That’s a wrap: Reflections on the process of teaching and learning video production

This guest post comes from Patrick Bijsmans (Maastricht University), offering some practical insights from his use of video in L&T.

During these strange months in cyber-space, I personally was keen on using videos to support my students’ learning; something I already considered doing pre-Corona, but never actually came round to trying. Now I had to redesign several lectures that were ideal for introducing video.

Overall, I was very satisfied and this experience makes me want to use more videos in the future to contribute to (but not replace) my lectures, also when on-campus teaching resumes. There are a couple of challenges, of course. Here are a few things that I’ve learned:

1. Staging

Given the current situation, I wanted to create a more homely feel to reach out to my students – I didn’t want to record from my office, but from the living room or the garden. I used my iPhone to record my videos. A phone is easy to use and offers a flexible platform (don’t forget to shoot your video in landscape mode!). But where do you put your phone? Where do you put yourself? And what about your notes?

Mind you, university set-ups can also be far from ideal. As part of one of my lectures, a colleague recorded a video in our lecture hall. Not only did she have to do so twice, due to technical issues, but the camera angle is weird, as you can see from the image below. Zero interaction (there’s no one in that lecture hall!) and difficult to read non-verbal signs. On top of this, sound trails behind the actual video.

2. Recording

I was very satisfied with the quality of the images. Yet, some additional equipment would have come handy during recording, in particular a decent mic and stand. My colleague John Parkinson used the home set-up pictured below, which I tried to recreate by stacking books and tables. I quickly discarded the notes, as footage looked quite odd when I wasn’t looking into the lens.

It is quite tricky to find the right set up and ambient noise does not help. I do not remember the exact number of times I had to stop the recording because a plane passed over, a child ran into a garden, or my phone tumbled from the pile of books… Question for next time: do I record everything at once and edit such mishaps out later or do I record snippets and join them together?

3. Editing

I used iMovie, which is easy to use. If you have a computer with a half-eaten piece of fruit on its casing, you can add different files, including audio, pictures and slides, and you can pick from several easy-to-use titles, backgrounds and transitions. Yet, editing still comes down to seconds and fractions of seconds, so it’s a nitty-gritty, time-consuming process.

For a Euroscepticism video I invited colleagues to each contribute a short clip. The picture below is a screenshot from my iMovie dashboard, where you can see that lots of editing was required. The length of the clips ranged from just over 2 to just over 10 minutes, and the resulting video is nearly 27 minutes long; a bit risky given online attention spans (but it worked out fine). The window on the bottom of the picture shows all the different elements of the video; from opening sequence to closing titles, all the short clips, the transitions and other material that I included.

Ahead of next academic year, I am considering acquiring some additional equipment to increase the quality of my videos. I also want to try and work with shorter clips to merge them at a later stage, instead of starting anew every time a child jumps onto the trampoline. And next time I will provide contributors with more guidelines to make the editing process easier, but also for coherence in case of separate knowledge clips.

Of course, other questions remain.

For instance, what will support in terms of equipment look like next year? Will universities invest in better, more user-friendly equipment? And how will universities remunerate the time spend on making videos (or podcasts, etc.)? Plus, can we use and share videos with other colleagues and students at other departments, given copyrights issues?

We can all play our part here, by raising these questions with our university and department administrators. Because these are questions that need to be addressed to stimulate innovative teaching and learning, also when on-campus teaching resumes.

Meanwhile, I do encourage you to try using videos yourself. Grab your phone, shoot a short video on a topic that you usually lecture on or provide your students with reading for, do some minor editing, and, voilà. You’ll be surprised by the result!