Post by Malcolm Harrison | Production Manager
The transition to remote teaching in the spring was quick and dirty – because it had to be. While everyone made it work to the best of their ability, there are some simple, effective, and inexpensive steps you can take over the summer to improve the student experience of virtual lectures in the fall.
1) Improve Video Quality with a USB Camera
Did you ever find yourself needing to adjust the filming angle and having to tilt the whole laptop screen? The cameras embedded in most laptops don’t offer much flexibility. Tilt, rotation, and zoom are difficult to control, and the quality isn’t that great. If you’re doing live video lectures or recording them for playback later, a high quality camera will improve the student experience. My recommendation is to use the Logitech HD Webcam C615 ($59.99, https://www.logitech.com/en-us/product/hd-webcam-c525). It is really easy to setup and will give your videos a professional look.
2) Filter Background Noise with a Professional Quality Microphone
Laptop microphones pick up a lot of background noise, as anyone who has ever been on a Zoom meeting knows! The camera mentioned above has a good quality mic that is definitely a step up from a laptop mic, but if you want audio as smooth as a radio broadcast, I recommend the Blue Yeti Nano ($99.99, https://www.bluedesigns.com/products/yeti-nano/). It is easy to set up, will significantly reduce background noise, and ensures your voice will be sounding smooth and authentic. Students are going to be dedicating hours to listening to streaming or recorded lectures, so they will appreciate great quality audio. If you’ve got a camera like the one I mentioned above, adding an additional microphone may be overkill. But if you don’t want to upgrade your camera, or are one of those people that just like recording toys (like me!), this is a great option.
3) Create a Script
Lecturing over video is much different than being in person. When in the classroom, you can easily gauge students’ reactions and assess body language for engagement. This is all much more difficult, if not impossible, to do over video. Plus, you may have years of experience in the classroom, where lecturing just comes naturally. Being in front of a camera is a totally different experience and requires a little extra preparation. I recommend developing a script for your video lecture. If you’re doing asynchronous lectures, a full script that you can read from is definitely best, but if you're doing synchronous, the natural pauses and “fillers” actually make the lecture seem more like an in-person lecture, so a high-level outline of what you plan to say is sufficient. To save your fingers from all the needed typing, try out some speech to text software. If you are a microsoft word subscriber, you already have a text to speech function in the program!
If you don't have a Microsoft 365 subscription, using a google document will grant you the same feature! The video below will explain how easy the process is.
4) Let Youtube Caption for You
Accessibility is super important in the age of remote learning, so leverage the tools that are out there to help you get high quality captions for all your videos. Youtube does a great job with their automatic captioning service. After you upload your video to Youtube, you will see a CC button at the button of your video to ensure captions have been generated. The automatic captioning isn’t perfect, and you may need to go in and change some things if your lecture includes a lot of technical or domain-specific terms, but overall this can be a real timesaver. If you desire to clean up your captions, here's a great tutorial on how to update your closed captioning.
How to Edit YouTube Auto Captions
5) Set the Scene
To the extent that you are able, choose a setting for your video lecture that will be free from distractions for you and your students. Move a picture or plant around so that it is in view to give a nice background, and clear away any clutter that is on your desk (no, you don’t actually have to clean up…just push that stack of folders over so that the camera doesn’t see it!). This will make the “field of view” pleasant and conducive to learning for your students. Lighting is also very important. Do a short test recording and watch it. If the lighting appears too dim, move a lamp or two around so that there is plenty of light in the area you are recording. If you have an available window, try to sit facing the window. Although windows look great in the background of your shot, without ample lighting in front of you, you will appear as a silhouette.
Unless you are doing a demonstration that requires it, recording or streaming a lecture outside is usually not recommended. In media production, we want to “control the scene” and there are way too many things outside that we can’t control.
If you have a little bit of free time over the summer, pick one of the above tips to try. You certainly don’t have to tackle everything all at once. Master one thing, then move to the next, and over time you’ll be producing professional-quality video lectures that your students will appreciate. Lastly, none of the products mentioned in this article are sponsored, I just like and recommend them!
For more information on how to support your students online, click here to read our resource on the value of digital course materials.