Creating Better Videos: Getting Started

In his last post Matthew Rogers-Draycott promised to share some of the tips, tricks and ideas that he has been using to improve his recorded material. He starts with looking at how you can create better videos.

Creating Better Videos: Getting Started 

Recording content for blended, flipped or fully online courses is a minefield. Not only do you need to shape it to fit a very different set of pedagogical and methodological considerations, you also need to ensure that it is recorded in a way which maximises the impact of material you are delivering. 

There has been a lot written about how to design materials for these contexts but, surprisingly, the same attention has not been given to providing clear advice on how to record for them. As someone who has some experience of this work and, is currently exploring how to improve my output, I felt that this was something I could contribute to.  

In my effort to address this topic I am going to write a series of blogs/vlogs that will discuss how to produce better recordings using varying levels of equipment. In this first piece I am going to explore the key factors that underpin the production of good recordings and make suggestions as to how these can be controlled with minimal equipment. 

In my opinion there are 3 key factors that you need to control to produce good recordings: 

  • your environment
  • your camera position
  • and the placement of your microphone. 

The Environment 

When choosing a place to record there are 2 things you need to consider, the first of these is the ambient volume. Managing ambient volume is not just about finding a quiet place that is free from other distractions or interference, that bit is quite obvious, it is also about ensuring that the room you are recording in is not too acoustically bright. A bright room is one that is tilled, has hard floors, and/or lots of hard furniture. Recordings in these environments will tend to sound echoey and tinny even with good quality equipment. This means that kitchens and bathrooms are not ideal, instead, try to record in carpeted rooms with lots of bedding and/or soft furnishings. Larger rooms with less furniture are also not a good choice as they can add an echoey quality all of their own to the recording. If you are stuck in a large or, acoustically bright space, putting a pillow behind your mic or, at the either side (just out of shot if you are using video) can help, as can hanging a blanket around the area you are recording in (to make it acoustically smaller). 

Matt set up
Matt’s home set up

Assuming that you are videoing your content the second thing you will need is light, even a good camera with low light correction can be rendered inept with poor lighting. If you do not want to invest in lighting, which can be done relatively cheaply, the important thing is to try to make sure that your face is lit from behind the camera and that you do not have any bright light sources directly above, behind, or to the side of you. This should make sure that the visual tone of your recording is even and that you do not look washed-out, in shadow, or have any instance of flare from other light sources. A simple trick is to record during the day, and do so directly facing a window, this should ensure that you are lit by the natural light from the window without the need for any additional light sources. 

Camera Position 

Next, you need to consider where your camera is positioned. Wherever possible your eyes should be level with the camera and you should be able to speak directly into it as if you are looking at the audience. If you are using a webcam, putting it on a small tripod can help to get the right level, if you are using a laptop, I would advise you to lift it up using a small pile of boxes or books to achieve the same effect. When you see yourself on camera your face should be framed in the centre of the image, with a centimetre or so between the top of your head and the top edge of the screen. Making sure that your camera is at eye level will also help to reduce shadows and, if you are using an inbuilt mic, it should ensure that you are speaking toward it. 

Laptop stand by Jem Yoshioka
Laptop stand by Jem Yoshioka

Microphone Position 

To be clear, buying a good external USB microphone or headset is the quickest fix to improve the quality of any recordings you are producing vs. using the mic that is built into your laptop or webcam. The reason for this is that laptop and webcam mics are small, poorly filtered, and often badly positioned. 

When considering mic placement, it is important to understand that the further away you are from the mic, the thinner your voice will sound and the more the environment will affect the recording. That said, if you are too close to the mic you will sound overly bassy and the impact of your breathing will be exaggerated. Therefore, the mic needs to be close to your face, but not too close, about 15-30 cm away and just slightly off-axis from your mouth is ideal. If you have a pop-filter or windshield you should use this as it will further lessen the effects of breath sounds and aspirated plosives on the quality of the recording. Following these suggestions should mean that you can turn-down the gain on the microphone, which will in turn reduce the impact of any background noises. These tricks will help your voice to sound richer, fuller, and minimise any interference.  

Microphone set up

If you are stuck with only a laptop and in-built mic the best advice is to lift it up (as previously suggested), and get your face as close to the mic as you can while still maintaining a good framing of your face in the screen. Beyond this there is not much you can do to improve your audio unless you are willing to engage in some post-production with something like audacity

I hope these tips are useful, in my next piece I am going to focus in more detail on getting the audio right and will use some examples to illustrate the points I have raised here. 

Digital Approaches to Education During CV19, a Critical Perspective

Today we have a post from one of our lecturers, Matthew Rogers-Draycott, in which he offers his perspective on the digitisation of higher education, and the role of curricula such as the RAU’s blended learning model during the Covid-19 Pandemic.

Matt is a lecturer here at the RAU specialising in Entrepreneurship and Marketing, and he acts as the Programme Manager for a number of undergraduate degrees in the School of Business and Entrepreneurship.

Between stints in business Matt has spent the last 16 years working internationally as an entrepreneurship educator and course leader in a wide variety of institutions. He is also a passionate tech geek with a keen interest in digital approaches to education. You can follow Matt on Twitter.

Matthew Draycott, lecturer in Entrepreneurship and Marketing

We hope that this this post will be the first in a short series in which Matt shares some of his experiences of digital delivery.

Digital Approaches to Education During CV19, a Critical Perspective 

When I was asked to write this blog it was hard for me to decide what to focus on. In institutions across the UK staff are coping with such a variety of pains and pressures I wondered how I could write something that would be useful and meaningful. In the end, I decided to try to summarise my thoughts about the RAU’s approach to online education in this phase of the CV19 crisis and how I felt about this in the hope that it might provide some useful insights for other colleagues. 

Unlike many in the sector I am not a newcomer to designing and building digital learning materials. I created my first online course in 2011 and, in a previous life, I often championed the use of flipped classrooms, virtual learning spaces and gamified delivery through projects such as Mashhop.com (a pretty glorious failure), eventsblogs and conference presentations

Having read this, I bet many of you are thinking that, in the current environment, I am getting exactly what I always wanted… Please allow me to disabuse you of that notion. What I have long hoped for is a planned shift toward a more digitally integrated curriculum which is not, in the main, what we are currently producing.  

Matt delivering content in the classroom and using lecture capture software (Panopto)
Matt delivering content in the classroom and using lecture capture software (Panopto)

At the RAU, for example, our CV19 delivery model is designed to provide a blended curricula, a middle ground between fully flipped and traditional in-class teaching.  

While I believe that this is a good model which has pushed me to create some impactful new learning materials and encouraged me to update many lectures in a fashion that I might otherwise have avoided, this is still a long way from the deliberately constructed ecosystem I would like to see higher education institutions such as ours embrace. 

The difficulty here is that our model, like many others in the UK, is treading a fine line between the need to build more structured, synchronous, online content while maintaining an element of asynchronous face-to-face delivery. Furthermore, its rapid introduction leaves me feeling that deeper considerations of philosophy, pedagogy, and methodology have been curtailed in favour of streamlined approaches which can react to our ever changing environment.

To be clear, I am not criticizing the model, I am supportive of it, and I think that its compromises are understandable given the competing pressures it must, pragmatically, mediate between. That said, I am also keen that we do not present this as something it is not, a major step-change toward the mainstreaming of digital education approaches in higher education. 

Matt's home recording set up
Matt’s home recording set up

If we are going to shift in that direction, temporary solutions, such as those that we are currently offering will not be enough. Students are savvy consumers of digital media, they expect content and delivery systems which have been designed from the ground up to engage, entertain and educate. I believe this will result in the need for new training programmes, better equipment, and a radically different conceptualisation of the curriculum design process. All of which will likely put the need for specialist support staff, training, and development time to create these kinds of experiences in sharp focus, especially when balanced against the myriad of other agendas institutions such as ours must seek to fulfil.

It is, therefore, becoming increasingly clear to me that we as educators need to make time and space in our ‘new-normal’ to share insights and ideas that will help all of us to develop our practice as. No matter how difficult that may be.  I know that is what I intend to do more of. I am going to commit to more blogging, posting and dissemination to share some of the tips, tricks and ideas that I have hit upon to improve my materials and I hope this will encourage others to do the same. 

Introducing Aurelie

AurelieSoulierHello! I am Aurelie Soulier and I have just joined the Royal Agricultural University as a Learning Technologist to support course design and development for the Catalyst project with Chantal and Madeline, working closely with Marieke. As Chantal said in her previous post, we will be supporting the development and delivery of four new innovative blended programmes.

Before joining the RAU, I have worked for over 11 years at Cranfield University for the Defence and Security School (CDS) based at the Defence Academy at Shrivenham. As a senior learning technologist, my role was very broad. It involved administrating and support the learning platform (Moodle, Mahara and Turning) occasionally on my own and more recently with up to a team of three learning technologists. My role comprised helping course planning and development with academics, delivering staff development programmes for CDS and partnering institutions, road-mapping education technology (Ed Tech) at CDS, helping to develop a toolkit (the Essential Learning Framework – ELF) to support module leaders’ use of blended learning, organising and delivering inductions for new students as well as seeking and sharing best practice with other institutions and present my research and practice at Ed Tech conferences, enhancing CDS’s reputation nationally and internationally with collaboration and project work with Dublin City University, for example.

Prior to working at Cranfield University, I have also worked both as a Modern Foreign Languages and an IT teacher in UK secondary schools. I have undertaken my undergraduate degree in France at Michel de Montaigne – Bordeaux III before obtaining my PGCE from Swansea Institute of Higher Education and an MSc in Computing from Oxford Brookes University.

In addition, I am the volunteer co-ordinator for the Mahara User Group Southern England (MUGSE). I have taken on this role shortly before moving to the RAU and aim to re-launch this group activity in the next few months so I’ll be seeking interest from anyone who’s curious about using Mahara or already using Mahara via the above Twitter feed.

I’m also one of ten elected volunteer committee members for the Moodle User Association. As a general committee member, I help raising the profile of the Moodle User Association (MUA) and contributes toward our main activity: to decide on development projects for Moodle core through developing project proposals that include detailed requirements for those projects.

The way I approach my job is that, essentially, I love to help academics helping students learn. I deeply believe that education technology (Ed Tech) isn’t about the tools and technology, it’s about people, the learners and the educators. The technology is here to help and enable their practice.

I believe that social media and face-to-face networking are key to enhancing our practices by sharing and collaborating to innovate and develop ideas together so you’ll see me on Twitter collaborating with other Ed Tech people and academic colleagues as well as sharing personal ideas and views.

I love to spend time with my two daughters, visiting new places with them, especially National Trust locations. I’ve lived in Swindon for ten years now and I’m a big fan of Swindon’s often poorly known culture and heritage.

In my spare time, I also like to practice yoga, hike and cook. I love to take on new challenges. I completed the Ride London 100 miles ride in August 2013 with only six months training, I have done three smalls triathlons and I have taken part in three ultra-marathon walks in 2018 which means I’ve walked over 500 miles in total with training and events this year. I haven’t decided what mad challenges 2019 will bring, yet. I’m also a qualified nutritional adviser and love to support other people in achieving their wellness goals.

If you would like to get in touch, come and see me in the ITS office, email me aurelie.soulier@rau.ac.uk or phone me.

RAU Careers service and Digital

VictoriaThe Royal Agricultural University Careers Service offers guidance and career advice to students and graduates.

Today’s post has been written by our Careers and Employability Coordinator, Victoria Maskell.

The Careers team are increasingly using digital to support students and allow them to gain those all-important employability skills. Victoria explains what they have been up to…

Starting with Social Media

Here in Careers we’re trying to develop our outreach to our current students, graduates, employers, and future employers too. We have numerous social media pages which can be found below:

instagrram

RAU Instagram account on a mobile

We tell students that Social media is a great way to link with employers, and over the next month we will be starting a LinkedIn page – students are more than welcome to connect with us. We ask them to make sure their pages are professional if they are trying to job hunt on social media platforms. If they are not job hunting and want to keep their pages for personal use, we suggest they put the settings as private as possible. You don’t want a potential employer seeing all those Snapchat filter selfies, or those nights out before you’ve even had an interview! We’ll be publishing a digital etiquette guide on our blog (see below) on 26th February, so watch this space.

Blogs

The Careers team have a weekly blog which is published to our social media pages, but it can also be accessed through here: http://careers.rau.ac.uk/blog/2018/01/. Over February we are looking at student employability and have published posts on Digital skills for employability.

We explain to students that blogging is a great way to improve their writing skills, and a chance develop a professional portfolio – it would be great to have more blogging or vlogging about students’ time on placements. Drones are popular at the university (and in agriculture more generally). If students have a drone, or access to one, we encourage them to record little projects. Building up a portfolio can really help you stand out from the crowd when applying for jobs and allows you to easily demonstrate transferable skills such as attention to detail, and time management. Students can also add the links to their LinkedIn page, or sometimes even send it as extra evidence along with their CV and application form to a job advert.

Jobs Portal

We have a jobs portal that all students and alumni can access through our Virtual Learning Environment (VLE). The portal is built on WordPress. An RSS feed from the portal is shared through various University Social media sites.

jobs-portal

CV Clinics

carrers-logoWe hold weekly CV clinics in the RAU atrium which is a great way for students to informally have their CV looked over. In terms of how they manage their CV and job applications, we advise that they open a folder in a “cloud” account. That may be Google Drive, or Office 365, or another account which they currently use. They can then save their CV in here, this way they can access it at anytime, anywhere. It is probably best to use a home account, rather than your RAU one – as once students have graduated they will still have access.

We suggest that for every job application students’ write, they should make sure you they save that document, and upload it to the cloud. You never know when you may need your CV, and you can copy and paste examples of past applications into current ones.

Time Management

Improving their time management skills is something the Careers team are keen to help students work on. We support them in making the best use of their phone and tablet. With your RAU account you have access to Outlook calendar, so we advise students to sync up their calendars or use their phone’s calendar to in put their timetable, deadlines, exams etc. This way we hope they will know exactly when should be! We work with students to help them set reminders or “study time” for themselves, to allow them to focus. Our advise is: if the never ending WhatsApp and Snapchat notifications are becoming a distractions then either put your phone on “do not disturb” for small periods of time. You can then check it periodically, but won’t have the distraction of it buzzing when you’re getting into the flow.

Technology Crowd GIF - Find & Share on GIPHY

We’re very much looking forward to working more with the digital transformation team!