Many, if not most, of today’s online students are active and enthusiastic consumers of a wide range of video-based media, from watching short clips on YouTube and Vimeo to streaming entire movies and TV shows on Netflix. This interest opens up a range of opportunities for you to both connect with students and to produce new and interesting content for your courses in a format that’s both fresh and familiar. With video production tools more accessible and easy to use than ever, it’s fairly simple to create one, two, or a whole series of videos for your class.

Of course, while it’s easy enough to create a video, that’s only half the battle where online education is concerned. It’s not enough to just have a video, you have to get students to actually watch. While there are some challenges involved, creating engaging videos isn’t nearly as hard as you might imagine. Even if you’ve never made a video before you can get up and going pretty quickly with a little practice, some basic knowledge, and, if you need it, the support of Learning Technologies.

Read on to learn why and how to create videos that go beyond the basics.

Why Videos Should Be Part of Your Online Course

Why go to the trouble of making videos for your online course? It’s more important than you might think.

In an online course, you’re not meeting with your students face-to-face. Some of your students may only vaguely know what you look like and very little about you. You’re a virtual stranger to them and sometimes that can feel pretty alienating to students, especially those who are used to the face-to-face interaction of a traditional course. It’s not uncommon for students to report feeling very disconnected in online courses, leading to higher rates of attrition and poorer learning outcomes.

Videos help to solve that problem by establishing your presence in the online classroom and letting students see that: a) you really do exist and b) you care enough to reach out and engage with them, even if it’s just through a short welcome video.

But using videos in your online courses can have benefits beyond just this. Here are a few reasons you should consider making a video for your next online course:

  • They grab student attention. If all of your course content is in the form of text, studying can get a bit monotonous. Videos offer a chance to vary your instructional delivery method and engage with students in a way that gets their attention and keeps it.
  • You can show, not tell. Trying to help students learn how to do something? It’s a lot simpler and can be more effective to show them in a video than to explain in text or with pictures.
  • Videos help improve accessibility. By offering another format to gain access to content, you improve the accessibility of your course. Videos can be helpful to students with visual impairment or students who have difficulty reading, and with captions and transcripts, they can be accessible and useful to most, if not all of your online students.
  • Students find them effective. The biggest selling point for video content may be the most practical. A recent survey of online students found that 90% of students found video lectures to be effective in communicating course concepts and content. Simply put, videos work for helping students learn.

That said, you shouldn’t ALWAYS use video. Your videos should be serve a real purpose and add something to the learning experience. What does that mean? Research shows that videos are most useful in situations where showing is better than telling, when you’re explaining complicated or complex topics, or when a technique or concept is easily demonstrated through examples or role playing. Of course, there are many other times videos can be particularly helpful to students, like when creating a welcome video or keeping in touch with students, but use them with discretion.


Video Fundamentals: 10 Things to Keep in Mind

Got your topic and tech in order? You’re not quite done yet. There are a couple of things that you need to keep in mind when shooting, editing, and sharing your videos that can have a big impact on how accessible and useful they are to students.

  1. Length: Studies have shown that the length of a video can have a significant impact on student engagement. Shorter videos are more likely to be watched all the way through and maximum effectiveness peaks when videos are six minutes in length. Any longer, and there’s a precipitous drop off in student attention—most won’t even finish watching. If you need to cover more material than that time limit allows, break things up into several shorter videos.
  2. Accessibility: Your videos won’t be worth much if your students can’t access or view them, so you need to figure out how you’ll deliver content to students. Will you put your videos on YouTube? Can all of your students access YouTube (the site may be blocked in some places)? You’ll also need to consider how you will make the content accessible for students with disabilities, whether through captioning or providing other services so that all students can take advantage of your video content. You can find some helpful accessibility tips here.
  3. Engagement: How is your video going to get students engaged? You can use humor, intensive storytelling, visuals that trigger an emotional or intellectual reaction, or a wide range of other tactics. Keep in mind that if you’re narrating a slideshow or screen capture, you need to keep your voice interesting–change inflection your inflection (no Ben Stein monotone) and relax. Don’t be afraid to showcase your passion about the topic.
  4. Focus: While there’s a time and a place for straying off topic, a course video usually isn’t it. Try to choose a single topic to focus on and stick with it through the duration of the video. Covering several topics of veering off into side notes can confuse students and make the video do more harm than good.
  5. Annotations: Accessibility issues aside, it’s smart to add call-outs and annotations throughout your video when you want to hammer home a point or offer some additional information. Seeing the text on screen can also be helpful for students when you’re introducing new terms that may be unfamiliar to them. This can be done in the editing process, but keep it in mind from the start of your project.
  6. Copyright: There are a lot of great images, music, and video clips out there that can help make your videos exciting and fun for students, but many of these things are not free to use and you can violate copyright law by reusing them in your content. There are lots of other legal options, however. Embrace Creative Commons and public domain resources, which can offer you access to ample collections of videos, music, images, and even fonts; look to the library’s extensive collection of videos; or request copyrights for the materials you need through the library or the Learning Technologies department.
  7. Consistency: If you’re making a series of videos, consistency is important so that students know what to expect. You need to embrace a certain style, format, length, structure, or all of the above so that students will know how to approach your videos and can focus on the content instead of being thrown off guard by something different each time.
  8. Audience: Course videos aren’t always one size fits all. Take some time to think about your students. What do they struggle with? What topics have given students the most trouble in your course in the past? How can your video work with your course material and not against it to make it easier to understand and digest? Answering some of these questions beforehand can help you build a better, more useful video.
  9. Relevance: Videos need to also tie into other elements in your course, just as any other content you provide would. You can link your videos to quizzes, discussion boards, or assignments to challenge students to really think about them critically. A recent study at Columbia University demonstrates the criticality of this element: students were much more likely to watch videos that were directly connected to course assignments.
  10. Technology: The technology you have at your disposal is only half the equation. You also need to consider the technology that your students have. Some of them may not have ultra-fast internet connections or computers with lots of RAM that are able to handle hi-def videos. Make sure you’re sharing your videos in a way that all students can access, or providing options so that students can choose how best to access them based on their individual needs.


Techniques and Ideas

Looking for some creative ways to use video in your course? There are many ways to approach making a video that can help get your students engaged and to better convey the subject that you’re teaching, but here are a few ideas to get you started that can help make your videos stand out and be as effective as possible. Even better, they can be a lot of fun for you to make, too!

Tell a story. There is often a gap in understanding between knowing a concept and understanding what it really means in a real life setting. This is where storytelling can be a powerful teaching tool and a smart approach to take when making course videos.

A story can relate a concept to your own experiences, illustrate them with a fictional situation, put a face on a historical event, or a wide range of other ways to bring your course information to life. This method will not only entertain students but also help them to retain and remember the concepts they need to excel in your course and take something away from their educational experience.

Animate it. Don’t want to be on screen yourself? Why not create an animation? One way to do this is to make an RSA-style animation by speeding up a drawing on a chalkboard or whiteboard (find instructions here). If that’s not your style, take advantage of free or cheap online animation programs like Wideo, Moovly,or PowToon.

Illustrate concepts with screencasts. One great way to help students understand how to complete complex tasks in your course is by demonstrating the process firsthand in a screencast. This can be extraordinarily helpful in courses where students need to use specific software for things like programming, engineering, or design, but can play a role in illustrating something as simple as how to format a letter in a word processor or narrating a slideshow. You can find a comprehensive guide to almost everything you need to know about screencasting from Kathy Schrock here.

There are a number of free programs that can help you with screencasting including Screen-cast-o-matic and screenr, but you can also use Camtasia, Jing, Keynote, PowerPoint, or Captivate to make a screencast video, too.

Have fun with animated GIFs and Vines. You don’t have to make a full-length video to get the attention of your students. Sometimes, short videos like those found on Vine (limited to six seconds or less) or moving pictures like animated GIFs are enough, as they’re fun for students, shareable, and eye-catching.

This short format is limiting, but it can be liberating, too as it requires less screen time, editing, and prep than a longer video. Some possibilities include showcasing chemical reactions or experiments, impersonating historical or literary figures (to comic effect, perhaps), course-related puns, tie-ins with course materials and popular culture, or even try to cram an entire book/play/idea into just six seconds or a few frames. Find some great examples and resources for making Vine and GIF videos here and here.

Go out in the field. Cameras are highly portable, so why not bring one with you out on a field trip to make a video for students? There are possibilities for almost any field of study, from touring an artist’s studio to visiting historically significant sites. Personalized takes on these places can help tailor them to your lesson plans and showcase important information for students.

Involve students. Why not make students the stars of your next video? Having to take part in making a video will ensure that they know the material and will give them the satisfaction of having played an active role in the course.

Play the role of interviewer. Teaching a lesson on nanoscience? Interview a leading researcher at Argonne National Laboratory. Reading a great modern novel? Talk with the author. Expert interviews can help students see how the course material is being addressed in real life and can give them (and perhaps you) insights into the material that they might not have otherwise had. Even better, with today’s technology you don’t even need to meet in person—you can conduct an interview over Skype or Google Hangouts and your students can even submit questions they’d like to see answered.

Love making videos for your students? Share your tips, tools, and ideas for creating video content in the comments below. Ready to make a video of your own? Reach out to us at to make an appointment to shoot a video for your course!