10 Tips for Recorded Lectures

You may choose to upload your PowerPoints to Canvas or provide written lectures, but you might also want to record video lectures to create multiple means of engagement for your students (it is always best to err on the side of greater flexibility!). Here are 10 tips for creating good video lectures (and the resources to go with them).

1. Chunk it.
2. Dynamic.
3. Interactive.
4. Instructions
5. Expectations
6. Review
7. Guide
8. Accessibility
9. Borrow
10. Dedicated

1: Keep is short. Chunk it.

Students can't sustain attention when it comes to a long (video) lecture. A "regular" lecture in the 55-minutes–plus range is a virtual impossibility for students. Your best bet for students to retain the material you present to them through video is to break it up into smaller segments of no more than 10 minutes (and, more realistically, five or six, if possible).

One now well-known technique to do this is called "chunking"—chopping up a larger lecture into "bite-sized" pieces and matching these pieces up with related materials and framing language. In doing this, you might, for example, find that you will be able to re-purpose your lecture notes to have a written introduction, a 6-minute video explanation of a key topic, a short reading to go with it, some connecting language, another video, and so on. Depending on how you lecture, you may have already done this to an extent. It saves work for you, in the end, because a) you only have to make a few short videos for key ideas instead of recording (and potentially editing) a longer lecture, and b) it signals to students exactly what is most important.

Another benefit to chunking is that you aren't repeating the same information in too many places. Students can feel like they're spinning their wheels when the textbook, the readings, the lecture, and the take-home essay are redundant. The other side of that coin is that you can use videos to key students in to the parts of their homework where they should pay particular attention. Shorter videos can also help guide students when it comes time to review the information they may have missed. They can, for example, watch the one video one key concept from Chapter 4 rather than needing to scrub through the 55 minute recording about Chapters 3 and 4.

2: Make it dynamic.

When you're in the classroom and you're using the whiteboard—or even just as you move about the room—you're providing valuable context to the information students are taking in. It's sort of how temperature is not a flavor but definitely plays a role in how you taste and enjoy your food. Any addition that can make a video more dynamic will make it more memorable. Consider incorporating a whiteboard or scratch paper (either physical via webcam or digital as part of the recording) or props / manipulatives (when appropriate and realistic). Consider, also, going "on location" (within reason).

Another piece of making a video more dynamic is making sure students see your face. Putting a face to a lecture alone can help increase a video's effectiveness (one hypothesis as to why is that we cannot help but engage more with a speaker when instinctively tracking their eyes).

3: Make it interactive (when possible).

This one relates to chunking, but stands on its own as well. Consider incorporating interactive elements into your videos. If you're worried about the technical aspects of that, have no fear! While it is a relatively painless process to, for example, add a multiple-choice question to a Kaltura video, it's even more painless to simply provide a literal pause in-video for students to reflect on a question. Especially effective questions are those which ask students to form opinions, draw connections, or apply information. Answers (if there are any clear ones) can appear after a short pause or, if your question(s) are posed a the end of one video, at the beginning of the next.

4: Give specific & transparent instructions.

When should I watch this video? What should I be paying special attention to? How does this relate to the homework? Will this be on the test? It's a bit tongue-in-cheek to ask these questions, but they are in the back of students' minds. What is obvious in a face-to-face setting is often missing in the online environment. It never hurts to be exceedingly clear about the purpose of your videos and where they fit in the grander scheme of your course. Tell students exactly when to watch the material (not in terms of date and time, but in terms like "after reading Chapter 6" or "before taking the Unit 3 quiz"), and why they're watching. Provide framing language whenever possible. E.g. "This lecture covers Topic X and clarifies the most confusing parts of Chapter 6. In it, I provide two examples of Y. Try to think of another example or two. Ask yourself how the author would address the problem posed at the end of the video." 

5: Set (reasonable) expectations.

With a large degree of certainty, students will not watch all of your videos. If your video material is one-to-one the same as face-to-face instruction, you're likely to lose their focus early on. This is tied to the ideas of chunking and making dynamic content, but stands on its own as well. Be sure to take student bandwidth (mental and technical) into account. For example, can some of a longer lecture be written out? Many (not all) students prefer to read at their own pace to watching videos that require a certain level of real-time mental digestion. Also be aware of student (and your own) time. Recording video takes time—and watching it takes time as well. If students have multiple courses with video content, they can quickly become taxed by screen time. Consider saving video for key concepts, problems, and demonstrations. Also think about whether you might provide a transcript alongside your videos that students can print out and review later on. You might also offer some lectures in a different format (such as downloadable audio).

There's a natural (reasonable) tendency to make online learning more "worth it" when recording videos. This means that in translating our "live" lectures to recordings, we have a tendency to provide much more information than we otherwise might. We also don't have a "live audience" to temper or throttle the information we, in our excitement, might tend to provide. Just keep this in mind. Less can be more.

6: Review, repeat, & be repetitive.

You have probably heard that it takes three times, five times, or some other number of times hearing a piece of information before you "remember" it. Of course, we know there's no hard-and-fast number of times that will ensure you've "learned" something. Instead, we know we are constantly filtering information, forgetting most of it, and retaining that which seems the most important to us or is somehow connected to something we already know. This item is called "review, repeat, & be repetitive" instead of "review, review, review" for a reason. Because students are constantly "filtering" what you say in this way, it's critical to re-emphasize what's most important—but doing so without alteration is likely to get filtered out yet again. When information is re-articulated rather than repeated, it's easier for students to link what they're hearing to prior knowledge, construct patterns, and form imagery around it—all tendencies tied to their ability to remember.

7: "Guide on the Side" (too).

Students aren't present when you're recording with a webcam in your home office. This often results in "talking to" rather than "talking with" students as you might in a face-to-face interaction. The old cliche in instruction is that there are "sages on stages" and "guides on sides." While it's its own challenge to remain a "guide" on video, it can be done. To do so, remember to always provide context for your videos be it within the video itself or with framing text where the video is added to your course. Give students a way to interact with the material such as a study guide or guiding questions at the outset. The best videos are those that steer students to information, drawn connections, and conclusions rather than the more instinctual tendency to provide it directly.

8: Keep accessibility in mind.

When making video, remember that access may be restricted due to impairment or bandwidth limitations. It's a good idea to make videos downloadable in the event students do not have strong internet. For the same reason—and to accommodate a variety of study habits—it may also be good practice to provide a transcript of your video and audio content.  This will also provide an avenue for learning for the visually impaired. For the audio impaired, it is good practice (and may be required) to close caption all audio/video materials.

9: Use what already exists.

While there's a lot of junk on the internet, there is also a wealth of quality content already available on YouTube, Vimeo, and other streaming sites. You may even be able to find audio/video materials available through PBS, NPR, TEDEd, Khan Academy, or the like. This will cut down on your workload and may well generate a more robust variety of perspectives as well as a variety of types of content that will help keep students engaged.

10: Record it especially for online.

This one is #10 because, while it's good practice, it might not be practical depending on your course. What it comes down to is that lectures recorded specifically for online are more effective than a "repurposed" recording of a face-to-face session. The exception is when the face-to-face session is recorded and then uploaded for the same audience to return for review rather than as a "replacement" for face-to-face attendance.