Video Killed the Radio Star Text-based Instructional Methods

Teacher records themselves on video with smartphone and additional technology

The challenges presented by the coronavirus pandemic have exposed a number of ways in which higher education has lagged behind the rest of society and forced a rapid evolution in instructional strategies. We have seen a “regression to the mean” in many respects, but the increased demand for online instruction (and access to online materials even in traditional courses) should have us thinking about how we can make the best use of the technology available in our classes. One avenue that offers a great payoff in cost vs. reward is creating original video content. Creating your own video content is simpler than you might think and has enormous potential to enhance your connection with students, improve your sense of presence in the classroom, and make your learning materials more accessible for students.

Why should I incorporate video into my instructional strategy?

While there are a multitude of reasons to use video in your classes, three of the most significant benefits are familiarity, accessibility, and connection. First, students have great familiarity with the medium of video. Creating and utilizing video allows you to connect with students using a technology that is already familiar to them.

Video also offers the advantage of accessibility because your students will be able to access your videos at the time and via the technology that works best for them. One student might like to watch your lecture on their phone while they take the bus home from work at 2:00 AM. Another may prefer to watch on their laptop while they eat breakfast. Asynchronous video provides the flexibility and mobility for students to access the material in the way that best suits their learning needs.

Finally, using video has the potential to significantly enhance your connection with students. It can get pretty lonely out there, especially for students in classes that are primarily virtual and/or asynchronous. Seeing your face and hearing your voice (even in a pre-recorded announcement or lecture video) provides an important reminder that there is a real person on the other end of that course. You’ll be astounded at the sense of engagement and connection that it can foster!

Won’t I need a lot of expensive gear?

The short answer is, “No.” Of course there are all kinds of fancy tools and toys that you can use in creating videos. In truth, though, the gear that you need to get started is likely already laying around your home or office.

There is a good chance that you can cash in on the benefits discussed (familiarity, accessibility, and connection) with what you already have on hand and what you can get for free. If you are teaching online then you likely already have a smart phone, tablet, laptop, or desktop computer with an integrated camera and microphone. It won’t be fancy but you can get the ball rolling with just those things. You can step up your game by using a video/screen capture software like Screencast-O-Matic to record both yourself and your lecture slides. Many of these software programs have a “free” version with stripped down options that will still offer plenty for beginning creators.

After a while, you may decide that you want to invest a little money to increase the production value of your videos without completely breaking the bank. For less than $150, you can put together a solid equipment package that will make a noticeable difference in the final product. My personal “every day” production setup consists of a Samson Q2U microphone ( about $60), a Mee CL8S webcam (about $60), and an annual subscription to the deluxe version of Screencast-O-Matic (about $20/year). This small investment has had a big payoff in the quality of production values and ease of creation for my own videos.

You could also take the “go big or go home” approach and spend a couple thousand dollars on a studio-quality mic, a mirrorless camera, and the Adobe Creative Suite. Your videos would no doubt be amazing! However, it is important to factor in all of the costs involved in that kind of operation. You will need an isolated space in which to record, expertise in the various complicated systems in use, and a greater time commitment to prepare, record, and edit videos at this level. You may get bitten by the production bug and decide to take the plunge, but I would encourage you to start smaller and see where it leads.

Okay, I’ll give it a shot. What else should I keep in mind?

Creating effective instructional content video has a lot in common with algebra; there are a lot of variables. You have to account for what works best for your student population, your discipline, and your own personality and instructional style. Not everything related to creating videos should be seen as universal. Having said that, here are a few general tips with broad application:

Keep it short – We live in an age of snippets, not lengthy lectures. Try to keep your videos in the five-minute range. You may need to “chunk” out longer lectures into smaller pieces to make the content more manageable for students.
Be visible – This is no time to be camera shy! Being on-screen is a big part of establishing connection with your students. You don’t need to be a Hollywood superstar. You just need to be seen so that they know you are real.
Know your purpose – Is this a lecture or a tutorial? Are you breaking down a complex theory or concept? Or is this a more practical “how to” oriented explainer? The style and organization of the video should match the overall purpose.
Bring the energy – Presumably you are passionate about the topic of your video, so let your enthusiasm come through! Also, keep in mind that the process of traveling through the ether causes a 27% diminishment of energy in your video. Okay, that’s not a real statistic, but you do need to give a little extra on the front end to keep the enthusiasm at an effective level for the end viewer!

Got it. So what now?

Now comes the simplest (and also the most difficult) part of the entire journey—getting started. It is very common for faculty to hesitate, procrastinate, and come up with every reason in the book to not make a video. My advice here is simple: Just start. Don’t over think it, don’t over plan it, and don’t over stress it. Just start!

Here are two challenges to get you moving:

Mission ImPossible #1: Create a unit announcement video

  • Use only equipment that you have on hand right now.
  • Follow the “best practices” discussed in this article.
  • Set a three-minute maximum time limit for the final product.
  • Gather feedback from students, colleagues, and random passerby to know what worked and where you can improve.

Mission ImPossible #2: Create a content video

  • Focus on just one concept or theory.
  • Use only equipment that you have on hand right now.
  • Follow the “best practices” discussed in this article.
  • Set a 5-minute maximum time limit for the final product.
  • Gather feedback from students, colleagues, and random passerby to know what worked and where you can improve.

With more than 15 years as a faculty member and administrator in higher education, Josh Rockey serves as lead faculty for online communication courses at Colorado Technical University. The use of video and other new media technologies has been a hallmark of Rockey’s teaching strategy throughout his career. His instructional videos for communicators are used by schools across the nation and have more than 600,000 views on YouTube. In addition to educational videos, Josh has produced, edited, and provided voice talent on projects ranging from audiobooks and commercials to walking tours and event emceeing.