Producing learning materials: using videos for staff development

Screencasts
Some of my thoughts on screencasting: click image to enlarge

In my role as Academic Developer in Technology-Enhanced Learning I am responsible for, among other things, developing training materials for staff. From experience, I have found that video guides are very useful for introducing learning technologies and explaining how they can be applied. However, creating good quality video guides requires technical expertise of how to make effective recordings and edit video and audio feeds so I would like to discuss this area of expertise in this part on my portfolio.

Good quality video guides and screencasts can be a valuable staff development tool in HE institutions where academics are often required to use a range of learning technologies, but at the same time face issues related to lack of time to attend lengthy demonstration/practice sessions.  Staff can learn in their own time, at their own pace and in comfortable settings. Videos are available as and when needed and new materials can be developed on demand.

To be able to deliver effective training through videos:

I have done research on effective screencasting.

The research has confirmed my expectations as to how screencasts should be created:

  • no longer than 10-12 minutes in length;
  • require thorough planning to sequence and structure the content in the most effective way in order to avoid distractions and make the video easy to follow as well as utilise viewers time efficiently;
  • easier to create if based on a script which helps to organise the presenter’s thoughts

I have reflected on my own use of screencasts.

For instance, I have realised that I learn technical matter much more effectively through viewing examples rather than reading manuals. Video content and multimedia elements such as music, sound effects, audio, and graphics engage and motivate the viewer in a way that text-based communication can’t. If a picture is worth a thousand words, maybe a video is worth a million?

Also, watching podcasts gives me the option of moving at my own pace, starting and pausing the video when I need to, which I find to be a very effective way of transferring technical knowledge.

I have explored and familiarised myself with various tools for creating and editing screencasts.

I have been using various tools for making recordings and screencasts, such as Screencast-O-Matic, Snagit, Panopto Recorder,  and editing videos, such as Adobe Premiere Elements and Trakax.

I have created a number of screencasts for academic staff on using TEL tools.

While creating screencasts I reflected on their usability and effectiveness, and also on the visual aspect and the way the content is presented. As I analysed the approach adopted, I implemented some changes in the videos to make them more engaging for viewers. This can be seen in the two videos below. Video 1 is a simple screencast showing how to use a certain functionality of the University’s VLE, with relatively little editing involved. However, video 2 (Poll Everywhere) includes a title page, some audio effects (intro music) and some visual effects (e.g. zooming in and out).

I made a number of video guides for a staff training course discussed in 1a.

I have also explored the use of animations as an alternative way of presenting content: an example is presented below:

Music: http://www.bensound.com/royalty-free-music (CC BY-ND-3.0)

And, last but not least, I found that when asked for help with some technical aspect of Blackboard or any other technology, it is often easier for me to make a quick screencast rather than write an extensive guide. This video is a quick ad hoc guide for a lecturer who wanted to know how to add audio to Blackboard.

I have also facilitated training sessions on using Panopto Recorder for at-desk recordings and screencasts.

Click this link to access a presentation I created for a training session. 

Reflection

Making video recordings and screencasts for staff has been a steep learning curve for me, however I really appreciate the skills I have developed, including technical expertise and confidence while presenting online. Also, I have realised that videos can be very valuable tools for transmitting knowledge, provided their power to assist learning through visual presentation, and to motivate and connect with the audience is consciously utilised. 

While learning to make effective screencasts and recordings, I focused on both technological expertise and planning/design/storyboarding. After a first few attempts, I realised that good educational videos depend on thorough planning and careful editing to create an effective presentation of the content. Currently, I first consider the purpose of the recording, prepare an outline (with bullet points of what I need to cover) and, where needed, a script and a visual storyboard (typically a sketch of elements I am planning to include). 

I have found that it is better to produce own screencasts, rather than rely on resources provided by manufacturers of the software in question as this makes it possible to focus the presentation on features and functionalities that users are most likely to require and make use of. Also, since the screencasts are made in a familiar environment of the University’s VLE or other systems, rather that the manufacturer’s generic environment, the content is presented to users in a more accessible way, bearing more direct relevance to their own professional practice.

Practice has shown me that there are a few important things to bear in mind when making educational videos: 

  • the sound quality is paramount. For good audio, the mic levels and sound quality need to be tested beforehand, any noisy distractions removed (jewellery off, phone off). 
  • the recording environment needs to be considered. For ‘talking head’ videos, what is the background? Is there enough light for my face to be visible? 
  • content should be succinct and to the point. Any digressions or tangential information that distracts from the main message should be avoided. An outline or script help immensely, however care should be taken for the narration not to sound artificial (which is difficult!). 
  • the pause button is there to be used – there is no need to make the recording in one take. It’s very useful to pause, take a breath, maybe move to the next slide or step in the presentation, and resume the recording. 
  • if a mistake is made, it’s useful to wait a few seconds before resuming the narration: this ‘silence’ will make subsequent editing easier. 

Overall, making videos and screencasts has been a great experience and I will definitely keep using this medium in my work. 

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