Dee Schmidgall

Is Video Right For Your Course?

When I’m contacted by faculty who want help creating video for their courses, one of the first things I ask is why they want to make a video. Most of the time it’s to add some instructor presence in an online or hybrid course, but often it’s to replicate a lecture they’ve given in the face-to-face version of the course.

I’m always a bit apprehensive as I tease out the reasons for the request. I don’t want to trespass on the instructor’s prerogative to teach the course as s/he wishes, but I do know that many of the videos I see don’t serve their intended purpose—assuming the purpose is to promote learning or add instructor presence. 

One of the unfortunate truths about videos in online courses is that students almost never watch them from start to finish. Since many students want to do the minimum amount of work necessary to get a desired grade, unless they are given a compelling reason to watch a video in its entirety, they simply won’t do it. 

Students will skip over a video that’s hard to watch or a poor substitute for other modes of learning, which means that a lot of time and effort was spent on making something that’s mostly ignored.

Since no one likes wasting their time making videos that don’t get watched, let’s look at some questions that will help determine whether a video is right for your online course.

What’s my goal in making this video?

Before you start planning your video, it’s helpful to ask yourself what you hope to achieve by using one.

If your objective is to make students feel there’s a real person involved with them, then a quick webcam video introduction of yourself and the course might be just the ticket. There’s some evidence that these informal videos are more engaging than more formal or professional productions. The DIY aesthetic, often coupled with casual dress and direct speaking style, makes faculty seem more approachable. It’s open to debate whether this is ultimately a positive outcome; you may prefer to do a formal video in which you’re dressed professionally and speaking from a podium to reinforce the distinction between teacher and student.

But let’s say you want this video to serve as a learning resource. In this case it’s important to be sure it will help students achieve a clearly defined learning objective, and you’re going to need to do some careful planning. But before you do, you’ll want to ask yourself the next question.  

Is video the right medium to reach my objective?

This isn’t always an easy question to answer. Suppose I want students to be able to identify and describe the elements of the periodic table. It’d be easy to use my PowerPoint slides and notes from my face-to-face classroom and make a video lecture, but would it be the best way for students to meet my learning objective? There’s a lot of research that shows talking over text-dense PowerPoint slides increases cognitive load and decreases learning for students. It’s the redundancy effect. A textbook chapter coupled with a self-assessment quiz and short paper might be better learning resources. 

But if your objective is for students to be able to analyze how elements interact with each other in chemical processes, a video that demonstrated or illustrated those processes could help students meet the learning objective. Students could view a complex process or procedure as often as needed.

Video can facilitate problem-solving, assist with mastery learning, and inspire and engage students. But video isn’t a panacea. Watching a video is a less active learning experience than reading or listening to a lecture and taking notes. Video isn’t easy to scan like text and images. A video won’t magically make poorly designed content into effective learning material. And worked examples as video may be less effective and efficient than worked examples as text and images.

Do I have the resources to make the video?

If you have a laptop or desktop with a webcam and built-in microphone you already have the minimum hardware requirements for a DIY screencast. You could make a decent introduction video just using a smartphone. And if you’re a DePaul instructor you can record and upload video to your course using Panopto, a tool that’s integrated with D2L. Panopto lets you make some basic edits as well.

If your LMS doesn’t provide an integrated tool like Panopto you’ll need some kind of video recording and editing app. There are several free options for Windows and Mac users: Screencast-O-Matic is widely used in education. If you’re a Mac user you have pre-installed recording and editing apps at your disposal—QuickTime Player and iMovie.

But those are just the basic technical tools. Do you have, or can you get, whatever graphics you need to complete the video, like images, video clips, or animations? Especially if you’re planning a video to be part of a learning activity, make sure early in your planning process that you can get the resources you’ll need to realize your goal.

Intro videos usually aren’t as resource-intensive. You probably just need to get your talking points down, pick a spot in your home or office with good lighting and a neutral background, make sure you’re familiar with your tools, then record, edit, and upload your clip. You may need to run through your intro a few times before you have a clip you’re satisfied with, but it’s generally a quick, low-stakes process.

Am I comfortable on camera?

It’s ok if you’re not. Many of us aren’t comfortable in front of a camera, especially if that camera is in a recording studio. Unfortunately, if you’re not at ease being recorded the odds are that your video won’t be watched much.

What to do? The most effective thing to do is to practice. Speaking in front of a camera is a skill that can be learned. And this assumes that you need to be on camera. If your material doesn’t require your visual presence, then let your video focus on the content while you provide narration. 

How will I determine if my video is successful in meeting its objective?

Provided your video is part of a learning activity that has clear learning objectives, the content of the video is aligned with that learning objective, and your assessments measure the degree to which students meet that objective, it should be obvious from student performance whether the video is successful.

How will I incentivize students to watch my video?

Students will watch a video if they know it’s directly related to their grade. Make sure your video is part of a learning activity that will be assessed, that assessments directly relate to content found only in the video, and you’ll have provided incentive to view it carefully.

Another useful way to incentivize students to watch your video is to make passing a post-video quiz a requirement of progressing in your online course. For example, it’s easy in D2L to set up release conditions that lock modules and individual items or activities until a user receives a passing score on a quiz.

One more thing.

Keep your video short. There are always exceptions, but for the most part viewers don’t watch more than 3-4 minutes of faculty-produced introduction or lecture videos. If you must go longer, see if your content can be divided into shorter clips to allow students to engage with smaller segments of new information and manage the pace of its delivery.

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