Six pieces of advice I wish I’d had before making my first learning video

Don’t let anyone tell you otherwise: making learning videos is really easy if you want it to be. Sure, you can make things as simple or as complex as you want, and I won’t belittle the work that some teachers go to in producing content; some have spent years perfecting their skills and spent hours or days producing a singly high quality video. But, of course, not every educational video has to be an award winning high budget piece. What’s more, many educational videos don’t involve a camera or any kind of filming; converting a PowerPoint presentation into a video is quick and easy.

Even if the videos you start to produce don’t have a sparkly “high quality” feel, that doesn’t mean the educational quality of them is anything less than very high. Remember that when making videos for education, you are already a professional: a professional educator. Having little or no experience in video-making is not something that should hold you back.

So, if it’s so easy, how do you get started? Here are the tips I wish I had when I started making videos for my students.

1. Choose a topic, and keep it short

You want to share the information as simply and concisely as possible. The first video I ever made (which I introduce with “This is a quick presentation to describe the process of…”) was anything but quick. It ran for about 15 minutes – WAY too long.

Aim to make your presentation 3 to 5 minutes. And don’t be tempted to repeat anything for clarity. It makes sense to use repetition for re-enforcement in the classroom, but with videos the students can pause and replay easily (that’s one of the main benefits), so let them choose.

When it comes to choosing a topic, I strongly recommend keeping it bite-sized. It might be tempting to try and cover a full chapter/unit of work in one video, on the pretense that keeping it all in one video condenses the whole thing. This isn’t as effective as it sounds. Students will generally benefit from watching a video on a single individual concept. When they are learning or revising, they’ll be put off if they have to skip forward to a certain point into a 20 minute video to find the exact bit of information they want.

For example, a science teacher doing a unit on “forces”, should avoid doing a video summarizing the forces chapter, but instead do several videos with titles like, “What is a Newton”, “What is the gravitational constant”, “Calculating force using Mass and Acceleration” etc. A prep school English teacher might want to summarise “Grade 5 grammar rules” in a single video, but it would probably be better to do a series of 2 minute videos on each individual grammar rule. This is far more accessible for viewers.

2. Create a high quality presentation

If you haven’t ever made a video before and don’t know where to start, narrating a presentation is a great starting point. Microsoft PowerPoint and Apple’s Keynote both allow you record and narrate a presentation, then export that as a video. I won’t go into exactly which buttons to push because it changes with each new version of the software but generally you need to click “Slideshow” somewhere at the top of the screen, then click “Record Slideshow”. You won’t struggle to find it, whichever version you’re using.

Make sure you consider how your presentation will come across as a video. We all know what death by PowerPoint feels like, we’ve all had to sit through presentations where someone puts a block of text on the screen and reads it to us, so much so that it’s a cliché now. The rules for presentations for video are slightly different, but not entirely different. Here are the main things to remember.

– Your voice is in the video so don’t worry about relying on text.

– A picture (or diagram) is worth a thousand words. Videos are visual, so take advantage of this.

– Use lots of slides, rather than a few slides with lots of content on each. This makes the content look for sleek and clean, and means the viewer is focused only on the information you want them to focus on. Having a single slide with only one word or phrase on is perfectly reasonable.

3. Choose your animations CAREFULLY

By animations I’m talking about the way you can make text and images magically fly in and bounce around the screen. This is part of creating a quality presentation, but it deserves a special mention of its own.

Usually I would say don’t use animations in normal (non video) presentations; they’re overdone and cheesy. But with videos they are very useful. I strongly recommend making things appear when you want to discuss them, and not before. This is another way to keep the viewer focused on what you want them to focus on.

A good example is a labeled diagram: show the diagram, unlabeled, and as you describe each feature, make the label for that feature appear. The reason this is more important with video content is because you can’t point at something on the screen like you might in class. There are tools for using the mouse as a pointer when recording a presentation but I find them clumsy and hard to use, so I rely on animations.

Now, when I say use them carefully, I mean stick to one type of animation. If you’re first piece of text bounces in from the left of the screen, don’t have the second piece of text fade in with sparkles. This not only looks awful, it becomes distracting and takes the attention off your content. I tend to stick with a simple “fade in” effect on all my presentations, and only use anything different when there is a distinct, relevant, dramatic effect I’m trying to achieve.

4. Borrow free photos, and give credit

Plain text is boring, and as I’ve already mentioned, a picture is worth a thousand words. Add relevant images into your presentation to support what you’re saying.

I’m very careful with copyright when it comes to using images. I used to spend AGES searching for images online with the appropriate license that allowed me to use them. It gets complicated because you have to understand the type of license, and what the creator of the image expects of you. For example, some say you can use their picture for anything without limits, others say you can use it but must give them credit, others say you can use it but not modify it. Some creators are very specific about HOW you credit them. The point I’m making is that finding and using images legally can be a huge time constraint.

I really wish someone had showed me Pixabay and Pexels when I started out. These websites share photos with a Creative Commons 0 license, which means you can download them and use them in your videos (even if you’re making money from the videos), and you don’t need to give credit for the photo, so there’s no concern that you might accidently use something incorrectly and get a take-down notice.

For the sake of professionalism, I recommend having a “credits” section as the final slide of your video, and perhaps stating something like “Stock photography from Pixabay”, just as an acknowledgment that you’re not claiming that it is your own photography.

Also remember, plagiarism is a huge problem in this day and age, and it’s good to set the right tone with the students you teach.

5. Script it, then narrate it

When I started, I figured, “Hey, I know what I’m talking about with this topic, I’ll save some time on scripting the presentation and I’ll just wing it.”

Wrong. Wrong. Wrong.

Some people have a gift for winging it, and make it sound good. But honestly, I believe the vast majority of people need a script. I remember narrating a single slide, fumbling over the words, re-recording, fumbling again, practicing it, then trying again… and then on to slide 2. It became very time consuming.

Do yourself a favour, spend 5 to 10 minutes writing a little script or even just some bullet points (word for word isn’t really necessary), to save yourself 30 minutes of fumbling over your own words while narrating.

6. Share it

Get a Youtube channel if you don’t already have one, and make sure it’s future-proof. By that I mean, think about the direction you are taking the channel when you choose your name.

Maybe you are making grammar videos for your Grade 6 English class. You might call the channel “Mrs Smith’s G6 grammar”.

Well, first off, is it possible you will create content for grades 7 and 8 as well? Next, will it only ever focus on grammar? Or will you branch into other aspects of the course?

Don’t let me dissuade you from being specific; being vague in your channel name can make it unclear. For example, “Mrs Smith’s Grammar” is better than “Mrs Smith’s Channel”, assuming grammar is the only focus.

And, next are you sure that you will only make videos for your own students? What if your first video gets 50 thousand views and you hope to monetize it in future? In which case, do you want your name on it or do you want more of a catchy brand name like “Apostrophe Ess” (get it?!)? Either way is fine, but it’s a choice you need to make.

Wrap Up

Ultimately, the best thing you can do is just get started and feel your way, because nothing beats actual experience, but if you follow the advice here hopefully you’ll find the whole process runs far more smoothly. If you’re just getting started with the idea of making videos for your students, then best of luck with your first video.

If you use my advice for your videos, please share it in the comments section and add in any advice for others that you might have gained from making your first video.

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