Make Super Simple Videos for Teaching Online [video]

min read

The hard part can be getting the confidence to talk to the camera, but making simple videos for online teaching can help you engage with students. This video was produced by Michael Wesch, professor at Kansas State University. You can find more videos like this on his YouTube channel @Michael Wesch.

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Michael Wesch
Kansas State University

Mike: I love, I love teaching out here.

[Inner Dialogue] God, you're forehead is huge. Nobody cares about what you're gonna say. You're so scared you can remember your line.

Hi, I'm Mike Wesch and I'm going to show you how to make a video for your class.

[Inner Dialogue] Ugh, I read it.

Hey Wetty, come here. Come get in the YouTube video with me. What do you think about being on camera? Is it weird?

Son: Yeah.

Mike: Why do you think it's weird?

Son: I don't know.

Mike: Yeah, I think it's weird too. I'm trying to help people be less weird about it. What if you have a job someday where you have to be on camera?

Son: I would quit that job.

Mike: All right, don't quit your job. Here are five reasons to get on camera and put video into your course.

  • Number one: Because it puts more you and your you-ness into your class. And you matter more than anything. As Karen Costa says in "99 Tips for Creating Simple and Sustainable Educational Videos" More than content. More than course design. You are the factor in an online course that has the greatest potential to help your students succeed. So greet your students at the virtual door with a welcome video. I thought it'd be cool if we all just uploaded a video to start things off. Share something about yourself. I love to run, but I would like to add, I also love to run with my kids. And ask them to do the same. You can just grab your phone like this. Just list these three things that you love to do.

  • Number two: It helps builds relationships. Hello, World Religions Class. As the videos came in, I didn't care if they had bad lighting or stumbled over their words now and then.

    Various students:

    - Me and my roommates just recently got a cat.

    - I am a 24th year senior

    - I really like to eat, but that's not really interesting.

    I wasn't just talking to a camera anymore. I was talking to real people. Love the introductions you guys posted. We have so many different perspectives and talents.

  • Number three: Use videos to validate and motivate students. Did you guys see Sara's post on this? Mention great comments and celebrate great work. You guys might've seen Taylor had a really interesting experience. Offer quick words of encouragement. Hey guys, I know this week is super hard. The good news is I love to help people. If you need some help, just reach out.

  • Number four: It'll save ya time. A simply weekly overview video of big points and videos that clarify assignment expectations allow students to get on to the questions that really matter. And you can also make short explainer videos that answer any frequently asked questions about particular concepts or ideas.

  • Number five: implicit messaging. Video is a great way to get across the most important lessons of a class. The lessons that are better shown than said. If you're just hanging out with people just like you, you can't grow, you can't stretch yourself. Guys, I just wanna show you guys. You can work it into your life. That you can work learning into your life.

Most of the videos you just saw are what I call super simple videos or what Karen Costa calls simple and sustainable. Simple, because they require almost no technology or technology know-how and no editing. And sustainable, because you might actually be able to do them throughout the entire semester. These super simple videos are also arguably the most effective. Even more effective than something you can do with a fancy camera like this here. Technically, making a video like this really is pretty easy. You really just need a big light source. A big light source will light up face very evenly and make you look your best. If you use a very small light, it'll create a lot of harsh shadows on your face. And if you don't have enough light, you can get a lot of grain in your image. And it just won't look nice. The second thing you wanna make sure you have is stability. So, in this case, I've just duct taped my phone to the window. This is just to show you that you can do this with stuff you already have around the house. And you wanna set this up right about eye height. That'll look the most natural. Unless you create some sort of dramatic effect. And I'm just using a Google Pixel. This is a 2016 model. It retails for about $65 on Ebay. And as you can you can actually get a pretty good looking shot even with cheap equipment like this. Finally, you also wanna make sure that you have the best sound that you can have. Just turn off the air conditioner. Turn off the fan. Make sure there aren't any really loud noises in your environment or disturbances. And you should be fine. If you really wanna improve your audio though, you can for very little money, buy one of these lapel mics. And I'll just give you a quick example here. This is with the lapel mic on. And this is with the lapel mic off. So, it's really up to you to decide if it's worth it or not. Typically, you can find one of these lapel mics for about 20 or 30 dollars. So now you have your lights, you have your camera, and you have your sound. And really, all that's left is the action. And this is where things get hard. Especially, if you're like me, and it feels very strange to talk with energy to a little glass dot when you're the only thing in the room. When you're the only one in the room.

I should preface this next piece by saying that the only qualification I have for giving tips for talking on camera is that I hate talking on camera. And I'm still talking to the camera right now. And I talk to my students on camera. So, if that sounds like somebody you wanna learn from, then carry on. Because as much as I hate talking on camera, I do talk to my students, and I do make videos for my students. And I think they love it, and it's a super important part of my classes. And I wanna help you do it as well. So, here are five things that I do that help me actually get on camera and talk to the camera, even though I hate doing it.

So, number one is I talk back to fear. I have not gotten rid of my fear. I don't know if anybody ever does, but I have learned to talk back to it. And basically, I just get this sense of gratitude for fear. I realize that my fear has actually been a major driving force in my life. It's steered me, in some ways, in really positive ways. It's kept me alive. And so, you know, when I start to hear those voices. I just talk back to them and I say, "Okay, I get it. "You're trying to protect me and I appreciate that "I'm glad you're there for me, "but right now I need to get to work. "I need to reach out and connect to my students."

And that's the second thing I do, is I think about it as connecting rather than performing. When I think about performing, I get in this perfectionistic mindset and everything has to be amazing and-- You know, and it feels really inauthentic in a way. But when I just think about connecting, it's not about me, it's about them. I'll just start a video off and I'll say, "Hi, class." And the moment I say, "Hi, class", I just feel so much better. I remember that there is a class out there, and there are people out there who need me. And one of the things that helps me a lot is actually to have a list of comments that they made or something like that. And I can just refer to those comments, and then it becomes much more conversational. I like to make the whole thing feel a lot more like a phone call rather than a cinematic production.

Tip number three: Crank your energy up to about 125 percent. As Karen Costa points out in her book, the camera will eat your energy. It's a weird thing, but when you watch yourself back, even if you think you're being really animated and really in the moment, it'll just look kinda flat. You have to get legit excited. And the best way I know to get excited is basically to get centered in the true purpose of what I'm trying to do. I think about my students and what I want for them.

Number four is you gotta relax and just roll with mistakes. I find this really hard to do myself. And so, I'm probably not the right one to be giving this advice, but I do know that things work a lot better when I do get in that space where I can just relax and roll with mistakes. And for me, what works best is not to talk in an environment like this. It's just so much more relaxing for me to be outside. I would much rather be outside with bad lighting. And yeah, the image doesn't look as clean and it's not as beautiful as it was inside, but I much prefer this. It just makes me feel a lot more relaxed to be talking out here than talking in there. That's why you see so many of my little super simple videos are all just outside.

So, that brings me to the fifth point is the super simple video is definitely the way to start. I started out just going big. And the first time, the very first video I ever made for my students. I had this idea that I could go on top of the biggest hill in town and go screaming down it on my roller blades lecturing about the acceleration of cultural change. 6,000 years ago, we had the first cities. And then, after these cities start to grow we hit the recorded part of history. Population explodes. And the next day, I as lecturing about human evolution. And again, I went big and I thought, "Okay, I'm going to show students that we were born to run long distances by running a marathon while I lecture about human evolution. That went okay, but I ended up getting this really nasty leg infection. I ended up in the hospital.

- [Doctor] Is he crazy? I'm really kidding.

- [Mike] It's very swollen if you compare it to.

- [Doctor] Oh, yeah.

Just not good, overall. And the funny thing is: When you talk to my students, you know, they thought those really grand videos were fine. But what they liked the most were these super simple ones.

- What types of videos that Dr. Wesch showed, either ones he made himself or like you're saying he curated a bunch, which did you find most engaging and which contributed most to your learning?

Student: I think one in particular that I remember most is: It was really cool, because he would directly address like specific students. So if I were to ask a question on the board, he would say, "So, Shyla asked this question." And then, he would expand on it, and so that like took it to a different level of feeling like you were actually connecting in a classroom space.

Mike: So, just keep it simple. Keep it real. And just reach out and connect to your students. They'll love it. How do you like to talk on video? You find it weird or are you okay with it? Nobody likes to talk on video.

Various students:

- Anytime a teacher has provided a video of themselves, it just feels much more personal. Even if it isn't like an instructional video, if it's just like introducing themselves or something like that, I think that means a lot on our end of the spectrum.

- It's, seeing him on video, makes it real, because he just talks to the camera like he's talking to anybody else which I think is a skill. He says he doesn't have that skill, but he's very very good at it.

- The most important-- Just humanizing the space in any way you can, taking away the hardness of being in an online classroom, I think any way you can infuse it with more humanity, and connection, and-- Just making it a more warm space to be.