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Best Practices for Instructional Videos
When creating an effective instructional video, it is important to avoid the trap of simply recording your lecture. Instructional videos have their own unique set of principles and best practices that differ from face-to-face classroom presentation. The following material is targeted at instructors who have access to simple screen capture and webcam capabilities, and without access to more robust video editing or production materials.
- Before you get started: Preparing materials for video
- Video Production Tips
- Tips for engaging students
Before you get started: Preparing materials for video
Ideal Length of Video
Keep videos around 4 minutes.
Research shows that students generally watch videos for an average of 4 minutes, so if you need a longer amount of time, consider breaking up your material into several shorter videos (Hibbert, 2014). The ideal time frame is between 2 and 5 minutes, after which studies show a significant drop off in views (Hsin & Cigas, 2013; Guo, Kim, & Rubin, 2014).
Avoid “Cognitive Overload”
Don’t present too much information at once.
Many of the suggestions below derive from an awareness of cognitive load theory. Cognitive load is a concept pioneered by Sweller (1988) that argues that people only take in a limited amount of new information presented to them due to the constraints of our working memory. Therefore, media should avoid creating a state of “cognitive overload” in which too much information and visual stimuli are presented too rapidly. A guiding principle in the design of instructional videos is to focus on clarity and conciseness.
Work from a Script
It can provide structure, even if you want to go “off script.”
Even if you plan on speaking extemporaneously, it can help to write a script beforehand so that you have a structure planned for your presentation of the information. Scripts also can cut down on anxiety for those who feel uncomfortable speaking impromptu. Working from a script can also give you a head start on closed captioning, discussed below.
Get away from the bullet points.
Use Beyond Bullet Point design (BBP), pioneered by Cliff Atkinson, for your narrated PowerPoint. Most slides should solely consist of a headline and a large image. (See an example below.) Locate images via searches on Google Images, Flickr, or Creative Commons, or create your own. If you are using images solely for non-profit educational purposes, you generally do not have to worry about copyright issues.
Make sure that you have lots of slides. Try to move on to another slide every minute or two. Do not linger on one image for too long. A quicker pace of images keeps viewers “visually interested” (Atkinson, 2011). Additionally, make sure that you have only one idea per slide (Atkinson, 2011) to avoid “cognitive overload” (Sweller, 1988). Use full-screen images as you verbally convey information that students do not need word-for-word (for example, anecdotes or contextual information). Keep words on the screen to a minimum and verbally supplement the information. Remember that since this is a video, students can replay any section they miss.
Generic Example of a BBP slide:
Image source: Figure 8-3, “Slide Hierarchy Seen in Normal View,” Atkinson, 2011).
For a user-friendly summary of effective PowerPoint design for narrated PowerPoint presentations, see [PDF of (2004). Five ways to reduce PowerPoint overload. PDF file]
Vary the form of media
Students like to see material presented in multiple ways.
Switch among narrated screencasts, voiceover PowerPoints, YouTube videos, and webcam “talking head,” using different forms of media, to enhance visual interest or when you need to demonstrate something (Atkinson, 2011). Research shows that this kind of variation in delivery mode enhances engagement (Guo, Kim, & Rubin, 2014). Keep the video heavy on images and avoid a screen full of words or giant text blocks. Different forms of media, as well as the mixture of audio and video, also trigger the absorption of learning via “offloading” material into multiple channels of student perception (Mayer & Moreno, 2003).
Video Production Tips
What to Wear
Single color, non-black clothing works best.
Avoid stripes and busy patterns or colors that blend into the background (for example, black clothes on a black background). Stick with muted colors as some cameras cannot easily handle bright colors. Avoid clothing with logos that do not relate to UC. If you wear glasses, take care to make sure that a light is not directly reflecting off the surface. Avoid wearing large jewelry or accessories that rattle together, creating background noise. For more tips like this, access the Lynda course “Web Video: Develop your Video Presence” by Rick Allen Lippert; Lippert’s series contains a wealth of information on this topic and others such as vocal delivery and movement. Log on to Lynda via http://www.uc.edu/ucit/getstarted/fac-staff.html or https://kb.uc.edu/KBArticles/Lynda-Landing.aspx
Simple technical tips for enhancing quality of videos.
Use an external microphone such as those built in to headsets. There are cheap headsets available. Even using the earphones with built-in microphone that come free with most smartphones can be better than using the microphone in your computer. The audio will be much crisper, and there will be less ambient noise.
Lighting and Background
Simple tips can improve production values.
When filming yourself, make sure there is adequate lighting. You do not have to have professional lighting. If you have a window in your office, face the window and place your camera in front of it to make use of natural light. Do not have your back to a light or window, as this will obscure your face. If you do not have a window, focus a bright desk light toward your face. Also, pay attention to what is in the background to ensure that it is appropriate. Keep the background simple and not too distracting to avoid “cognitive overload.” Again, referring to Lippert’s Lynda series will be helpful when it comes to production values. Log on to Lynda via http://www.uc.edu/ucit/getstarted/fac-staff.html or https://kb.uc.edu/KBArticles/Lynda-Landing.aspx
Use a teleprompter
Teleprompters can help if you have anxiety about speaking in front of a webcam.
If you feel uncomfortable with impromptu speaking in front of a webcam, consider using a free teleprompter on your computer screen. You simply load your script and set up the speed you want, then start your video. Beware that line of sight can be a challenge when using teleprompters. You can read off an iPad or laptop, but make sure you think about line of sight so that it doesn’t appear that you are looking off into space. Free online teleprompters are plentiful and easy to find. An example can be found here: http://www.freeteleprompter.org/
Obviously if you are doing a screencast or PowerPoint, you can simply read from a script without worrying about using a teleprompter.
Tips for engaging students
Have a “talking head” welcome statement.
Your welcome statement should establish the purpose of the video, the learning outcomes, as well as provide a warm greeting to students. Use a “talking head” format, showing your face via webcam, to establish “social presence” (Garrison, 2017) before moving to a screencast or PowerPoint voiceover. Also, using inclusive language and personal self-disclosure (“We” will do this; “When I first learned” this, “I’ve experienced this myself when,” etc.) enhances social presence. Research has shown that higher levels of social presence in a course correlates with higher student satisfaction, retention of learning, and student motivation (Garrison, 2017). Make sure you use an enthusiastic tone of voice and avoid speaking too slowly (Guo, Kim, & Rubin, 2014).
Incidentally, including a welcome video (that does not include instructional material) can be a great way to begin an online course. For more information on making a welcome video, see https://topr.online.ucf.edu/welcome-message/
Pause and rewind:
Verbally remind students that they can pause the video and rewind.
Take advantage of the asynchronous nature of video. Verbally draw attention to the benefits of video by encouraging students to pause, rewind, and rewatch sections of the video. Doing so is a way to encourage students to have a more active relationship with the video (Chi & Wylie, 2014).
The use of symbols, arrows, circles, and other visual cues can focus attention.
If you have access to more robust video editing software, adding visual cues or signaling such as arrows or circles to point out important elements of the PowerPoint slide can enhance understanding and cut down on cognitive overload (Roberts, 2008).
Add interactive components such as quizzes and surveys:
Tools like Kaltura provide a multimedia environment for quizzing.
Quizzes and surveys can easily be embedded into instructional videos uploaded to Kaltura. Instructions can be found in the Knowledge Base at this link: https://kb.uc.edu/KBArticles/Kaltura-InteractiveQuizzes.aspx
Even better, since Kaltura is integrated into Blackboard, student responses can be embedded into the Blackboard Grade Book. Directions can be found in the Knowledge Base at this link: https://kb.uc.edu/KBArticles/Kaltura-QuizGradebook.aspx
Use guiding questions:
Help students get beyond simple notetaking.
During your video, verbally ask students guiding questions and direct them to answer them on their own or post the answer on Blackboard. For example, you can ask a question such as “How can we apply this theory to a particular situation?” Research shows that students who answer guiding questions in instructional videos retain learning better than students who simply take notes (Lawson, Bodle, & McDonough, 2007). Guiding questions help students understand what the “takeaway” should be, whereas some evidence suggests that simple notetaking may actually distract them from absorbing the video, resulting in retention of only 40% of content (Lawson, Bodle, & McDonough, 2007). However, this is not to say that notetaking is completely ineffective, so do not discourage its use.
Use of Humor
Humor can be a great instructional technique, but use with care.
Researcher Stuart Brown argues that humor induces an atmosphere of playfulness. In neuroscience, Brown notes that clear academic research now determines that “nothing lights up the brain like play” and that a state of play “helps contextual memory to develop” (Brown, 2008). Additionally, Ronald A. Berk notes research that demonstrates that “the cognitive process used to understand a joke is similar to that involved in problem solving” and that, thus, humor can “prime” the brain for problem solving (Berk, 2002). This does not mean that you have to tell jokes per se. You can create an atmosphere of playfulness by telling an engaging story, for example, establishing a sense of lightheartedness (Brown, 2008), or displaying whimsical images as attention grabbers (Burmark, 2011). However, if you are interested in the mechanics of the joke, Berk has written a research-informed book that breaks down various formulas for humor in Humor as an Instructional Defibrillator (2002).
Ultimately, humor should not be random or disconnected from your content (Burmark, 2011). Additionally, it should not go without saying that offensive humor that targets individuals or groups, or that violates rules of propriety, should absolutely be avoided. However, humor can be especially effective in the context of distance learning in that it forms a bond between you and your students that humanizes you, which research shows will result in higher student retention in distance learning classes (Berk, 2002).
Make your video accessible to all viewers:
It’s important, it’s the ethical thing to do, and it’s the law.
If you are tech savvy and have access to robust video editing software, you can produce captions on your own. If not, ASR (Automatic Speech Recognition) captioning is free and highly accurate, and it can be ordered here: https://kb.uc.edu/KBArticles/Kaltura-RequestingCaptions.aspx Although ASR typically requires some final editing, its high accuracy rate means that the final editing is not onerous or time consuming.
For visually impaired students, an audio description should be used. There is currently not a particular vendor who provides these. If you are tech savvy, you can produce the transcription yourself in which you describe the visual elements of the video, which can then be read by a screen reader. If you are not able to do this, or you have any questions, contact the Accessibility Resources Office at http://www.uc.edu/aess/disability.html Additional information can be located at http://www.uc.edu/ucit/community/accessibility.html
Atkinson, C. (2011). Beyond bullet points. (3rd ed.). Microsoft Press.
Atkinson, C. & R.E. Mayer. (2004). Five ways to reduce PowerPoint overload. PDF file. Retrieved from
Berk, R. A. (2002). Humor as an instructional defibrillator: Evidence-based techniques in teaching and assessment. Sterling, VA: Stylus.
Brown, S. (2008, May). Play is more than just fun [Ted Talk video file]. Retrieved from https://www.ted.com/talks/stuart_brown_says_play_is_more_than_fun_it_s_vital#t-1320364
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