6 Tips for Creating Engaging Video Lectures That Students Will Actually Watch

Simuelle Myers, Instructional Designer, TLC
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How do I get started creating video lectures? How do I engage students from a distance? How do I know if they understand the concepts in my lecture if I can’t see their faces? How do I know students are even paying attention? These are common questions asked by faculty when preparing to create a video lecture. As both online and flipped classroom formats grow in popularity, the number of faculty creating video lectures is increasing. However, many of these videos are recorded as straight lecture, limiting students only to the role of observer.  The six tips below will help you create videos that also engage students in active learning, while giving you information to assess their understanding of course concepts.  

1. Keep it Short!

Break lessons into segments of about 7-10 minutes. This allows students to digest every part of the lesson,  quickly revisit what they may not have understood and provides a meaningful place to pause if they need to return to the lesson later. This can also become invaluable if you need to update a video later. It is much easier to re-record 10 minutes than 50 minutes!

Tip for implementation: If you are used to longer lectures, review your lessons and identify where the natural breaks in the material might be.  Use these as a guides to decide where every recording should begin and end.

2. Use visuals, images and animations

While students greatly value being able to see and connect with their instructor, a lecture consisting only of a “talking head” can be hard to follow.  Visuals can enhance your presentation and make material more accessible. Screencasting software (e.g. Camtasia Relay) allows you to share your screen with students so they can see your presentation, graphs, figures, drawings  and your face all at the same time. These tools can also be used to create video demonstrations for students in your brick and mortar classes.

Tip for implementation: Text-heavy slides can make it difficult to pay attention to what a speaker is saying.  Mix it up and try slides using a single large image. This creates a need for students to listen more to what you are saying instead of just reading the words behind you. This also gives students a reason to take more detailed notes.

3. Create guided or embedded questions

Pause to ask students a question, provide a worksheet that they need to complete as they watch the lecture, or create a task for them to do in between videos. There are also several programs you can use to create questions that are embedded directly into a video that students must answer before they continue watching. Similar to an in-class activity, these allow students to work with the material in the midst of the lesson and add variety to help keep them engaged.

Tip for implementation: How do you make sure that students complete guided questions or worksheets? Have them submit their answers as an assignment. This can also help you assess your students’ understanding of the material.   

4. Test knowledge with quizzes and self-assessment

Frequent, low stakes quizzes encourage students to pay closer attention to video lectures and allow you to assess their knowledge. Self-assessments are typically ungraded, but provide students with diagnostic feedback that  encourages them to re-visit areas of the lesson based on  questions they may have missed. Both methods give students quick feedback so they can gauge early on which concepts or problems they may need help with.

Tip for implementation: Ask students what they are having trouble with. At the end of a unit, have students assess themselves by asking what their “muddiest point” is or what they would like to learn more about and have them submit their responses via the Learning Management System (LMS) as a private journal entry.

5. Use pre-existing videos

You do not always need to create original videos.  Many great videos exist that already do a good job of explaining specific topics. This also creates more variety in students’ learning experience and can be less time intensive for the instructor.

Tip for implementation: Explore what resources are available before you begin recording your own videos to gain an understanding of what currently exists and what you need to do yourself.

6. Be Yourself!

Lastly, remember that this is not a Hollywood production! One of the most important things to do in a video is to be yourself and act natural. It is okay to stumble over a word or quickly correct yourself when you make a mistake. This allows students to truly see your personality and connect with what makes you unique as an instructor.

Tips for implementation: Record a test video, then go back and watch it (bonus points if you have someone else watch it too!). Evaluate what you do well and what needs improvement. Feel free to experiment with environment and style until you feel that you are able to convey yourself in a way that is comfortable and genuine.

Let’s Exchange EDvice!

Are you already creating video lectures? What strategies do you use to keep students engaged?


Additional Resources:

Ho, Yvonne. "Seven Steps to Creating Screencast Videos for Online Learning." Faculty Focus. Magna, 15 Mar. 2013. Web.

Mayer, Richard E. Multi-Media Learning. Cambridge: Cambridge UP, 2001. Print.

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