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Adventures in Educational Video Design 2- Operating Principles

Adventures in Educational Video Design 2- Operating Principles

This is the second in a series of posts that examines the process of creating videos to use with my AP Biology classes.

My current answers to some questions about the use of course videos follow below:

Why Video?

Textbooks aren’t used by most students and video is. I have data that supports this statement, at least within the tiny slice of the educational world that I inhabit. I don’t really want to get into the reasons why I think this is the case here, nor do I have any inclination to rehashing the general arguments for/against textbook usage (e.g. “students need to learn how to read textbooks for their future academic careers”). I’ve also previously said plenty about issues like the questionable fiscal wisdom of spending tens of thousands of dollars purchasing a resource that is underused and instantly out-of-date. These issues are interesting to me but this is not the place for them. All that’s important here is that textbooks aren’t used by most students and video is. Creating course videos is a way that I can respond to what is most useful for my students. It really is that simple.

Why your own videos?

I’m going to go out on a limb here and acknowledge that while I don’t have data to support my position, it is my strong belief that if you are going to use videos in your courses, they will be much better for your students if you are the one that creates them. I have no real idea why this is so, but I absolutely believe that it’s the case. Back before I created my chemistry series, I used videos created by another teacher. It certainly worked better than the textbook did, but it didn’t work nearly the videos that I made would, once I made them.
Of course, it’s easy for me to say this. I have the professional space and (enough) technical chops to actually conceive of, shoot, edit, and post my own course videos. I am totally sympathetic to teachers who don’t have the skill set, or space in their life to get a series of course videos out into the world. And if you find yourself described in the preceding sentence, I don’t have any issue with you deciding to use another teacher’s videos in your courses (not that you should even really care what I think about this). But it is my experience that many teachers don’t make videos not because they can’t but because they don’t want to. These are slightly different things to me. The reasons why a teacher may not want to make their own course videos range pretty far for me in terms of their validity. Many reasons agree with my own internal thinking, but some don’t. Generally speaking, issues of comfort don’t rise to the level of significance where I would not make my own course videos. You know who’s uncomfortable watching themselves on a screen? Everyone. The people who do wind up overcoming that discomfort and actually doing the thing are not “better” or more talented than those who don’t. They are just less easily embarrassed/more tolerant of not looking as great as they imagine they should. The other big reason I see for not making videos that I take issue with is a line of thought that goes something like “Well \ already made videos about this, so I don’t see why I should.” I find this to be the least valid of all reasons. You should, because \ isn’t teaching your students. You are.

What types of videos are best?

There are lots of ways that you can make videos and lots of different choices about how to present information. Here are my preferences:

  • You should be on the screen. I am not a fan of the “disembodied voice” style of video. I think that it’s important for learners to see the face of the teacher while being taught. Looking at the face of the person talking is a major way that we get context about the information being presented, and context is key.
  • Your AV materials should be well-designed. I don’t expect teachers to have a graduate-level understanding of information design and presentation, but I do think it’s appropriate to put some thought into the design of the materials you are going to use in your videos (just like I’d expect teachers to do for any materials they are going to use in their classes). Walls of text, low-resolution images, overly busy aesthetics…these are all design crimes that can be easily avoided. Again the point isn’t to be perfect here, just to think about it a bit.
  • Your videos should be part of a curriculum. YouTube is full of detached, flashy, info-nugget style videos that exist to quickly teach you something interesting in a standalone format. I love videos like that, particularly when they are about things that intersect with my interests. Rarer, though still common, are video series that present a “course” of material that is connected from one video to the next. These are great, too, and they get closer to being an actual curriculum, but I still think they fall down. For me, videos that are created as part of a curriculum are presented in such a way as to provide learners with the kinds of scaffolding they need to integrate them into their larger course of study, and connect them to an overt narrative flow through the material. I’ll talk more about this in another piece, but one thing that I look for here are supplementary materials that accompany the videos and internal framing mechanisms that encourage learners to actively view the videos and engage with the material to help them make sense of what they are learning about. Of course, a lot of this curriculum thinking happens outside of the videos themselves, within the larger structures of the classroom. Even so, you should really try to provide curricular resources for all students who watch your videos, not just the ones in your classes.

These are my major thoughts about course videos. I won’t pretend that I’m some expert, or that anything offered here is beyond totally fair critique. I frankly expect that I’m not considering worthwhile perspectives, missing obvious counterpoints, or wrong in a variety of other ways. But for all of that, it’s what I think, and why I’ve approached the creation and use of course videos in my teaching practice in the way that I have.


If ever a piece cried out for comment and correction, it’s this one. Drop me a line or leave a comment below if you have something to say. Criticism improves thinking!

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