In previous parts of our series on video projects, we have discussed the importance of providing students with guidelines for working on video projects, focusing on editing, time commitment, and content.  In this fourth part, the focus will shift to the equipment students will use to produce the videos. Over the last decade, high-definition cameras have become ubiquitous as they are attached to mobile devices and dedicated video cameras become better and cheaper simultaneously. In many respects the democratization of video tools can make designing video projects more difficult, and it becomes important to consider limiting equipment options to ensure student success. Thankfully, there are a myriad of options available depending on the educational goals of the project.

Cell phones and tablets have reached a near-ubiquity amongst college students. The vast majority of those devices have a camera attached to the device capable of recording high-definition video. While these devices are commonly owned by students, there are significant hurdles to using cell phone footage in these projects. While cell phones often have high-definition cameras, the formats that these videos take can vary widely. That variation in formats and resolution sizes can be problematic when students edit the footage as formats cannot be guaranteed to work with certain editing platforms. Also, cell phone cameras can often yield video that can best be described as rough, as there are limited options for stabilization and sound capture. There are much fewer options for students recording with cell phones than dedicated camcorders.

Dedicated camcorders are a great option for students, as they easily allow students to utilize standard stabilization and audio accessories. While there are dozens of makes and models of camcorders on the market, it can help level the playing field to require students to use one or two models. Camcorders can be more complicated than using cell phones; however, with a short amount of training, students will be able to create much more compelling and professional looking video. Additionally, camcorders often use removable memory cards like SD cards to store footage on, which makes transporting and handling footage much easier. The ISS Media Center has multiple types of camcorders for class use, as well as audio and stabilizing accessories such as microphones and tripods.

Webcams and laptop cameras are an additional option for video projects. These types of cameras work best when the video project has either a screen capture component or presentation element. The benefit of using these cameras is that students can easily refer to notes or a script on the device’s screen and can film themselves easily. There are some distinct downsides to using these tools, as they often are difficult to film more than one person, are generally unable to zoom or pan, and can be of lower quality than other tools.

There are additional types of cameras, such as DSLRs and higher end cameras found in television studios, but those can require specialized skills and resources that may not be available to most students or classes. However, it is possible that students can have access to these sorts of cameras due to their other classes or resources. While it may be tempting to allow students to choose any tool they have available to record their video, it can lead to an uneven playing field for the rest of the course. Even with a well-defined rubric and project plan, the aesthetic superiority of higher end cameras can make it easier to overlook other problems with the video and can make a video project seem better than it actually is. Students can also experience different difficulty levels, as some high-end DSLRs can record in much less ideal conditions than most camcorders.

No matter what decision is made concerning equipment, it is a best practice to provide students with clear guidelines about the equipment they are going to be using and to ensure that all students have equal access to the equipment.  By providing equal access and standardizing the equipment to be used for a particular video project, it can pay dividends by making the grading process easier, removing student anxiety about not having access to equipment others have access or skill to use, and can ensure a standardized editing experience for students.

Thank you for reading our continued series on video projects. You can go back and read Part 1, Part 2, and Part 3 here. In our next part, we will discuss the ways in which LSA-ISS can assist you with the design and implementation of video projects in your course. It will be available in the next issue of the Engage Newsletter.