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Maintaining a connection with students via recorded lectures

Professor Simon Gaisford from UCL’s School of Pharmacy shares how he creates video lectures that hold students' attention and keeps a connection with them through the camera lens.

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16 July 2021

In the spring of 2020 and across Higher Education, for those inexperienced in teaching online or with blending learning design, the ‘emergency pivot’ presented huge technical and pedagogic challenges.

Whilst extra miles became extra marathons, paths of least resistance and intuition often trumped in decision-making about how to ‘deliver’ content. Often intuitions led to attempts at replicating lectures in live online settings or in equivalent length video recordings; approaches that were often less engaging than the effort afforded in their development might suggest they should be. 

Professor Simon Gaisford from UCL’s School of Pharmacy felt he did not have the experience or technical expertise necessary, but his intuitions led him to produce videos that have been very popular with his students. Whilst he invested in developing his technical skills, his focus - and the focus of this case study - was on how he could humanise his content remotely, how he could connect with students through the camera lens and how he might offer a styling that engaged and held attention.

In this 16 minute interview with Martin Compton (Arena Centre), you can hear Simon's account of what he was hoping to achieve, some of the strategies he employed and some of the responses he has had from students.

Below the interview are some examples and a summary of his approach. 

MediaCentral Widget Placeholderhttps://mediacentral.ucl.ac.uk/Player/hICgiG76

Video length: 16 minutes, 12 seconds

Open the video in a new page

Jump to a specific section

  • Chapter 1: context and cohorts of the MPharm programme
  • Chapter 2: Approach and ethos to recording online lecture video creation
  • Chapter 3: Don’t look at yourself; think of how the students see things
  • Chapter 4: How slides were integrated (but not central)
  • Chapter 5: Student responses to the videos
  • Chapter 6: Plans for video use next year (presumed to be a ‘back on campus’ year)

Example videos 

Simon’s videos were integrated into the MPharm Moodle pages but several of them are available via his YouTube channel. The examples below illustrate his approach, which reflects much of what is written about connecting with students and maximising learning in educational videos. 

Brame (2016) for example, suggests that such strategies as these can ‘increase sense of social partnership between student and instructor’. Whilst Simon’s videos are often somewhat longer than Brame and others recommend (see summary of the reasons by Martin Compton (Arena Centre) here), he has nevertheless chunked content and frequently suggests times for pause.  

Another novel approach is to offer the students multiple ways of watching. He does have slides which are available in Moodle but instead of the more common approach of having slides as the only or main channel of visible content, he flashes up slides (which could be paused) to indicate which slide supports a given part of the video content. Many of his students noted and commented favourably on the ability to have them side by side. This technique gives a layer of ownership and control to the students: instead of the slides being pushed, students are pulled to navigate them or, indeed, focus only on the words and delivery.  


In the video below, Simon is addressing students for the first time and uses many of the techniques above as well as orienting the students to a recommended approach to the lectures (Watch to 1m 30): 

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In this video, watch the first 30 seconds and note the visual joke and Simon’s tone:  

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Finally, in this one, note the offer of support and the re-assurance (watch to 30 seconds): 

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Use tools you know

You will see that Simon’s videos are high quality and he has used some editing techniques. Support for this is of course available from faculty or centrally located learning technologists but, in fact, it is the design, approach and in-video strategies that are most important here and such techniques can be achieved using the tools many of us have to hand such as smart phones and laptops with built-in webcams.   

Simon's top strategies for creating engaging video lectures: 

  1. Look directly into the camera- it feels as though Simon is addressing you personally;
  2. Tell students what to expect;
  3. Use re-assurance in both words and tone;
  4. Use a conversational style;
  5. Remind students where they can go for support;
  6. Invite them to get a refreshment, i.e. be comfortable; and
  7. Use humour, informality and affability to deliberately reinforce all of the above. 

References

Brame, C. J. (2016). Effective educational videos: Principles and guidelines for maximizing student learning from video content. CBE—Life Sciences Education, 15(4), es6.