online video formats for teaching

The Best Video Formats for Online Teaching

When online faculty or course developers are approached about adding videos to their content, they tend to think of either webcam shots of themselves at their computer or screencasts of themselves reading bullet points to students. But there are a variety of highly effective and easy-to-produce video formats for online education. Here are the different options, along with their best uses and the best technology for creating them.

Webcam
Yes, the webcam shot does have a place in teaching. For one, it is the fastest way to make a video. Just start the webcam, speak to the camera, save the file, and upload it to the course. But the time savings is usually lost by the need to reshoot multiple times due to errors. It is unlikely that you will get through a video much longer than a few minutes without some verbal errors, and it can easily take five to ten shoots before you get a clean version.

For this reason, webcam shots are best used for content that does not need to be flawless. A good example is discussion posts. Instructors can use them to summarize important points in a discussion at the end. The “ums” and other verbal pauses or corrections do not matter. We do not worry about them in live conversation; our audience just listens right through them. So an instructor does not need to worry about them for video discussion. Leaving them in might even better demonstrate that the instructor is speaking from the heart, rather than a script. A good idea is for instructors to include thoughts that have occurred to them as a result of the discussion, demonstrating to students that the instructor is paying attention to their posts and thinking about them. An instructor can also assess discussion, saying that “I thought it went well because . . .” Online instructors rarely provide students with an assessment of a discussion as a whole, instead focusing on individual comments, but talking about it as a whole will help students understand what the instructor is looking for from students. Take a look at this example: https://youtu.be/h7vj8j_gZuQ.

Webcam shots are also good for videos that welcome students to a course. While they do require multiple shoots to get a clean version, the time investment is worth it due to the way that they humanize the instructor to the students and make students feel comfortable expressing themselves. Students should be encouraged to make their own as well. See this example: https://youtu.be/6KfM_JaVJ6E.

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Tools for adding animation to your course.

Simple Animation for Your Courses

Animation is an engaging format for delivering online content. We see it used in TED-Ed presentations, educational documentaries, and elsewhere. It is also much easier to make than many people think. Simple and free, or inexpensive, online systems allow anyone to make animated videos in a variety of formats. The creator chooses from a menu of characters, actions, and backgrounds; adds a narration audio track; and then chooses how the elements will move around a scene. These systems only take a few minutes to learn, and while they will not win you an Oscar, they are perfectly fine for online teaching.

One use of animation is to publicize a course on the faculty member’s webpage. I made one announcing a faculty development course that used two characters talking in a bar about challenges they face in teaching, with one announcing my course as a solution. Yes, it sounds hokey, but it’s an attention grabber that sets the tone of my training as interesting and innovative. We do little to inform students about courses or try to interest them before they sign up. Normally, they just get a brief description in a course catalog or perhaps a syllabus. An animated video will capture students’ attention and get them motivated to take the course. Animated videos can also be used in an online course to introduce a week’s content, what students should do, and what students will get out of each activity. They can also be used to deliver content itself if the instructor prefers not to use other video formats. Take a look at this example of an animation used to deliver a lesson on animal ethics: https://youtu.be/3HAMk_ZYO7g.

Another option is to have students make animations as assessments. I have had students make animations that teach a topic. This is far more engaging to the student than a traditional paper, and students will respond with surprising amounts of creativity. Plus, the videos can be added to the course content itself to educate future students.

Here are some easy to use animation systems for making your own videos.

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How to Implement an Adaptive Learning Program

Adaptive learning is hailed as a means of offering students a personalized education, and thus is being backed by a variety of supporters, including the well-funded Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation. Implementing adaptive learning systems takes time and effort, but with the proper planning any institution can incorporate adaptive learning into its curriculum.

What is adaptive learning?
Adaptive courseware can take many forms, but the basic idea is the same across all platforms: each student receives a customized learning experience tailored to meet his or her needs. The system adapts to student understanding, providing additional explanations, more and different practice problems, topics to challenge students, or remediation as needed.

Good teachers have always done this. If it’s clear that students aren’t getting it, you slow down and find another way to explain the concept. You offer another example, an illustration to help students make sense of the idea, or another way of presenting the problem to help students take the steps necessary to solve it. In an ideal world, teachers would sit next to every student and work one-on-one to ensure understanding. But as educators know, this is not possible at scale.

Cue adaptive courseware. The promise is that this technology will provide that individualized learning experience for each student, and at lower cost than traditional textbooks, too. The reality is not quite so rosy.

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How Can I Align Technology with My Pedagogical Goals? [Transcript]

Many educators have an uneasy alliance with technology. They may be unsure about its value in accomplishing learning goals or how it can enhance the teaching experience. Because technologies are not necessarily designed with the classroom in mind, educators who want to avail themselves of these tools are often challenged on how to integrate them into the course curriculum.

In How Can I Align Technology with My Pedagogical Goals?, Dr. Dave Yearwood, professor at the University of North Dakota, outlines many of the ways that educators can use selected technology tools to drive student performance and engagement.

This transcript will help you:

  • Assess your pedagogical and technological assets and deficiencies
  • Use the results of the assessment to state how you could better support student learning through e-pedagogical practices
  • Use a multimedia approach that emphasizes audio, visual, and experiential learning
  • Adapt—rather than adopt—selected technologies to accomplish learning goals
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Channel Your Inner Avatar and Add Interest to Your Online Content

Have you ever experienced the eerie, but familiar, sensation that your students have not done the required reading and are not prepared for class? We all know that our class sessions would be a lot more enjoyable—for us and for our students—if our students were better prepared for class discussions. After one particularly challenging session, we discovered that while our students spend around 20 hours a week preparing for class, they spend about 10 hours a day using a variety of digital devices, such as smartphones, tablets, PCs, video games, and TVs.

After some contemplation, we decided to embrace our inner avatar! We found CrazyTalk Animator 2, which enabled us to put a face, body, motion, and a voice to the instructor. This program allows users, even those without any coding experience, to create short video clips using a selected avatar and voice. The avatars can run, smile, frown, dance, write, and do a number of other things. Moreover, the user can simply drop the avatar into any PowerPoint presentation to add an additional component of animation to an otherwise lifeless slide. We created the avatars to present short, focused discussions of course topics.

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The Power of the Short: Making the Most of Brief Instructional Videos

When it comes to instructional tools, few can deny the benefits of using videos in the classroom. Since the days of the filmstrip, this medium has been used to supplement classroom instruction. Today’s classrooms are filled with a myriad of images, video clips, and other multimedia resources. Integrating multimedia elements is how we gain students’ attention and engage them in our content. Videos can also improve working memory and learning, especially with focused attention on visual-spatial and pictorial elements (Gyselinck et al., 2000). However, if multimedia content is not used effectively we lose the opportunity to harness this powerful tool.

Many believe that brevity is key to using multimedia elements in the classroom. There are many news outlets espousing that human attention spans are shrinking. While this has yet to be proven in actual research, it does highlight the fact that this perception is prevalent. Think about how this perception pervades our society with short snappy headlines, hashtags, text language, emoticons and other social networking pictures and posts.

Brief videos can not only capture students’ attention, but are also quite effective for learning. Think back to the days of School House Rock. During the 1970s and 1980s, these short, animated films were a staple of the Saturday morning cartoons. The educational influence of these short videos was, and still is, tremendous. Many children learned multiplication, grammar, and even memorized the Preamble to the Constitution through these engaging short films, which live on through a dedicated YouTube channel.

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Characters flying out of a computer screen.

Unbundling the Learning Management System

The Learning Management System (LMS) was developed to allow faculty to create online courses without having to learn HTML. It provided even the least technologically sophisticated faculty member with an opportunity to teach online by centralizing all course functions in one “mothership.”

However, Google proved that you didn’t need a single system to perform all possible functions as long as you had a constellation of different systems—each performing a different function—that worked well together. Sign up for a single Google account and you have access to email, YouTube, Drive, and literally a hundred other apps to perform whatever functions you would like. Not interested in posting videos on YouTube, but would rather do so on Drive? No problem, just use your Drive account and ignore YouTube. It’s a bit like baking with precisely the ingredients you want to use, not what you are given.

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So, What is the Real Problem?

In “Let’s Solve the Right Damn Problem: Intentional Teaching with Technology” we talked about using backward course design to align technology with the course materials and learning activities.

How does this design approach play out in today’s college classroom? Let’s look at “Mary.”

Mary is an advertising instructor who is frustrated with the way her large-enrollment introductory class is going. She has several problems that she doesn’t know how to solve—problems that we all face in our teaching.

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Let’s Solve the Right Damn Problem: Intentional Teaching with Technology

We’ve all experienced failed learning activities, such as painful class sessions, online disasters, or group projects gone wrong.

When we analyze what went wrong, we usually wring our hands and lament the state of college students today, but is it possible that we ourselves are the inadvertent cause of many of these problems? Could our lack of intentional planning be the issue?

Misalignment in our classes can cause many problems. Consider what happens when the wheels of your vehicle are out of alignment. The tires aren’t all pointing in the same direction, making it difficult to steer, causing undue strain and wear, and possibly endangering the safety of those in the car.

The same things can happen when we teach a class that is out of alignment. It’s hard to direct the flow of learning; learning activities and assessments become more burdensome than they need to be; and the safety and well-being of those in the car, so to speak, are unnecessarily put at risk.

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Use It but Don’t Depend on Technology to Teach

This article is not a Luddite’s rejection of digital technology. Even though I feel some intellectual kinship with Swiss philosopher Jean-Jacques Rousseau in regard to how some tools affect people constitutionally, I readily admit that digital technology has made my job as a teacher much easier in a number of ways. Courseware makes it possible for me to share handouts with students without having to make copies. I can post web links for easy in-class access. Using email, I can make important announcements when my students are not in class, and they can contact me with questions about their essays. After my students visit a local science museum, I can have them post their thoughts about the visit to a discussion board, responding both to me and to each other as they ruminate on connections between the museum displays and related content in the course text. In short, for teachers and students—including sometime skeptics like me—digital technology, despite occasional overuse, facilitates interpersonal communication and accessibility to information.

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