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. 

Recording Educational Activities Policy

Our Recording Educational Activities Policy has now been approved and is available from the RAU Academic policies and procedures page.

The policy provides guidance for the recording by University staff, students or others, of activities delivered with an educational purpose by, or for, the Royal Agricultural University.

A while ago we shared guidance based on this policy including an infographic with tips on recording content online.

Module design on the Catalyst project

Background

2½ years ago the RAU, in collaboration with UCEM and CCRI, started on the development of four new postgraduate and undergraduate programmes in what’s called the “Catalyst project”. The new programmes are designed to stimulate and support enhanced leadership in the land management and agri-food sectors, especially suited to the post-Brexit era that meets the unprecedented combination of challenges posed by the rapidly changing political, economic and natural environments.

The first stage of the Catalyst project was to write the programme and module specifications. The programmes have been created in conjunction with CCRI and RAU’s industry partners, including the National Trust, Waitrose and National Farmers’ Union, to carefully tailor the programmes to meet skills gaps and respond to changes in industry trends.

Once the specifications were in place, the Learning technology team worked on developing processes for the pedagogical and technical design and development of the programmes and modules.

 

Development of processes

Prior to starting module development we worked with UCEM, who specialise in online education, to develop processes for the design of our modules, taking best practices in pedagogy and online learning into account. Extensive research and conversations with other education organisations has gone into the development of module templates, design processes and academic training.

 

Postgraduate programmes development process

During the second stage of the Catalyst project, we developed two online postgraduate programmes: MBA Innovation in Sustainable Food and Agriculture and MSc Sustainable Food and Agriculture Policy.

We designed a 12-week module design process, with “on-time” training sessions to support the academics in their design and development. This process has been adapted from UCEM’s module development processes and works in stages.

This process uses UCEM’s model named “Student Outcome Led Design (SOLD)”; meaning that the final assessment is designed first, focusing on assessing the module learning outcomes, and the module is designed to develop the skills the students need to complete the assessment.

To kick off the design and development of the modules, the Learning technology team hosts a “Start-up day”, a day-long workshop consisting of multiple stages:

  1. Introductory training in module design, accessibility, design processes, online learning tools.
  2. Module conversations based on question cards designed to stimulate the thought process and familiarisation with the module
  3. Assessment design based on the module’s learning outcomes
  4. Planning “themes” based on the learning outcomes and final assessment
  5. Planning formative assessments – working towards the final assessment
  6. Planning weekly “learning points” i.e. what will the students learn this week?

The Start-up day is hosted with around 6-7 module leads and two Learning technologists in a room to allow for easy sharing of ideas and experiences.

startup day

After the start-up day, the academics go and speak to colleagues, library etc. to gather ideas and resources for their module, prior to a 1-1 design & planning session with a Learning technologist to flesh out the content further into learning activities and to write an action plan for development. This module design is written out into a templated sheet for a Quality review meeting with the programme lead, an additional academic with an interest in the subject and where possible one of our external partners. This meeting is an open discussion to discuss the module design prior to its development.

Once the module design has gone through the Quality review, the module lead, contributors and the Learning technologists develop the online learning activities over the next 10 weeks. The Learning technology team provides academics with templated sheets to write their content in, so it’s ready to be turned into online learning activities and consistent with other modules on the programme. These templates have clear instructions for the academics and links to short training pages. During the whole process, each module has a lead Learning technologist the academics are able to contact when they get stuck, need guidance or would like to brainstorm ideas for an activity. The learning technologists will also create the activities on the VLE.

The full design templates document consists of five steps:

  1. Learning outcomes and questions to think about
  2. Summative assessment(s)
  3. Themes: plan topics and put them in a logical order
  4. Learning points and activities: what will the students learn each week? What activities can be created for the students to learn that and how can they check their learning?
  5. Full activities: write out the content and gather resources and media, to be provided to a Learning technologist using a templated sheet.

During week 7 of the development stage, the Learning technology team hosts an informal “Show & Tell session”, where the module leads get to show off what they’ve done so far and share ideas with other academics going through the process.

Show and tell

In the final week of development, the Quality review team for the module comes together again to discuss the final result.

This process has been repeated twice to develop all modules on the post-graduate Catalyst programmes within an academic year. These programmes have now successfully run for their first year and the programme team has received great feedback from the students.

 

Adapting the process to development of new Undergraduate Catalyst programmes

The third stage of the Catalyst project consists of developing two Undergraduate programmes: BSc Rural Entrepreneurship and Enterprise and BSc Environment, Food and Society. These programmes are more campus-based and focus on innovative teaching methods as well as a proportion of online learning.

For this stage, we used the previous processes and adapted them based on lessons learned, as well as redesigning the templates to work for campus-based teaching. Additionally, we combined our previous processes with UCL’s ABC Learning design methods.

To adapt to the Covid-19 situation, we’ve had to scrap our Start-up days and are now using an online version of UCEM’s Design jam model on a module-by-module basis. For each module, we schedule in an initial three-hour Design jam with two Learning technologists, the module lead and one or two academics with an interest in the subject. As we are all currently working from home, we are using MS Teams and Sharepoint to facilitate the Design Jams: we use a Teams call to be able to discuss and share ideas as a group, while we all have a synchronously updated Word template opened up on Sharepoint to write out the ideas we have for the module design.

The Design Jam consists of a few stages:

  1. Introduction to the process by a Learning technologist
  2. Module basics: Learning outcomes and questions to think about before designing your module
    Module basics
  3. Writing the summative assessment task(s)
  4. Learning overview: weekly topics, learning points (what will the students learn this week) and opportunities to check student learning. Academics are asked to highlight the relevant learning outcomes for each week.
  5. Learning design: the activities, media and resources to be used or created for each week. Activities are designed within four to five weekly stages: Online introduction, Online lecture, Online activities, Face-to-face seminar and Online knowledge check (optional). UCL’s ABC learning design method is used at this stage to provide an even balance of activity types: Acquisition, Collaboration, Discussion, Investigation, Practice and Production.
    ABC
  6. Action planning: an action register is created for the development of the module.

After the Design jam, the academics have some time to discuss their ideas with colleagues, library etc. The module lead, collaborators and Learning technologists work according to the action plan to develop their content. The programme team regularly comes together to check progress and quality of each module.

These programmes will run starting from September ’20.

 

The future

Over the last two years, academics and Learning technologists have learned a lot about online teaching & learning and learning design. A lot of the lessons we have learned during the project have been heavily used during the pivot to online for all RAU programmes when the Covid lockdown started.

Academics who have taken part in the Catalyst project are already using what they’ve learned and the design processes for the modules they run on other programmes. We plan on further expanding the use of the processes to all new and old RAU programmes.

Summer skills 2020

In the next week or so we will be launching our Summer skills sessions 2020. These ‘sessions’ have been designed to support our academics with delivery of the RAU blended curriculum for the next academic year.

The sessions are an online Moodle course that cover three main areas:

  • Academic staff induction
  • Preparing for the next academic year
  • Taking it to the next level

study skills

Academic staff induction is recommended for new staff or staff who want to ensure their skills are up to date. It covers:

  • Library and resource management skills including copyright and open access
  • VLE skills including Gateway and Turnitin
  • Panopto skills (beginner) including an introduction to Panopto
  • An overview of RAU Learning and teaching systems

Preparing for the next academic year is recommended for all academic staff. It supports our new blended learning curriculum and covers:

  • VLE skills including updating module pages
  • Digital accessibility skills
  • Panopto skills (intermediate) including Panopo captioning
  • Online teaching skills including best practice tips, self-directed learning and basic quizzes
  • Onsite seminar skills including bringing in people from online to seminars

Taking it to the next level is recommended for academic staff who want to build on existing skills. It covers:

  • Online activity skills including Moodle quizzes advanced level
  • Panopto skills (advance) including adding quizzes
  • ePortfolio skills including editing Mahara
  • H5P skills

The course content is predominately made up of short captioned videos, though there are also quizzes, online activities and links to existing good practice on other course pages.

The course has activity completion activated and academics can mark off the content they have covered when completed. They can follow their progress in the completion progress bar.

completion

There are also digital badges available if people complete all the activities in an area.

badges

Unprecedented times

Like most other HEIs we are moving the vast majority of our teaching online due to the Coronavirus outbreak. Here are the key activities we have undertaken.

Running training sessions for all our staff (academic and professional services)

Last week we ran the following training sessions for staff. All sessions were recorded. We have also made a series of shorter videos covering key areas.

  • MS Teams: chatting with and phoning a colleague in the cloud
  • Gateway (Moodle): uploading files, using forums, organising, checking student work (reports) and where to find help
  • Turnitin: setting up an assessment portal
  • Turnitin: marking assessments and adding grades to Quercus
  • Panopto: recording and/or live streaming a lecture
  • Panopto: using video assignments
  • Zoom: hosting live lectures (with student response), seminars, tutorials and 1-1 sessions
  • Analytics and tracking your students’ activities (Panopto and Gateway/Moodle)
  • MS Teams: hosting live lectures (with student response), seminars, tutorials and 1-1 sessions
  • Gateway (Moodle): Creating & marking quizzes (online tests)

Chantal running a training session for academics

Chantal running a training session for academics

Providing explicit guidance for academics on moving our courses online

We have been proving guidance on our baseline requirements for each module. These are:

  • Pre-recorded lectures for each scheduled lecture – using Panopto.
  • A set of PowerPoint slides as used in the lecture.
  • An opportunity for further consideration of the lecture topics through an interactive session (‘seminar’). This activity could be carried out using an online forum (Moodle forum), an online discussion (Teams or Zoom) or another means.
  • Clear guidance for students on weekly activities by programme.

These activities are supported by the following tools:

  • Moodle – Moodle activities and H5P
  • Panopto
  • MS Office 365 – in particular Teams
  • Zoom
  • RAU Resource Lists – Talis Aspire

There have also a couple of other pieces of work to support online delivery:

  • ensuring that resources (ebooks,  journals etc.) can be accessed off site and that we have the right licences in place
  • ensuring that we make the most of existing analytics to monitor student engagement. We are currently setting all module pages up have activity completion turned on and are adding are setting up reports to help academic check their students’ engagement with module content.

Co-ordinating our approach for assessment online

There is a small working group looking at assessment and online delivery.  We have spent considerable time data gathering so we have detailed information about all the assessments across all modules, programmes, levels. The next step will be to produce an overview of what alternatives/options we should/could consider.

All information is being communicated to staff and students.

Enabling our staff to work from home

Considerable effort has been put in to enable as many staff to work from home. This has been  supported by:

  • Purchasing of laptops
  • Setting up a VPN for all staff to use
  • Training – face-to-face and video content, and guidance materials
  • Ensuing our IT Service Desk activities can be managed centrally and run from anywhere

All activity has been aided by significant sharing of information among the wider Learning Technology and IT communities. We feel that we are now in a relatively good place to get through the next couple of months, providing the Internet holds up!

Meet up and zoom

We’ve recently set up our committee room with a new screen and Logitech meet up camera. The meetup is designed for huddle rooms and small spaces, it is a 4K ultra HD camera with 5X HD zoom. It automatically adjusts camera position and zoom to find and frame people in the room.

The committee room will be used for online governing council meetings and other meetings where a video conference set up is required.

We will be using Zoom software for our online meetings and last week ran some training for our PAs.

IMG_3442Zoom offers “communications software that combines video conferencing, online meetings, chat, and mobile collaboration”. Some of the benefits for the RAU are integration with Panopto and Moodle. We have already started using it for our Catalyst programme.

IMG_3441

 

Panopto Conference 2019

Last week was the annual Panopto conference at 30 Euston Square, London. There was lots to enjoy including some great freebies, very tasty food and a fun drinks reception but the main video-related notable moments were as follows…

IMG_2437

Updates on Panopto –  Eric Burns’ (CEO of Panopto) opening keynote and Tim Sullivan’s (VP of engineering at Panopto) roadmap both offered some insights into what is on the horizon. The biggest change is a move from recording through the client app to the browser – “friction-free video recording for all, on multiple devices and with a single workflow”.

Eric Burns opens the day
Eric Burns opens the day

Other improvements will include better integration with Moodle, better analytics, easier ability to reuse content (rolling over videos for modules), more intelligent use of permissions, further work on captioning and better Zoom integration.

Tim Sullivan on content reuse and embeds

Tim Sullivan on content reuse and embeds

Case studies – Some of the best ideas from case studies include the Panopto champions at the University of Southampton – student course reps who offered support to staff and students.

A great session from Anna Madeley (Lecturer in midwifery at the University Bedfordshire) on Panopto and skills and scenario training. They use the quiz function alongside an algorythm so students can only complete the task if they have completed certain activities.

Midwife quizzes by Anna Madeley

Midwife quizzes by Anna Madeley

Research – On attendance by Olaf Spittaels and Dries Vanacker (Artvelde University of applied science). They found there is little impact on attendance but the recency effect (reusing lecture videos before exams) can contribute to improved results, especially for struggling students. Into the best approaches for accessibility in the Alistair McNaught led panel session.

The panel on accessibility: Ros Walker, Jo Lisney, Rachel Hayes and Alistair McNaught

The panel on accessibility: Ros Walker, Jo Lisney, Rachel Hayes and Alistair McNaught

Other – Gilly Salmon’s questions on “what if education 4.0 became video first” – she had us consider the potential of binge watching for lecture capture videos. There was consensus on Twitter that it might not be the best idea as video may work best when bite-sized and learning tends to work best when active rather than passive. Jo Lisney from the University of Southampton’s SU – talking about what students want – and they want video!

img_2367.jpg

Panopto UK HE User Group meeting – UWE

Earlier this week I attended the Panopto UK HE User Group meeting hosted by University of West England (UWE) at their new Frenchay business school. The day consisted of some interesting case study presentations and really helpful discussions from both the AV and learning/teaching perspective.

UWE business school
UWE business school

Discussion areas and questions included:

  • Student assignments – UWE presented on work they have been doing to create a workflow on student assessment that ensures GDPR compliance. Antoine Rivoire talked about how Ulster University students have been creating videos on placements and submitting them through Panopto – 72% said the availability of blogs would help them to choose placements. Roberta Bernabei and Matt Hope presented remotely on how they have been using video to improve student digital and presentation skills including editing. Qs – Even though videos are date stamped Panopto does not lock down submission dates and students can still submit after a date. How should institutions deal with this?

Antoine Rivoire from Ulster University shows their One click recording room

Antoine Rivoire from Ulster University shows their One click recording room

  • Students opting out of being captured on video – How can this be managed? Ideas include: sitting in a certain area, capturing audio only, having a flag for students to hold up and pause recording, 24 hour release window, ensuring use of mics to stop recording people’s private conversations.
  • Video rooms – Dealing with the challenge of achieving high quality audio and video in a restricted space and small budget Antoine Rivoire showed how they have set up a one click video recording studio at Ulster University. Freddie Bujko from Oxford University demoed their one button studio which uses green screen and cost around £10,000 to set up.
  • Subtitling and transcription – UWE shared their experiments with Microsoft Translator for creating subtitles on the fly.

Freddie Bujko from Oxford University shows their one button studio

Freddie Bujko from Oxford University shows their one button studio

After lunch there was presentation from Matt Turner from Birmingham University  on their VLE integration and their changes to folder structure. All access to recordings is through Canvas but some recordings are embedded in pages.  Folders are provisioned in bulk at the beginning of each Semester and Panopto is added to VLE course menu.

We then ended the day with a on overview of last year’s Panopto survey and a Panopto update from Pete Gervaise-Jones.

pan.JPG

Panopto upgrades have now  moved to larger numbers 6 (last winter) > 7 (this summer), with decimal points only used for minor updates. As part of their 12 month product roadmap Panopto are working on video content workflows, integration with webinar software like Zoom, and an online recorder.

The next user group meeting is likely to be in Scotland in April next year.

Gromit in the UWE Business school

Gromit in the UWE Business school

Virtually the Governing Council

This morning’s RAU governing council meeting was a little different from usual.

The chair, the Rt Hon Michael Jack CBE, was unable to attend and presided over the meeting from the comfort of his own home. He was able to do so using standard video conferencing equipment and some support from fellow council members.

Governors at the meeting with the Rt Hon Michael Jack CBE shown on the front screen

Governors at the meeting with the Rt Hon Michael Jack CBE shown on the front screen

The meeting went extremely well with only one minor instance of video freeze and audio lag. Luckily the lunch time sandwiches weren’t virtual!

The equipment used was:

  • Short Throw Projector
  • Portable Projector Screen
  • Laptop
  • Logitech Conferencing Kit (Webcam & Microphone/Speaker console)
  • GoToMeeting conferencing software

Many thanks to Leigh Miller, one of our Service Desk Analysts, who set the kit up for us.