Tips from students on how to film videos that keep them engaged

A discussion thread on making videos became Keith Pressey’s most successful post in 13 years of teaching – here he shares the key takeaways from the exercise

Keith Pressey's avatar
9 Feb 2023
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Tips from university students on filming videos to keep them engaged

Created in partnership with

Created in partnership with

Colorado State University Global

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This story began with a fairly common email request: a student in need. One of my star pupils simply needed verbal reassurance, in real time, that they were on track to submit a quality portfolio project to finish our course. Having “been there” as an online student myself, I understood completely. Naturally, I reached for the phone. Within a few minutes, the student was reassured they were on track to finish the course in fine fashion. Which she did.

I’m a staunch proponent of knowledge-sharing with my co-workers, so I soon created a short video to remind fellow faculty members to pick up their phones when students ask for help. The result, aptly titled “Pick up the Phone!”, was a two-minute, talking-head video that included onscreen elements and a partial transcript of the phone call with the student. The overall message was to urge my teaching colleagues to increase their engagement with their students through traditional phone calls.

In the same week I created the video, I was teaching a graduate-level course called “Technology and innovation”, in which students are mostly teachers or trainers themselves. The learning outcome that very week read: “Explore strategies for delivering video content to learners”. And the week’s discussion prompt asked students to create a video that discusses approaches to engaging their own students through video.

This was a golden opportunity. Why not post a video and ask my students whether it met the standard of being engaging? I replied to the discussion prompt by providing the link to “Pick up the Phone!” and asked my students to view the video and then post a reply with one thing they liked about it, one thing that could be improved and to give their honest assessment of it, including any content, format or technical issues.

No less than 30 replies were generated in this single discussion thread, which was split between my students and me. That is by far the largest single discussion thread I’ve seen after teaching nearly 100 classes over 13 years of online teaching. Almost two-thirds, or nine out of 15 enrolled students, participated in the discussion thread, which is also very unusual. The responses just kept on coming.

More important than the numbers themselves was students’ willingness to share tips and tricks and add their own experiences to the conversations. Below are just some of the takeaways, in no particular order. Students provided the bulk of these suggestions as their feedback:

  • Above all else, make sure the video’s message is clear and to the point.
  • Onscreen quotes are very effective. They help the viewer internalise the information. 
  • Always look into the camera for maximum effectiveness.
  • Your video equipment doesn’t need to be state of the art. Use the equipment you have on hand. Remember, it’s the message of your video that’s important.
  • Keep your head still when the red light is on. Don’t be a swayer! Try to speak while keeping your nose pointed at the same spot on the camera.
  • Zoom in on the speaker for very important information.
  • Don’t race the clock when making videos.
  • Screen elements placed incorrectly can affect the level of emotion or attachment (or detachment) when relating to an audience.
  • Generally speaking, the length of educational videos should follow industry standards of three to six minutes.
  • If the speaker uses hand gestures, make sure those hands are visible to viewers. Move the camera further away so hands are clearly visible in the frame. Try to minimise “hand talking”. Don’t be like this guy.

Aside from the technical tips above, videos should also hook your audience and grab their attention – try using “What’s in it for me” or a suitable anecdote to raise curiosity and interest. Videos should also be relevant: if your maths students need to know how to solve for x, there’s no need to discuss why variables are important; just write an equation and start solving. We should also speak to viewers one on one, whether onscreen or narrating in the background, and make strong, personal connections with each viewer through a conversational tone. Finally, keep it short – respect your audience’s time and use as few words as necessary to get your points across. Follow the ABC of accuracy, brevity and clarity.

Video recordings can sometimes promote greater engagement than content presented live in real time. Here are some advantages of video recordings:

  • 24/7, on-demand availability and access, which overcomes time and scheduling constraints.
  • The video format satisfies learner preferences, especially for Generation Z who strongly prefer educational videos.
  • Accessibility tools (such as closed captioning and larger screens) keep students more engaged.
  • Playback controls such as pause/resume allow for note-taking, sending comments and questions to instructors and rewinding to review key parts.
  • Students can share recording links with other students.
  • Shy students may prefer to watch videos privately rather than in group settings.
  • Students can view recordings on mobile devices; video files can be converted to mp3 files for students to listen to the “podcasts” while driving or commuting.
  • Students can skip portions of lectures for just-in-time learning. Video creators should provide a table of contents with time markers for each section of the video.

In the digital age, videos play an enormous role in keeping our students interested and engaged across all settings and classrooms, especially non-traditional settings.

Keith Pressey has spent the past 30-plus years as a technical training instructor in the US Air Force, an e-learning developer as a defence contractor and as an adjunct faculty member for CSU Global. He recently won CSU Global’s annual Faculty Peer Collaboration Award for 2022.

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