The educator's guide to making great videos

Video-making best practices for educators
Molly McCracken
July 28, 2020

Video in the classroom has been on the rise for years.

You might even be surprised to learn that educational videos are viewed twice as often as animal and pet categories.

But, last school year’s sudden shift to remote learning pivoted the role of video from “neat” to “needed” overnight.

From discussions over conference calls to individual student feedback, videos can serve to combine relevant content with emotions, body language, and intent; the aspects of communication we miss out on so often when we’re apart.

Although educators are trained and practiced in facing students each and every day, many of us are not as practiced in front of a camera.

COVID-19 happened, forcing schools to flip to "emergency" remote learning on the flip of a coin. Video became a mission-critical medium to education.

You know the rest. That’s why you’re here.

If you had an experience like most educators, your teachers’ college program didn’t have a video production 101 course.

So, you can consider this your unofficial professional development program on video.

Here, we’ll cover the basics: Getting your device ready, choosing the video style, and setting the scene.

From there, you can choose your own adventure to build your video skills toolkit.

What this guide includes:

Let's get started

Quick-start guide: Making great videos at home

Decide your device

Laptops, tablets, and smartphones all have built-in cameras that can support video-making.

Depending on what your school has equipped you with, all of these tools provide sufficient options for making videos.

You can upgrade your webcam, microphone, and add on additional software, but it’s important to stress: You can still make good videos with the tools that come out of the box on the devices you already have.

Your passion and your knowledge are what will make your videos great.

Not the coolest tool, best webcam, or anything else.

Explore your built-in video tools

MacOS: In your MacOS device, use either the Quicktime app to record a webcam video and edit and trim it right from there. For more, read “How to Record Video on Mac with Webcam & QuickTime

Windows: Use the camera app in Windows 10 and change from photo mode to video mode. For more, read: “How to test and use your webcam in Windows 10, with the Camera app

Chromebook: Open the camera app on your Chromebook and change from photo mode to video mode. For more, read: “How to Take a Video on a Chromebook

iOS device (iPhone or iPad): Make a video and trim and edit it right from the camera app. For more specific tips, watch: “Filming with iPhone: The Complete Guide to Shooting Video like a PRO!

Android device: For more specific tips, watch: “How to Film Professional Videos with an Android Smartphone

Try video-making with all of the devices in your arsenal and see what sticks.

Maybe you will find even want to use multiple devices?

The camera and audio quality will be different, as you can tell from my quick test video below:

Free and low-cost video add-ons

There are thousands (really, thousands) of super cool video tools out there that offer Chrome extensions, easy editing, sharing, and uploading.

You can check out our recommendations for the best video tools for educators here.

Next, select your style

Saying you’re “making a video” is as vague as “teaching a lesson,” there are dozens of ways you can use video as a format.

Here are four of the decisions you have to make before creating a video for your class:

Live vs. pre-recorded videos

Since remote learning began, there has been no shortage of ideas on how to teach with video. There are also dozens of technology companies that focus on ways to make teaching online more effective, engaging, and interactive.

One of the biggest debates has been asynchronous vs. synchronous teaching.

Different districts and schools are looking to require a certain number of hours of synchronous teaching, which can create challenges for educators, students, and families.

To put it simply, there are benefits to using both.

You and your district need to decide what will work best for your students.

Benefits of conducting a lesson live (synchronous learning)

Interactivity: Students can ask a question when they do not understand. You can use tools like Nearpod or Peardeck to engage students throughout the lesson without necessarily speaking up verbally.

Consistency: You can offer lessons live at the same time each day to create a consistent schedule.

Community: Students can feel a sense of community knowing their peers are online at the same time as them. For older students, you may want to turn on video so they can see each other.

Attendance: Live lessons permit you to continue to assess attendance and daily participation in a remote learning environment.

Benefits of sharing a recorded lesson (asynchronous learning)

Accessibility: Students who are sharing devices or have limited internet access will not lag behind their peers if they have to catch up on class later. Students can download a batch of videos for offline viewing if they have limited internet access at home. Plus, you can add your own captions.

Inclusivity: Students are able to learn at their own pace. They can pause and re-play sections multiple times, adjust to listen at a slower speed, or take a break if they’re becoming overwhelmed.

Polish: You can edit your videos if you need to cut things down, re-record sections, or if a family member interrupts you mid-way through.

Efficiency (for multiple classes): If you are teaching more than one class, you can record a lesson that is applicable to future students or students in different sessions rather than broadcasting the same content twice.

Animated vs. live action

When creating educational videos, you might be surprised how easy it is to make an animated video.

Tools like Powtoon and Adobe Spark allow quick and easy animated videos that don’t need to involve you using a camera at all.

For lessons that aren’t particularly visually interesting, take for example a grammar or spelling lesson, consider making animated videos to “bring the lesson to life” in a new and interesting way.

Live-action videos, on the other hand, can capture you (of course!), experiments at home, wildlife, music, and art. Making live-action videos, and inviting them back from your students, is an authentic and meaningful way to connect while at a distance.

Screen recording vs. camera only

Screen recording tools are the 2020 teacher’s best friend.

From commentary over a slide deck, whiteboard, or a student’s work, being able to record your screen can be a quick-and-easy way to pair your voice with visual content. Many tools allow you to switch between a full view of you, of your screen, or screen-splitting between the tool. Find the combination that works for you!.

However, when looking to minimize distractions and engage in meaningful discussions or give detailed feedback, a camera-only recording focuses all attention on the facial expressions and non-verbal queues.

One-on-one vs. one-to-many

In many cases, you may want to make personalized videos for each student.

Perhaps to start the school year off, you’d like to create a special video for each of them rather than a “one-size-fits” all introduction to the class.

While creating one-to-one videos is more time-consuming, it can enable more trust between student and teacher and build a stronger relationship over the course of the year.

Three key times to create one-on-one videos

  • Sharing feedback on a test or assignment
  • Speaking about a sensitive or personal topic
  • Going into more detail to answer a specific question that would not benefit the rest of the class

And finally, practice the basics

Look at your students (look at the camera)

Just like teaching in-person, eye contact is key. Making “eye contact” can help make a video far more compelling. Unfortunately in remote teaching, that often means meeting the “eye” of your webcam.

Although a bit awkward at first, try recording a video while keeping focused on the camera and you’ll see how much stronger the video turns out.

An odd, but useful, tip: If you have class photos of your students, try taping a different student each day, next to the webcam, to remind you to draw your eyes there.

Speak slowly, take pauses

If you were teaching in person, you’d likely pause to check for understanding and be able to get a sense of the room.

Through virtual learning, that’s much more challenging.

Give yourself reminders. Stick a note on your screen “speak slower” or add into your presenter notes to take a pause.

Remove distractions and background noise

Just like you’d “close the classroom door” to cut down on distractions, do the same thing for your videos.

Avoid distracting sounds by silencing your phone and closing the window. Close programs that create distractions on your screen. Install any updates before school starts.

And focus your attention on the task at hand.

Be sure to create a quick test video to hear how your audio sounds before recording your lesson, in case there’s a sound your microphone picks up that your ears have not.

Don’t read a script

If you were teaching a class in person, would you read a script?

If the answer is no, this shouldn’t change when switching to video. Having reference notes, and pausing to check them, is completely okay. We’re all human, after all.

However, you are still starting a conversation with students, even if that might be in a new format.

For more on making your videos look and sound better, read our full-piece on optimizing your at-home production studio.

Make the content engaging 

Just like you'd structure a lesson plan, think about how you'll organize and incorporate video content for the best "return" on learning.

Edutopia recommends five great tips for making effective videos.

Students, on average, begin to tune out of video content after six minutes. So find ways to break content up into chapters, encourage interactivity like quizzes, and encourage text and other visuals.

Now, what do you want to read next?

Molly McCracken

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