Effective Educational Videos: What Can We Learn From MOOCs

Third in a series of blog posts from the iTuro workshops on blended learning. 

This is the longest video (12 minutes) I make the faculty watch in my iTuro workshop. It makes several points which I shall summarize here, together with the time stamps if you want to skim through the video.

  1. Does this need to be a video? [1:41] The point is made that if you don’t have anything to show or you’re not trying to build a relationship, what is this video for? This 2014 intro to the course video by Dr. Charles Severance is for me an example of building a relationship. I was in his first batch of students then, when MOOCs were still new. It always creates a stir when I ask the faculty to make something similar. When I first tried to make videos, I tried to duplicate his setup. If only my office in UP Manila was this nice!

2. Using picture-in-picture of a talking head with powerpoint slides can be confusing. Should I look at the teacher or should I look at the slides? [3:41]

And yet, at my workshops I teach the faculty how to use Screencast-o-matic.com as a way to record screencasts. Why? Because it lets the faculty experience what it’s like to record the video in a familiar manner, with their slide deck. Even so, many of them complained about having a hard time. They realized how hard it is to lecture without any students in the room. They became conscious of their voice, accent and even their appearance. Here’s a tutorial for Screencast-o-matic. I chose this for the workshop as it is online and will work on both PC and Mac. It’s free to use if the video length is less than 15 minutes.

3. Why copy the convention of the lecture into the online space [5:48]. The video makes this point as it shows how common it was to have MOOC videos with the teacher either in front of the lecture hall, the blackboard or with a book case in the background. The argument is that lecturing often involves repetition, which is not effective in a video. Scenography is also underestimated, and that perhaps the video should actually be used to take the student out of the classroom. Here’s a video about geology.

4. The talking head video can still have a role if the speaker is effective [10:28]. The video then goes on to point out that teachers may have to go back to the time of the Greeks and Romans and study authenticity, performance and the art of rhetoric.

Sharing here my awkward 2015 video (part of a video series for HI 201 health informatics, a graduate course in the MS Health Informatics program). I had a hard time recording these videos with the red camera light blinking back at me as I spoke. I’m giving a walk-through of the readings for the week and explaining the output that I expect to my students. I found it hard to look at the camera, draw on the tablet to annotate my slides and at the same time read what I had on my slides. What you see in the background are curtains from my bedroom then. It was too noisy to record downstairs. I distinctly remember being interrupted by a taho vendor and dogs barking. I guess, it still happens but now with Zoom meetings!

Finally, let me share with you this table from Guo et al which provides a good summary on what video characteristics affect student engagements. You can download the pdf here.

What was most striking for me was the finding that "videos produced with a more personal feel could be more engaging than high-fidelity studio recordings." This encouraged me as I didn't have access to a studio. 

Guo et al studied four types of MOOC videos. Because of the pandemic and the university's shift to remote learning, which of these are you planning to make?

As an exit ticket at my iTuro workshop, I require that attendees create a video. Many are able to do so within one hour. Through many takes and retakes of shooting the video, the faculty come to a realization as to what they’re comfortable doing. For those who are uncomfortable with being on cam, I ask them to make a paper slide video. Dr. Lodge McCammon explains in the video below.

It’s even possible to just use sliding white boards. In the video below, Dr. McCammon only has one white board, but in his other videos he has several. And much like clicking to the next slide, he slides away the white board on top to reveal what’s under it. Many people say this is harder because they have to write on the white board but then it also forces the teacher to summarize what he needs to say, as there’s a reasonable limit for the white boards. It’s not like a Powerpoint slide deck where you can keep adding new slides. I’m often asked why I show this example. That’s because it’s a method that requires minimum technology (no editing and no software) and it’s a one-take video. Dr. McCammon just stands up and turns off the camera when he’s done.

If this blog series has helped you in any way or if you have any suggestions as to what worked for you when creating teaching videos, please do reach out to me on Twitter @endocrine_witch. We need all the help we can get for the coming semester.

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