Teaching & Learning


Preparing teaching videos: 'media-savvy' filming tips

17 July 2013


Paul Walker, Principal Teaching Fellow in CALT, reports on the 'Media-Savvy Teaching' workshop and shares some of the techniques the participants learned.

‘Media-savvy teaching’? No, not talking cleverly to journalists or TV interviewers, but academics developing their teaching materials in ways that incorporate the ‘tricks of the trade’ that the electronic media have developed and honed for years to produce engaging and thought-provoking outcomes.

In recent years, the rise of digital consumer technology has put new tools in the hands of academics and students alike – and these tools can vastly improve the quality of what we might record and use to support our face-to-face teaching. The emerging interest in so-called ‘lecture flipping’ is a testament to what is possible and increasingly accessible. UCL recently hosted a visit from Professor Tracey Tokuhama-Espinosa to introduce teaching staff interested in exploring the potential of flipping lectures to improve student learning outcomes across the board. When the lecture content is available to students ahead of class time, the question then becomes how to maximise the opportunity for active and interactive learning in the contact hours.

But there is also a question over the quality of materials recorded to supplement and support these learning contacts.

There’s a big difference between home-grown teaching materials and commercially produced ones, but with some awareness of professional technique it is possible to significantly improve the quality of what is captured and compiled with only a modest investment of time and effort. In the ‘Media-savvy Teaching’ workshop, we learnt how to light and frame videos in order to capture and maintain viewer interest, how to speak and gesture more appropriately while being filmed – it is quite different from live performance, as anyone who has tried will confirm!

The expert input of media consultants Dr Mike Howarth and Pete Bailie, who both have decades of experience in the media, were very helpful in our learning. Teaching colleagues from departments across UCL also shared their personal discoveries about things such as using green-screen techniques to incorporate other AV materials into the video sequence, using motion capture to easily record whiteboard work and recording voiceovers after the primary material has been recorded. Reasonably powerful video editing software is now readily available, affordable and easy to use – so why not use it to help produce good material that enhances the learning experience of students in the 21st century?

As university teachers, we are very used to the space of a lecture theatre or seminar room and have attuned our teaching practice to engage students in those environments. In a large working space, we naturally enlarge our gestures and project our voice to reach everyone in the room. Working to camera is different: all of the students viewing a video can see you from the same viewpoint, often close-up, so more intimate details like facial gestures or even the way you direct your gaze become more important in conveying the subliminal messages that underpin good teaching. It is easy for example to forget that hand gestures need to be within the frame of the camera view – not that these should be a source of undue anxiety, but a shift of awareness and a bit of practice enables one to make the best use of the medium. When filming oneself or a colleague teaching, or narrating to camera, placing the head and shoulders in the middle of the frame might seem obvious as a way to set it up. In fact an asymmetric setup offers far better ways for both teacher/presenter and student/viewer to create and use engaging material. Getting your face evenly illuminated is also very helpful, but takes a little forethought and positioning. (You can view the full set of Mike Howarth's instructional hand-drawn slides at the bottom of this article.)

These are just some of the issues that we began to consider in the ‘Media- savvy Teaching’ workshop. It offered some exciting and encouraging first steps in the creative making of teaching resources that can realise the promise of UCL’s aspirational strategies for improved student learning. Watch this space – literally!

More educational video-making tips, courtesy of Mike Howarth: