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8 Tips for More Professional Education Videos

Want to improve your course videos? A video producer at Miami University shares her expert advice.

laptop with movie clapper

Let 2020 be the year you master the art of the video. It'll help you come across as more professional in your courses and will keep your students better engaged with the learning.

In a session at last fall's OLC Accelerate conference, Rachel Valerio, who serves as an elearning video producer at Miami University in Ohio, shared her techniques for making education videos "look and sound professional." Here are eight tips this former PBS producer and production manager discussed with attendees.

1) Pay Attention to Your Audio

As Valerio noted, "if you can't hear what someone is saying, you won't stay." For that reason, she advised the use of an external microphone. Reliable ones range in price from $50 (for the Blue Snowball, a USB mic) up to $600 (for a wireless Sennheiser professional lavalier mic).

Also, eliminate background noises, "like the dishwasher running in the background." If you're wondering whether there's anything going on that you're not aware of, she said, "listen to the video in another space to identify possible loud noises," including people talking, the air conditioner coming on or ambient music you stopped hearing a long time ago.

And finally, use closed captioning. That way, nobody has to wonder what you said. A great starting point for getting captions is to upload your video to YouTube (you don't have to share it publicly) — the software will add machine-generated captions to your video. "Depending on the accent and audio quality, it'll be fairly high quality," Valerio asserted. From there, you can edit the captions for greater accuracy.

2) Consider Your Shot Composition

Place the camera at your eye level, "not pointing up your nose or at the ceiling," said Valerio. If you're using a camera embedded in your laptop, then stack something underneath the computer to raise it to the right level. Also, unless you're using Snapchat, capture the video in horizontal or landscape mode, not vertical or portrait mode.

example of camera placement

Source: Rachel Valerio, Miami University

If you're recording a "talking head," she suggested, use a medium or close-up shot. If you want to establish the context, use a wide shot (she offered the example of a bread factory), then move into an extreme close-up as appropriate (hands kneading dough).

She also advocated the use of the "rule of thirds." Rather than centering subjects, divide the image into thirds both horizontally and vertically and then position the items of interest — the person talking — at the intersections of those lines "for more interest and energy." If the interview subject is looking off-camera, she added, displacing the person at those intersections looks more professional. And doing so has the added advantage of letting you insert images next to the person talking.

example of rule of thirds

Source: Rachel Valerio, Miami University

3) Use Existing Lighting "Intentionally"

Remember two things: First, don't sit with your back to windows. Second, "brighter is usually better."

"Move yourself and your camera into a better position in the room," said Valerio. "You can face into the window or a little off to the side." Even when you lack professional lighting, she explained, the results will look better. In the two images of Valerio shown here, the second one looks dramatically better, just because she turned around and faced the window and placed the camera at eye level.

example of lighting

Source: Rachel Valerio, Miami University

Her advice is to use three-point lighting — or three sources. That could be the "key light" or main source of lighting ("the sun, a window — what's already there"); a back light; and a fill light, which isn't as bright as the key light and could come from a lamp or the "bounce" of light off a white wall.

4) Embed "Visual Communication"

That means not just telling students something but showing them, whether through images, video or graphics. As Valerio pointed out, "Talking heads are boring and sometimes difficult to follow." By using other kinds of images on the screen, you "signal to students what is most important."

For that reason, she suggested that as you're doing screen recording, make sure to learn how to use the option that lets you record both the screen and the camera, so the student can see a little image of the person as well as whatever visual is being displayed.

5) Keep It Short

No surprise, student attention spans last about five to 12 minutes max, said Valerio, adding that she prefers to keep her videos to an even briefer three to five minutes. As she noted, "Engagement drops as time goes on."

How do you achieve that? By chunking your content. If you wanted to take an hour-long video and turn it into something for your students to watch, as an example, "think about the topics — the chunks — you can turn into separate videos."

Then "eliminate redundancies" and get to the point quickly. "No telling them what you're going to tell them, telling them and telling them what you told them," she pointed out. Also, add interactive elements — "opportunities to engage with the content" — whether those be embedded quiz questions, discussion board posts or something else.

6) Talk One-on-One

In your delivery, make sure you relax, Valerio proposed. Act as if you're talking directly to a student, since that's how he or she will experience it. That means using conversational language (since this isn't an academic paper), looking into the camera and telling stories (which help people remember) and practicing before you start recording, she said.

Also, relate your content to the real world: Explain to students why they're learning the given topic. Rather than listing straight facts, provide those details that will make the subject come alive for the viewer.

7) Invest Time in Editing

Here's where you get the chance to enhance your videos even more. Valerio urged the trimming of the beginning and ending (nobody needs to see you hit the record button). Also, during editing you can boost your audio and add visuals. These kinds of activities can generally be handled through programs such as Kaltura, Camtasia, WeVideo and iMovie, for beginners, and Apple Final Cut Pro and Adobe Premiere Pro, for pros.

The editing process is also where you can "cover your edit points, if needed." As Valerio explained, this is where a person flubbed the video. You can cut that out and "cover" it in a few different ways. She advised avoiding the use of jump cuts, which can be jarring, or dissolves, which can be tedious. Her preference is to cover the edit with an image showing a graphic, a cut to a closer shot or a cut to a second camera angle, when those are available. (Valerio posted a one-minute video showing the various options on YouTube.)

8) Find Your Voice

To make videos that students will want to watch, Valerio concluded, you need to "find your voice — your personality on camera." That means spending time practicing your video skills and focusing the subject of those videos on sharing content students haven't already read or that they "can't get out of book."

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