7 ways to make your education videos look more professional

Hundreds of thousands of educators are out there every day making learning and revision videos for students, and all are making those videos using different styles and to varying levels of professionalism. By professionalism, I’m talking about that perceived production value (I say “perceived” because higher production value doesn’t necessarily cost any money).

A lot of educators watch someone else’s video and want to know how to give their videos that extra polished touch, how they can make them look more attractive and interesting for their students, and possibly others around the world.

Before you delve into these steps, just ask yourself, “What is my goal for my videos?”

If your goal is to share your videos online and grow a global audience over time, then you should definitely implement the seven steps recommended here. If you’re making videos that you hope will be re-usable for years to come every time you repeat your courses with new classes, then it’s also probably worth making them as polished as possible. If you intend to make hundreds of videos over the next year or so, then setting out on the right footing, using these recommendations, is definitely the right thing to do. Of course, if you’re making videos that will probably just be a one-off piece for a class, then perhaps focusing on the quality of the instruction (rather than the perceived production value) should be your priority.

If you are committed that you want to give your videos that extra polish, then here are some great steps to achieving that.

1. Get an external microphone

This is consistently overlooked and there is a reason I’m putting this at number one. This truly is the most important step you can take in improving your videos. The paradox is that most people don’t notice good audio quality, but they do notice bad audio. And there is no getting around it: the little microphone on your laptop is low quality.

The rule in video is simple: if no-one notices the audio, then the audio must be really good. A good microphone reproduces the sound of your voice more accurately, meaning the viewer can focus on the words being said, rather than getting distracted with how (bad) it sounds.

Before I make recommendations about which microphones, a word of warning. Be wary about what you search for online. If you type something like, “which microphone is best for me”, you’ll need a serious budget for the recommendations you’ll get. Honestly, professional audio is a VERY expensive world where most people who make recommendations consider anything less than professional studio quality to be virtually unusable. Professional microphones sell for thousands of pounds (and into tens of thousands), so when people refer to a microphone as “affordable”, they’re probably using the term differently to the way you and I might.

Recommendations

A lavalier (or “lapel”) microphone

The main benefit of an external microphone is that you can get close to it. The closer you are to it, the louder your voice will be relative to any background noise (including that nasty echo/reverb sound of the room). If you’re trying to do this on a near-zero budget, then consider getting a headset with a microphone attached (airline pilot style). Alternatively, you could get something called a lavalier microphone, which is the type that newscasters use clipped onto their lapel. You could choose either one of these options for about 20 pounds, 30USD, on Amazon. Of the two, a lavalier microphone will probably provide the best results in terms of audio quality – some of the headsets tend to have a bit of a telephone sound to them, though it really does depend on the brand. Also keep in mind that if you are filming yourself in your videos, the lavalier mic is tiny and goes virtually unnoticed, while the headset really stands out.

A dynamic microphone

If you’re willing to spend a little bit more money, you’ll get a big jump in quality if you’re willing to spend around 60 to 100 pounds. For this price you can buy a basic dynamic microphone that plugs directly into your laptop via USB (note: only specific models of mic have a USB connection – check the specs while shopping). If you go down this line, you will definitely be impressed with the improvement in sound. The most common dynamic microphones you get are the basic handheld ones you see pop stars holding on stage. Dynamic microphones are good at focusing on the thing right in front of them (i.e. your voice) and eliminating the other sounds around the room (i.e. echoes, fans, people outside the room…).

A condenser microphone

There are also condenser microphones which are the slightly bigger ones, usually silver coloured, that you see if you’ve ever seen someone singing in a recording studio. Condenser microphones usually require more accessories (which adds to the price), and they pick up more background noise. If you research it some people might describe condenser microphones as being better quality, but just be aware that it depends on their purpose. Big condenser microphones do tend to capture sounds more accurately, but they will capture everything, including more of the background noise in the room you’re in.

Personally, I’d recommend the dynamic microphone if you can afford it and the lavalier if you want to keep it cheap (and portable). Only go for a condenser mic if you’ve spoken to someone in-the-know about these things who has recommended it for you personally.

If you still want more info, try searching online for something like, “Best microphone for beginner podcasters.” The types of microphones made for that purpose are generally appropriate for narrating presentations, and they tend to be more budget-friendly.

2. Photograph and film everything

You may intend to create educational videos that involve filming someone or something, or you may intend to just make a PowerPoint/Keynote presentations and narrate those. Either way, having supplementary footage really adds to the character of your videos.

As a Biology and Environmental subjects teacher, I focus a lot on nature and wildlife footage. I don’t start out with a plan for which video I’ll use the footage for, but I will store it on my laptop and maybe bring it out months later when the right topic comes up. I was in London a while back and I took some random footage of the crowds walking across a bridge, and a few months later I was making a video that discussed overpopulation. That footage with a crowd on it was the perfect way to illustrate what I was saying.

Don’t get too fixated on what you film or photograph, just shoot anything that looks interesting. You’d be amazed how often seemingly random shots can turn out to be very relevant in future. And don’t get fixated on expensive cameras: modern smartphones do a really good job for this and the best thing is, you usually always have one with you.

3. Edit

There’s no real way around this: if you want your videos to look good you need to get some editing software so you can cut and stick the right pieces of video in the right place. Even if you use only a narrated PowerPoint presentation with no additional footage, this is still a really useful skill to employ. First off, you need to remove that 1 or 2 seconds at the start and end of the video – you know, that bit where you pressed record, then waited to check it was working, or cleared your throat before speaking. What’s more, there might be little bits throughout the presentation where you possibly fumbled over the words a little, or left a long pause before continuing. Being able to remove these little sections will improve the quality of your content.

Once you know how to edit video, it’s really easy to start adding in those extra bits of footage I mentioned. You might not think it’s worth it, or maybe think it’s just making things more complicated, but it really doesn’t take long to add things in with good software.

A useful thing to note here is that there are places you can get stock video footage that’s copyright free, and free financially too! Check out Pexels.com – you can sign up for free and browse through a big selection of videos. There is a big collection of photos too – all free.

In terms of software, there is a lot to choose from and a lot of different price tags. For Mac, iMovie does the basics and, though it is very basic, it’s free. Filmora is a Windows movie editor, and I haven’t used it so I can’t speak for it, but it seems to have the basic features and it costs $40 USD per year or $60 as a lifetime fee.

If you want more full featured software that it will certainly cost you. Adobe Premiere Pro is one the industry standards and definitely something I would recommend if you plan to start taking video editing seriously. As a teacher you can get an education license for $20 USD per month, and that includes a bundle of apps including Photoshop and others.

When you start working with editing tools, you’ll probably find yourself experimenting with background music, sound effects, and even processing your voice to make it louder and clearer, but that’s all part of another discussion for another day. However, if you invest in more advanced editors, you’ll probably find yourself learning to use these more advanced tools as you go along.

One final point on editing: it allows you to easily add a logo and maybe even theme music to the start of each of your videos. Which leads us to point number 4:

4. Get some branding and identity

There are a lot of aspects to building a brand but the most important points, in my opinion, are getting a name, and a logo. I played around with a lot of names before I settled on Science Sauce, and I’m really happy with it. It’s got alliteration, and I like the play on words: Sauce is spelled like ketchup sauce, and it’s a “source” for flipped learning materials. It’s simple and catchy. A lot of teachers use their name in the title of their blog or Youtube channel. For example, a name like “Mrs Smith’s History Blog” is quite common. There’s nothing wrong with this; it says what it is. However, it’s not memorable. You don’t need to set out to make a memorable site or channel if you don’t want to, but if you hope to share your content beyond just your own students, you might want to consider something more catchy.

As for the logo, this is tricky. If you know graphic design, do your own. If you don’t, I recommend finding someone who does. I tried a few ideas and being quite inexperienced, I made some awful designs before I came up with the red and green circle design that I use now. Fortunately, I know my way around Photoshop, and I know the basic principles of design, so, although it took a few attempts, I was able to make my own.

If you are set that you want to do your own logo, I’ll be doing another post on tips on making your own at a later date, so check back for that or follow me on Twitter (@science_sauce) if you want to keep updated with new posts.

5. Choose a colour palette

This is hugely overlooked and makes a big difference to the look of your videos as a whole. If you choose a set of colours and stick with them, it will give a certain amount consistency within each presentation, and helps keep your videos looking recognizable if the same person watches several of them.

To choose your colours, start with any colour you want, perhaps just go with your favourite colour. Then use its complimentary colour. If you don’t know what that is, you can use a colour wheel to show you. Complimentary colours are just colours that go really well together. For example, if you’re favourite colour is blue, then you should aim to use orange with it. Purple looks good with yellow, green works well with red etc. If you use this method, you’ve got two good colours to stick with for the majority of texts, maybe textbox fill colours, slide backgrounds etc.

Next, choose an equivalent for white and black. You can simply use plan white and plain black, but in my opinion it looks better to use something slightly original, because it makes your work look a bit more original. A very dark grey is better than jet black, and a very, very light cream colour is better than white. You might not plan to use these light and dark colours in your presentations but you definitely will use them; often you have an image and you need a light colour to contrast against it, and your two main primary colours don’t work, so you would need your light colour. Sometimes you might use you main colour for a heading, its complimentary colour for the subheading, and then want something simple for the main body text – that’s where your black-ish colour would come in handy.

6. Choose fonts

Fonts, used consistently, add more character and originality to your presentations and the right choice will make your videos look more professional.

You have two choices with fonts. Choice one is to stick with something very, very basic like Calibri or Arial, something already installed on your computer. The second choice is to find something original online. The alternative to these, which I don’t consider an option, is to use other interesting fonts already on your laptop. Fonts like Comic Sans or Papyrus, for example. These fonts are so over-used they’re cliché now, and using them is a sure-fire way to make your presentations look amateurish. Please steer clear of them.

If you’ve never downloaded and installed fonts yourself before, I recommend finding something via Google fonts (fonts.google.com). They have a relatively big range of fonts to choose from, and they’re open source, which means you don’t have to pay, and you can pretty much use them for whatever you want. They’re primarily designed for use on webpages using a little snippet of code, but if you look carefully you can see a little “download” button once you’ve selected a font, and it’ll install on your computer. From there you can choose them as a font in your presentation the way you would use any other font.

7. Practice

There is absolutely no substitute for practicing and gaining experience in making videos. The more you do it the more you’ll learn what works for you, because there is no “one-size-fits-all” for making good content.

Wrap Up

Remember that you don’t necessarily need to make your videos more professional – what you need to do is make them high quality, and that means high educational quality, rather than high perceived production value. As a professional educator, your videos are probably already of a very high educational quality. Nonetheless, if you do hope to give your videos that polished touch, these seven steps will certainly get you heading in the right direction, and help increase your global audience size if that’s a goal for your videos.

 

 

Reflecting on a flipped learning lesson


Recently I did a flipped learning lesson on enzymes for a year 10 (age 14-15) IGCSE Biology class. The results were fantastic, and the lesson was well received by the students. The content was covered far more efficiently than with a traditional (non-flipped) lesson, and students were obviously having a great time.

(The full lesson plan and all resources are available here.)

At this point I should mention that not all of my lessons are flipped; I think flipped learning is a positive paradigm shift in teaching and I aim to maximise its use, but I don’t think teaching is a one-trick show. I don’t think there is one teaching method that suits every topic, every teacher, and every student. (And the science supports this; students learn better when there is variety, but more on that in a later post).

The basic outline of the lesson went like this:

  • At the end of Monday’s lesson (Monday’s lesson wasn’t related to enzymes), I gave the students the worksheet on enzymes, and directed them to the video on Youtube that would give them the information to complete the sheet.
  • At the very beginning of the next lesson (which was on Thursday), students did peer checking to compare answers. The work wasn’t assessed as it was a learning task, not an assessment task, so students were told that changing answers is OK here, it’s not “cheating”.
  • After the peer review, we did a class review, then I took questions. The students were all engaged, and most of them took additional notes on their homework sheet as part of the group review. By now we were 10 minutes into the lesson and all students had covered all the content and reviewed it. Of course, the level of understanding each student had, and their ability to apply the work, was unknown at this point, but that’s OK for now.
  • Next, the students started the in-class task. They had to create a role-play to demonstrate enzyme function, including the effects of extreme temperatures. (For the non-science teachers: Enzymes change shape and therefore can’t do their job if the temperature gets too high, and this is an appropriately challenging concept to demonstrate as a role-play). I’ve used role-plays a lot in different types of lessons and for different topics. From experience I know that these can be quite non-inclusive as students who are shy, or possibly don’t fully understand the work, tend to say nothing and just do as instructed by the other students to complete the role-play. My solution for this was a staggered planning phase:
    • Students work in pairs to plan the role-play.
    • Students find a new partner and share their ideas again.
    • Pairs join pairs (to make a group of four) and then collaborate on the best way to do the role-play.
    • Repeat this until the group sizes are as you want. I ended up doing some extra re-shuffling and had groups of 6 for the role-play

 

By the time that large group work got underway, every student had had a chance to apply the work in a pair setting. Careful teacher monitoring is important here, and throughout this lesson, as a form of micro formative assessment to determine how much understanding and application there is. The room was a hive of activity and enthusiastic discussion throughout the pair-share sections. Keep Bloom’s taxonomy in mind here: the students “remembered” and hopefully “understood” before the discussions even began. In the pair activities some students had the chance to gain an understanding from their partner, while others were at the level of “applying” and “creating” as they came up with ideas for the role-play. Do you see the implication here?! Some students were reaching the highest order of thinking within 15 minutes of their first lesson on the topic!

The role-plays at the end of the lesson were really useful for me and the students. For the students, the role-play gave them a goal to pull everything together; the idea of performing a role-play to the class gives a healthy sense of pressure. But for me, this was a great chance for some formative assessment; the performances were a direct reflection of student understanding and highlighted any misconceptions. I was pleased to see, there were very few.

I can’t talk about all of the pros without addressing some of the cons associated with this approach. In the past I have taught this topic the traditional (non-flipped) way. Typically it would take around three lessons to cover the amount of work covered here. Over those lessons, new ideas would be introduced, and each time a new idea is introduced it would be presented in the context of what had already been studied. In short, students would have had several lessons to review and re-apply the key concepts of the topic. Does this flipped method race through the content and deny students important review opportunities? My instinct says, “no”. My long-term plan would be the same regardless of the teaching method: the amount of time I have available to teach the chapter on Enzymes is the same. The students may have covered most of the chapter in a single lesson, but that doesn’t mean this is the only lesson we will spend on it. The only consequence I can see is that I now have “too much” time available. This is never a bad thing. Here is the chance to fit in an extra practical activity or maybe try some other idea that I’ve wanted to implement for a while but never had the time to schedule it.

I rounded off the lesson by a quick show of hands from the students, asking how many preferred the “learn at home first” way and how many preferred the “learn at school” method. The results were 18 to 2 for flipped learning. There’s not too much to read into this because what a students wants, and what is best for their learning, are often two very different things. Nonetheless, giving students a chance to share their opinions on their own learning is always important, and asking these questions as way to tell students that their opinion matters. It’s good for rapport building at the very least.

If you want to try the Enzyme lesson describe here, all resources including the homework, video and lesson plan are available here at Science Sauce Online.