Three years ago, at roughly this same point in the school year, the spring semester was just getting underway, and I had that half-nervous, half-excited I’m-trying-new-things-in-class buzz with me as the new year began. Over break, I had committed a tremendous amount of time to launching my second fully-personalized learning unit for our English 9 Honors course at Westside High School. The final unit of the fall semester had been my first, unit-long personalization effort, and it had gone exceptionally well with regards to both student performance and achieving the myriad of other classroom and learner benefits personalized learning has to offer.
That said, there is certainly always room for improvement, and I had noticed during the previous unit that the video content I had provided as an instructional resource had been underutilized and/or just not used at all. It was simply a collection of the best videos I could find on YouTube about each subject, and some of those video pieces were adequate at best. So, I committed to doing some research on how to make my own video content with the goal of making it more engaging. That research lead me to a study that had concluded that viewers are more engaged in a piece of media if they know the person or people in the video.
Well, I thought, challenge accepted.
So, I checked out a camera from our high school’s media center and got to work. I can’t even tell you how many hours I spent over that break couped up in a small side room in the library or at a 24-hour coffee shop so early in the morning that I was the only patron there, but I was creating my first set of instructional videos and I knew that the instruction was going to directly align with how I taught that content in class. It was invigorating to be able to be creative, and I learned a lot during that time.
Okay, so flash forward, it’s time to implement! The unit launches, I’m dare-I-say giddy to get it underway. Students start off quiet, slowly easing into this new-for-them way of experiencing school. And they stay quiet. And after about a week, students start to voice their opinions and reflections on their personalized experience, and well, let’s just say that they weren’t all glowing!
Despite my best attempts to improve the quality of my video content, it turns out that students don’t enjoy watching a shoulders-up shot of me talking into a camera for 20+ minutes.
Weird. I can’t imagine why?
So, beaten but not defeated, I knew that this was a worthwhile endeavor and skill to develop; I just needed an opportunity to learn more than I already knew. And in my experience anytime I’ve needed help, I’ve found other educators to be my best resources, which led me to turn to our WHS journalism advisor in charge of video and TV, Matt Rasgorshek (Raz).
Raz, a nationally renown advisor, agreed to let me survey his Intro to Video course on the days that he was giving direct instruction and also on postmortem days (whole-group video critique days). After a semester of sacrificing lunches and the occasional portion of plan time, I had a new perspective and changed my entire approach to video content creation.
The new principles I had learned were simple, but I had never considered them before, and I thought it might help others if I share a few of them in this post. Here’s what I would say are My Top Five Takeaways from that time with Raz that I would recommend any new-to-video educator consider.
- Instructional Videos Should Be 5-Minutes or Less: This can be a challenge at times, and occasionally I break my own rule here, but brevity is key. For longer concepts, make a two or even three-part series of videos that break the concept down into 5-minute chunks if necessary.
- Write Out a Script of What You Intend to Say: This will help your videos to be concise and also ensure that you cover everything you wanted to share/teach.
- Have a Personality: I like to say that it’s important for students to see that their teacher is “wired right” meaning that the teacher laughs when something is funny, is upset or disappointed when it’s warranted, and that students see us as real people and not just a puppet that hangs on the back of the door to room 135 at night until I’m reanimated the next day. Video is a great medium for infusing humor, personal examples, and fun into your teaching persona, so don’t be afraid to intentionally show those sides of your personality. *When you write your script, write use an informal voice/tone.
- Good Sound Trumps Good Video Quality: If you’re creating new content on a limited budget, record the video with your phone or device and instead invest in a good microphone. I use a Blue Snowball Microphone often, and I also like using the Shure MVL Omnidirectional Lavalier Microphone. Both are under $100.
- Be Okay with Being Just Okay: If you’re anything like me, I wanted to be Spielberg my first time out. It’s obvious that developing any skill is an art that evolves over time, so don’t be an ultra-perfectionist and be too hard on yourself with the first few pieces you produce. Enjoy the journey, and be okay with where you are along the road. Your students will love you just for trying!
Well, that brings this blog to a close, but I’ll leave you with a few examples of my earlier video pieces as a reference. Below is a link to an image I uploaded to a site called Thinglink. I wanted to house multiple videos all on one, student-friendly page for easy access, and Thinglink is great for that. If you’re looking for a few instructional video examples to get you started, feel free to check out the videos by first opening the link then clicking on the dots in the image. And good luck in 2018 with your instructional videos!
*For more great stories of classroom-tested personalized practices and reflections, subscribe to The Westside Personalized Podcast on iTunes