Cavender provides a short list of how-tos that start out by recommending a decent microphone. A decent microphone doesn’t have to cost a fortune, and almost any microphone is going to make you sound better than the internal mic on your computer. If you’re using a video camera to record live action (even if it’s just you talking to a pretend audience) do a screen-test. Some built-in camera mics are better than others, but they don’t work for everyone. Some voices (my own included) just sound better with the extra oomph you’ll get from an external mic. Experiment with loaner equipment (available from InTech) to get a sense of what works for you.

Speaking of cameras, if you are recording yourself or part of your class, consider camera placement. Bring the camera in closer when possible rather than capturing everything from afar. Your viewers will have a more engaging experience if they can clearly see you—think front row seat instead of the view from the balcony. Also, pay attention to lighting. If all you have are too-bright overhead lights, try turning some of them off (if possible) and bringing in a lamp or two to add some softer light to the side. Are there windows in the room you’re using? Great! Natural light can be a good thing, but place your camera so that it’s not facing directly into bright sunlight (i.e. avoid the silhouette effect).

If you are doing a screencast, Camtasia works very well and is available for both Mac and Windows computers. There are editing and annotation tools built in to the Camtasia interface and you can share the finished video in a variety of ways, including directly to Dropbox, Google Drive, or YouTube. You can also save your video to the desktop for uploading to your Ensemble media library.

If you want to start out with something simpler you might want to give Jing or SnagIt  a try. Jing is free web-based software made by the same company as Camtasia (TechSmith) and has a five minute recording limit and just a basic set of screen capture tools. SnagIt (available for Mac and Windows) is also made by TechSmith and offers a 15-day free trial. It has no recording limit but the only editing tools available are for trimming clips. Clips captured with SnagIt can be edited in it’s more powerful sibling, Camtasia, or imported and edited in iMovie (see next paragraph).

Other software tools to check out for editing video include Windows Live Movie Maker and Apple’s iMovie. Both are free applications that provide tools for importing video from a camera or smart phone, adding transitions and titles, splitting and trimming clips, editing audio, and more. Taking the time for just a few simple edits can make a big difference in the quality of your video.

Sharing Your Video

After the work is done you need a way to make your video available. In a pinch you could just copy your video to a USB flash drive and then plug it in to a classroom computer. If you own an iPad and it has enough space you could load your video there, but make sure the classroom you are using has a laptop cable and that you have a VGA adapter for your iPad. YouTube is another option but if you aren’t comfortable with the idea of your video being “out in the wild”, or if there are copyright or privacy concerns, consider contacting the college HelpDesk to request an account on the college’s Ensemble media server. Embed media from your Ensemble library into Blackboard or share via a direct link to individual videos or playlists. Another benefit to using Ensemble is that you can create dropbox links that enable students to upload video assignments directly to your media library.

Build Your Playlist and Your Skills

Creating video content for your class can be a significant investment of time, but once created videos can often be used over and over depending on the subject matter. Keeping videos short and targeted makes it less burdensome to re-do one here and there when you need to. You’ll also find that, like most tasks involving software and hardware, the more you use video creation fools the more comfortable you’ll become with the whole process. And help is only a click away. Sites like TechSmith offer extensive tutorials on the use of their software along with tips and best practices. Find tutorials for other applications (like iMovie) on the college’s Atomic Learning site. Be sure to check out the list below for even more tips and ideas.

Related Reading

Flipping the Classroom (McDaniel News)
Screencasting to Engage Learning
Video: The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly
Flipping the Classroom
59 Tips for Creating Engaging Screencasts

* See the author’s introductory post about preparing for the class where she describes early steps in the development of the course.

Image courtesy of Death to the Stock Photo | Back to Work

Introducing Ensemble Video

Several new systems are available to campus users this semester. Ensemble Video is just one of them and, among other things, it offers a great service to anyone who has juggled DVDs in the classroom. With Ensemble, you can easily stream video clips for class viewing via Blackboard, WordPress, or other web site.

One of my favorite features is the dropbox. Setting up a dropbox generates a link you can share with students or department members for easy uploading to your media library. Dropbox users click the link for an easy-to-follow webpage that walks them through the upload process—users never actually have to log in to Ensemble.

Ensemble handles other types of media as well, including audio and image files. Contact me if you would like to know more about the service or if you would like a media library set up for you or your department.