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While video can be a powerful tool, producing professional instructional videos can take significant time and effort. Know when to invest in creating instructional videos and when to use quicker and simpler methods.

Producing Instructional Videos

Video can be an important and effective teaching tool, especially in an online setting. It is easy for students to get distracted when they’re alone in front of a computer, though (“hey, look, another cat video”), so make sure your videos are engaging.

Here are 10 tips for producing effective instructional videos.

  1. Don’t make a video. It may be easier, cheaper, more effective, or faster to add a narration or lecture to an existing PowerPoint presentation. A simple audio recording may be enough. Video can be expensive and/or time consuming, so make sure video is the right medium for your message.
  2. Understand how and where the video fits into the overall instruction. Is all the instruction included in the video, or do they need something else? Can you include assessment in the video, or do they need to take a quiz? Make sure you know how it all fits together so your students have everything they need.
  3. Get organized. The film industry has followed the same process for over a hundred years. It works if you follow it in this order:
    1. Pre-production includes scripting and planning.
    2. Production is acquiring audio, video, and other materials identified in the script.
    3. Post-production is editing and putting everything together.
  4. Understand the audience and make sure the video is appropriate. Students won’t watch if the instruction is too simple or too far over their heads.
  5. Ask yourself what viewers will see. Video is a visual medium. Demonstrations, modeling, and experiments (especially those that would otherwise be difficult for students to access any other way), will engage students in ways that a lecture or talking head won’t. It may be helpful to introduce yourself or offer feedback and encouragement, but don’t rely on talking head lectures. Considering using something other than video if you can’t decide what students will see.
  6. Write a script. You may know the subject inside and out, but it’s easy to get off topic. Writing a script helps identify important information and eliminate unnecessary introductions, confusing information, or tangents. It also helps you identify everything you will need if you are giving a demonstration or conducting an experiment. Read the script out loud a few times before you turn the camera on to make sure it’s engaging and delivered in the appropriate tone.
  7. Keep it short and to the point. Don’t include too much information or instruction in a single video. Make sure the video has a point and gets to it as quickly as possible. Studies have shown that the longer the online video, the less likely viewers will watch to the end. A series of short videos is generally better than one long one.
  8. Make it look good. You don’t have to be a world class videographer to make an effective and inexpensive instructional video, but there are some simple things you can do to make it better. (The following applies to online conferencing as well.)
    1. Practice before you start shooting.
    2. Follow the rules of good composition to guide student’s eyes and help them know what to look at. Start with the Rule of Thirds.
    3. Shoot in the widescreen 16:9 format if you use a phone. It is important to keep students focused, so anything, like ugly black bars on both sides of the video, can be distracting.
    4. Use a tripod or other support. Nobody wants to get seasick watching a video.
    5. Use good lighting so students can see what you want them to see. Use windows, lamps, or even a white poster board to reflect light. A basic understanding of 3-point lighting will help.
    6. Pay attention to the background. You don’t want the background to be the center of attention. Also make sure there is some separation between your subject and the background.
    7. Capture good audio. There are good microphones that are inexpensive. Test the audio before you start so you can make any adjustments. Find a quiet location and avoid shooting during typically noisy times. It helps to close your eyes and just listen for a while – you’ll be surprised at how much you’ll hear that you hadn’t noticed to before.
  9. Keep the editing simple. Just because the editing software you’re using offers 1,875,293 star wipe transitions doesn’t mean you need to use any or all of them. Use effects when they actually communicate meaning. Otherwise, stick with simple cuts and dissolves. (This applies to PowerPoint Slides as well.)
  10. Don’t stuff too much on to the screen. You can put a lot of stuff on a screen, but that is not good instruction. It’s better to keep your visuals simple and focused on one important point at a time. Competing visual information can be confusing when you want viewers to focus on the instruction.

Screen Capture

BYU Professor David Lignell demonstrates screen capture using Open Broadcaster Software (OBS), a free open source video software that is compatible with Windows, Apple, and Linux systems.

Screen recording demo with Powerpoint, Jupyter, and iPad using OBS software