Three great lecture recording options for remote education rookies

July 27, 2020

Recording lectures can be a daunting challenge for faculty who are new to online learning. Here are three solid approaches, vetted by our UM-Dearborn experts.

A collage graphic showing two students watching an online lecture.
A collage graphic showing two students watching an online lecture.
Graphic by Violet Dashi

As UM-Dearborn prepares for a fall semester that’s heavy on remote learning, many faculty will soon be recording lectures for their first fully online courses. If you find yourself in this boat, don’t panic. Even with tight timelines imposed by the pandemic, UM-Dearborn’s digital learning experts say the challenge is totally manageable if you don’t try to do too much, too fast. Here are three straightforward approaches they say will deliver solid results, even if you’re a rookie.

Option A: Simple at-home recording

Tech you’ll need: Can be as simple as a laptop or phone; add an external camera and mic for better quality. Annotation devices can give your students a whiteboard-style experience.

For many faculty, recording a lecture at home will be the most straightforward choice and Instructional Designer Alfonso Sintjago says producing high-quality videos at home is totally doable. The built-in camera and mic on your smartphone or laptop can be adequate, but if you want to go the extra mile, the university is supplying faculty with external cameras and mics that will deliver better video and audio. Once on camera, experiment with the lighting. Sintjago says first make sure you have enough of it; if your image looks grainy, you probably need more light. Your light source should also be in front or slightly to one side of your face, rather than behind you. Using natural light from a window is great if you can record during the day. You’ll also want to make sure the camera position is at eye level or a little above, because shooting from below is typically unflattering. For faculty who write on the board a lot during their lectures, Sintjago says consider adding an annotation device, which is basically a tablet that you can write on with a stylus. Whatever you’re scribbling down can either be displayed as its own screen, or superimposed overtop an existing screen, like a PowerPoint slide.

For software, Sintjago says both Kaltura Capture, which is integrated right into Canvas, or PowerPoint 365 work great for beginners. PowerPoint has an added advantage of recording a single video file for each slide, which makes it easier to correct something if you discover a mistake or decide to do a small retake. Importantly, both platforms automatically generate on-screen captions for accessibility. They’re typically 80 percent accurate, and correcting transcription mistakes is as easy as editing a text file.

One last tip: The casual, personal vibe of an at-home lecture can totally be an asset. “I saw a great example from someone in Minnesota where you could see her dog and fireplace in the background. The whole scene was very cozy and you felt invited into her home,” Sintjago says. Another way to make the whole experience more personal for students: Record casual, short beginning- or end-of-week videos where you go over important reminders or respond to interesting discussion points from students.

Option B: At-home recording with style points

Tech you’ll need: Laptop, external camera, wireless lavalier mic and green screen.

If you’re aiming for something with a little more polish, adopting Mercedes Miranda as your online learning guru can dramatically shorten the learning curve. The Business Economics and Finance lecturer has been teaching online since 2009, and her colleagues rave about her video lectures. Miranda says she does everything at home, and her setup is pretty simple: An external camera, wireless lavalier mic, and the Kaltura Capture software that’s integrated into Canvas. But she does have one secret ingredient: a $20 green screen she got at Walmart. This allows her to lecture onscreen with a slide in the background, kind of like a TV meteorologist showing off a weather map. She says studies have revealed that showing your face makes a lecture appear more personal to students, though too much of you can be distracting. She finds being onscreen to introduce the topic and then letting the PowerPoint slides and voiceover carry the load to be the right balance.

 

More than technology, Miranda’s secret to successful lectures lies in how she organizes them. “If you simply try to reproduce your classroom lecture on screen, you’ll end up with a one- or two-hour monologue, and that’s not very engaging,” Miranda says. Instead, she says dissect your lecture and break it down into no more than five main points. Then record a no longer than 10-minute lecture on each point. She even further segments those individual mini lectures with short quizzes, which appear periodically during the video. That helps add some interactivity and also checks for comprehension. The Video Quiz function is integrated right into Kaltura Capture and you can insert quizzes easily at any point after you record your lecture.

Two of Miranda’s next-level tips: First, have your mini lectures focus on core concepts, but avoid referring to specific examples, pages of a particular textbook, or things that could get out of date quickly. If you end up teaching online for multiple semesters, you can reuse your core concept videos and simply update your examples as needed. Second, leave yourself enough time to produce your lectures. Miranda says it typically takes her two eight-hour days to finish one. And you never want to start a course with fewer than two weeks worth of lectures in the bank.

Option C: On-campus lecture capture 

Tech you’ll need: None, but you can bring your own devices.

If your home situation makes recording challenging, or you just find using all this technology a little daunting, recording on-campus might be a better bet. The Professional Education Center (PEC) recently opened up its lecture capture classrooms to all faculty, and they’re equipped with high-quality cameras, microphones, document readers, annotation tools, the Canvas-integrated Mediasite Desktop Recorder software (which you can also use at home, by the way), and staff to guide you through the recording session. To make things even easier, much of the process is automated. Video Production Coordinator Joe Goraj told us the recording automatically begins at the start of your booked time and your videos get uploaded immediately after you finish. If you need some light editing at the beginning or end of a session, they can help with that too. Typically, the finished videos will be ready for your students the following day. In addition, they have portable equipment to shoot short supplemental videos if faculty want to do some show-and-tell from their labs. Check out this clip to see an example of what your finished video lecture will look like.

Two tips for beginners if you go this route: As much as possible, try to look directly into the camera. It may feel awkward at first, but from the student’s perspective, that amounts to looking them in the eye. In addition, if you’re used to pointing a lot during a lecture, say, at a whiteboard or projection screen, be aware that may not be in view of the camera. As an alternative, you can annotate your screen with a digital stylus or use your mouse pointer.

Bonus tip: Make a plan before you record and get help if you need it.

Whichever route faculty end up choosing for lecture recording, Sintjago says don’t get too hung up on the technology. What makes a lecture video “good” isn’t so much its production values but what you’re doing with your time on screen and how it fits into the rest of your course. If you need help figuring out an approach that works for you, Sintjago says to reach out to the instructional designers at The Hub. They can help you talk through what you want to do in the course and figure out what tools and techniques will get you there. The Hub is also hosting weekly course design tutorials in August to help faculty get ready for fall.

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Need help getting started? Reach out to The Hub. Or if you want to learn more about CECS’s on-campus lecture capture, send an email to UMD-CECSOnline@umich.edu. Ready to record? Complete this form to schedule a recording appointment on campus in the PEC.

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