Sharon Guan

Create a Trailer … for Your Course…by Yourself

An intro, to let students know what will happen in the class; a highlight, to capture the meaning of the subject; a heads-up, on what to expect; and maybe, a rationale, for the format in which the course is delivered.

To accomplish all of these in a quick and engaging way takes more than a syllabus or a course homepage. It requires condensing the course description and combining the presentation with multimedia or special effects…like a movie trailer.

According to a report by the Chronical of Higher Education, course trailers have become increasingly popular with the growing use of social media. The report cited Harvard University as an early adopter of course trailers because students there spend the first week of the semester “shopping” for courses they may want to take. So course trailers are a big help for boosting student interest and attendance.

Here is a course trailer for CS50 at Harvard University, a course that focuses on an introduction to the intellectual enterprises of computer science and the art of programming:

Even if it is very short, creating a course trailer can be very time consuming. Depending on the quality, creating a one-minute video could take a day or a year and the cost can go as high as a million for a Hollywood style video…or as low as nothing if you choose to create one by yourself with free tools like Moovly.

Moovly is a video production tool that allows amateurs to create animated videos by themselves. I found Moovly purely by accident: one day I was browsing a news site and there popped out a sidebar ad that says something like “a secret that the plastic surgeons don’t want you to know…” –yes, the type of ad with sensational image and striking call-out that you found annoying but subconsciously drive the mouse over before any of your critical thinking skills kicks in.

My click brought up a video: a hand sketching a cartoon right in front of me with high-speed voice-over that matches the motion of drawing. Something like this:


While the sale pitch wasn’t able to win me over, the method used in this commercial intrigued me: how powerful it is to tell a story by drawing it down live! Can this be used for teaching and learning?

The impact of drawing on the result of learning seems obvious. I still remember the map of Europe that my middle school geography teacher drew on the blackboard, right in front of us, without looking at the textbook. A new framework for using drawing to promote model-based reasoning in biology was published in the journal of Life Science Education. In the 2016 AERA Conference, a research paper concluded that drawing a diagram by hand may improve learning by taking advantage of the principles of multimedia learning. As shown in the picture below, the video that captured the instructor’s hand – vs her whole body or without either body or hand – resulted in better learning.


The researchers pointed out that, by serving as an important social cue that motivates students to make sense of the material, the instructor’s hand may offer a unique motivational benefit associated with learning.

So, where to find a drawing hand, the cartoons, and the hand-written-style of text? A Google search led me to Moovly. I will let Moovly explain itself – through its own build-in drawing hand:

I decided to give it a try by converting a PowerPoint presentation into a Moovly video. Since I already have the slides, I can skip the step of storyboarding and go directly to the most important task – which is to trim them! All the examples I have seen and the small production canvas on the screen for Moovly have all taught me that a Moovly has to be short and sweet, which means cutting out all of the non-essential content, including texts and graphics, and adding visuals and animations to the essentials.

Since the voiceover has to be in sync with high speed display of visuals, I had to revise my script to make it match the timing of the amination effects. For example, my explanation of course production time was changed from

As I’ve mentioned during our first face-to-face meeting of DOTS training, it is stated in your DOTS agreement that you need to budget two terms to design and develop an online or hybrid course; it is very important for you to remember that


“Remember, it takes two terms to do it!

After removing all of the wordy greetings, speech disfluencies, and the Ujjayi breath I took between sentences, my 20-minutes presentation to wrap up DePaul Online Teaching Series (DOTS) training is transformed into a 3 minutes and 57 seconds Moovly video:

Other than the “how-are-you”s, and the “mmm”s and “ahh”s, the audience hasn’t missed a thing. For our DOTS program, this is a wrapper of one phase of learning and a trailer to introduce the next.

Whether you like it or not, online video has become a significant part of our life. Students are growing up with YouTube; they will bring that expectation into the academic world: show me the video! So, be prepared: course video trailers are coming soon to the classroom near you. Or jump in and become a trailer maker yourself!

Sharon Guan

About Sharon Guan

Sharon Guan is the Assistant Vice President of Faculty Instructional Technology Services (FITS). She has been working in the field of instructional technology for nearly 20 years. Her undergraduate major is international journalism and she has an M.A. and a Ph.D. in educational technology from Indiana State University. She has conducted research on interpersonal needs and communication preferences among distance learners (dissertation, 2000), problem-based learning, online collaboration, language instruction, interactive course design, and faculty development strategies. She also teaches Chinese at the Modern Language Department of DePaul, which allows her to practice what she preaches in terms of using technology and techniques to enhance teaching and learning.

One thought on “Create a Trailer … for Your Course…by Yourself

  1. I was planning to make a course trailer for one of my courses for the fall semester. I saw a few examples on YouTube and then I came across this post. Thank you so much. It has given me an idea of how to do my own as well as teach my ed tech students the same.

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