Recording compelling online lectures is not difficult, but taking a few moments to plan and prepare can help improve the quality of the recording. Below are some simple steps you can take to maximize the impact of your videos with students.

Segmentation and Length

Current best practices (backed by research) indicate that instructors should be segmenting their lectures and limiting those segments’ length. These segments typically exist in most lectures naturally- divisions between topics, ideas, and so on. The difference here is that those segments should be separate videos- not just pauses or shifts in tone. This allows the videos to function modularly, allows for students to more easily review sections, and provides natural breaks for student attention and checks for learning.

Each video segment is ideally not longer than 6-10 minutes long. There are several caveats here:

  • You can speak faster than you might in person in these recordings, as student retention doesn’t diminish as the rate of speech increases
  • You won’t have to stop for questions
  • You don’t need to devote much time in each to introducing or summarizing.
  • A full online lecture might have several 6-10 minute segments stitched together.  

Slide Design

Slides should be clear, focused, and high contrast. It is better to have more slides with less information on them each than fewer slides crowded with text and data. Reading the content of a slide to students is typically counter-productive, as students will often disengage. Slides that illustrate points, provide context, or provide the basis of an anecdote are best.

Use high-contrast colors. Black text on a white background (or the inverse) are your best bet. Videos are often watched by students at less than full-screen size, and smaller fonts are difficult to read in such videos.

If possible, relevant visuals tend to have a greater impact than words- if your concepts can be represented by graphics or pictures, then that is often better than a bullet list of text.

Audio

Clear audio is critical in online video lectures. Students will often tolerate less-than-optimal video quality, but they will quickly tire and rebel against noisy or unclear audio. This can be mitigated with a few easy steps:

  • Find a quiet location to record. Be aware of computer noises (phones ringing, email alerts, computer fan noise etc), HVAC noise, interruptions, and ambient noise (traffic, trains, footsteps, etc).
  • Wear headphones. This will allow you to hear how the audio sounds through your computer, and removes any cross-talk between speakers and microphones.
  • Use the best microphone you can. If you have a USB microphone available, that’s a great place to start. If you don’t, you might have a pair of headphones that have a built in microphone that could work. Even cell phone headphones with an included mic are often better than the mic on your laptop.
  • Speak clearly. You can speak rapidly, but try to take care to enunciate clearly and speak crisply.

Video

If you are including video of yourself, there are a few steps you can take that will help improve the quality immensely.

  • Lighting: If you have a window with natural light, that’s excellent- you should face towards that window. If you  are in a darker room (or are recording at night), place a lamp behind your computer to light your face. Don’t rely on overhead lights or ambient light in a room. And avoid being backlit (having a light behind you one camera)- you’ll appear as a silhouette.
  • Framing: Laptops on a desk tend to sit below our eye line, and that leads to an unflattering low-angle image. Raising your webcam (or your entire laptop) up so the camera is at eye height will yield a much more natural image.
  • Wardrobe: Cameras struggle with small patterns, and these can often produce undesirable visual artifacts in video. To avoid this, solid colors are best, and a color that provides contrast with your background is your best choice.
  • Framing: Framing refers to the scope of what the camera sees. If you’re recording a video of you speaking to camera, you should fill most of the frame with your face. Ideally, your eyes would be aligned with a horizontal line 2/3rds of the way up the frame. If you’re recording a slideshow, making the slides as large as possible- full screen allows the greatest degree of readability.

For a brief example, this Khan video shot in an office makes use of most of these techniques: 

For a quick look at a short-form video made with nothing but paper and markers, this is a good example:

Checks for Learning

With video lectures being segmented and sequential, there are opportunities to do checks for learning. Asking students self-diagnostic questions at the end of a section allows students to determine if they’ve fully understood the key point of a video before moving on. Just as you might occasionally pause in a live lecture to query for understanding in a classroom, online lectures benefit from the occasional inclusion of such questions. There are a few good options for doing checks for learning in your videos:

  • At the end of a video: At the end of a segment is a great time to ask a question- this can be about the specifics of a the segment, or can be questions designed to prompt students to apply new understanding to novel circumstances. If this is done at the end of a segment of lecture that is not the final segment of a sequence, it also provides an excellent transition into the next segment (as you can briefly speak about potential answers/solutions to the question you’ve asked).
  • In between video segments: It’s possible to include questions to be answered in between segments- that is, a list of written prompts can be posted to be viewed/completed in between segments. This need not be a graded assignment (though it could be), and serves to make sure students are connecting their new material into their understanding.
  • In the middle of a segment: depending on the topic, it could be useful to give a prompt and have students pause the video on their own to reflect on an answer or work out a solution before continuing on with the segment.