When considering how to present course materials in a video format, how something is presented is just as important as what is being said. Lifeless or stodgy video has an uphill battle to maintain viewer interest, regardless of how interesting the content is or how crucial it is to the course objectives. When students are unfocused, this can depress the retention of facts and lower enthusiasm for the material. There are a few simple things (and a couple of challenging ones) that can be done during the production of course video that can avoid those pitfalls. In this article, we will discuss five different approaches to this problem.

1. Make Things Shorter

The first way to improve the level of engagement that students have with video content is to make sure that the video is not too long. Philip Guo of the University of Rochester, who studies human-computer interaction in education, recently did an analysis of student engagement in online math and science classes based on video clip length. What he discovered was that student engagement peaks at about six to nine minutes, and then drops off dramatically (https://blog.edx.org/optimal-video-length-student-engagement), suggesting that student attention spans are much shorter when they are watching videos on their own time. This does not mean that more in-depth topics should be avoided, but instead broken up into chunks for easier consumption.

2. Visual Variety

Guo went on to do an additional piece of research on what kinds of videos received the most engagement, looking closely at videos that replicate the classroom experience, videos with someone engaging the camera directly, videos primarily made of screencasts with annotations, and finally powerpoint slides. The evidence shows conclusively that videos that contained a variety of techniques, for example a screencast interrupted by video of the instructor speaking, performed better than videos that use only one technique (edX Article). As well, videos that do not change their angle or location, such as a live lecture recording, had the weakest performance. These decisions can be made in the planning stages of the video and are worth the time investment to create lasting course material.

One example of this in action was a series of videos that ISS produced in collaboration with the Chemistry department in order to create how-to videos for various lab equipment. Each video had a person on screen introducing the object, text and graphic elements were used to highlight important features, and screencaptures were incorporated for equipment that used software.  

3. Know Your Audience and Goals

During the planning process, it is important to determine the goal of the video. Videos created as tutorials differ from videos intended as lectures in a few key areas. First, videos that are tutorial based are likely to be watched multiple times by students as they learn how to do the action the video is teaching. They will also scrub through the video to find the information they are missing. One way to address that is to include on-screen text that can easily indicate where in the process the viewer is, such as chapter markers. Another way would be to utilize tools such as Playposit to incorporate mid-video goals, links, or activities that can be used for assessment or engagement. Videos that are intended as lectures are generally only watched once before the class session referencing the video and once more before an exam. That means that the primary focus on these videos is to make a strong initial impression. This can take the shape of memorable images, high production value, or the use of humor. The final two approaches speak more to these methods.

4. Use a Script

With the ubiquity of cameras and screen capture technology, it is tempting to create video content on the fly. While the tools to do so are easy to navigate, this approach can lead to a few issues. The primary one is that if, for example, you are recording a screencast while also recording the voice track for it, this will mean a longer, slower video due to frequent pauses and software wait times, both of which can be easily edited out if you record them separately. By writing out a script (or an outline for a longer video), a shorter and more polished video is more easily achieved. When writing a script for video, you can estimate how long the video will be by looking at the word count —about 125 words per minute.

5. Just Add Fun

Finally, another way to increase engagement, particularly for lecture videos, is to incorporate creative elements into the video. There is no limit to the possibilities of how to achieve this. One example of this was a series that ISS produced in collaboration with the Center for Engaged Academic Learning to promote their ride-sharing program, CEAL-Ride. Puppets were used to bring humor to the piece and to make the videos memorable. Since students were typically only going to watch these videos once, it made sense to incorporate punchlines and sight gags that may not withstand multiple viewings. The end result was a series of short clips packed with information enhanced by the humor.



Considering creating video content for your course? LSA-ISS has comprehensive video production capabilities available to LSA faculty and departments. Whether it is capturing a lecture for posterity, creating a screencast of a new software tool, or flipping an entire lecture, LSA-ISS has services that can help. Email us today at lsa-iss-videoservices@umich.edu for more information.