Making online content is difficult. Without the interaction of the classroom, it’s easy for students to lose focus and struggle. However, with some basic help, teachers can make some small changes to their delivery approach to make videos that are more engaging for students.
Your Teaching Style
Before preparing your videos for your online class, you need to be honest with yourself about your teaching style. You need to ask your self how interesting you are as a teacher. The temptation is to think that you are an interesting and engaging teacher. However, personal experience has shown me that most teachers are terribly boring when they have to lecture in person and they are even more boring when they have to teach through a video online.
It is not a criticism if you are a boring teacher. Knowing this is important because it shapes how you approach the delivery of content when teaching online. An interesting teacher will be able to do things online that a boring teacher could never do.
If you cannot determine your style of teaching, you can consider the following options
- Recording your face to face teaching and watch it
- Examining course evaluations from prior teaching experiences.
If you choose to record yourself, ask yourself if you would really pay attention to what the teacher is saying if you were a student? If the answer is no, you need to determine what it is that is such a turnoff.
Once you know how engaging you are as a teacher, keep in mind the following to developing engaging online videos.
Keep it Short
Online videos should be between 10-15 minutes give or take. The reason being is that longer videos begin to put students to sleep and shorter videos become irritating because you always have to click for the next video. Another reason is that through watching television, people are already trained to pay attention for about 10-12 minutes at a time because that is how long a segment of a tv show lasts before a commercial break. If you talk for much longer than this you are not meeting the students’ preconceived expectation for how long they should receive content.
Whether you are closer to 10 minutes or 15 depends on how engaging you are as a teacher. A boring teacher should speak for 10 minutes or less while engaging teachers can go beyond 15 minutes because they know how to connect with their audience.
A general guideline to help you with timing and your PowerPoint slides comes from a Japanese presentation technique called PechaKucha. In this approach, you share 20 slides and talk for 20 seconds on each slide. This leads to a total presentation time of 6minutes and 40 seconds. This approach helps a presenter to talk less and show more which helps with engagement
7 minutes might be too short for your presentation. The point is not to adopt all the rules of PechaKucha but to use it as a guide to shape your presentations. Generally, you don’t want more than 30 slides in a presentation as things begin to bog down when teaching online.
More on Powerpoints
Powerpoints are a useful tool. However, the problem is that everybody uses them and this can be torture for students. If a student is taking 5 classes, he or she is probably experiencing 5 PowerPoint presentations every day. This is highly disengaging because of the ubiquity of PowerPoints.
An alternative to a PowerPoint is to use an on-screen whiteboard. This can be something like a simple paint app or an online tool such as Microsoft Whiteboard. By drawing are writing the concepts on the screen while recording can help to keep students much more engaged. This is due at least partly to the mental break students get while you are drawing/writing.
Of course, you can also have too much of a good thing. For example, if you are teaching math, it can be torture to have to wait for the math teacher to finish writing down the equation before solving it. In such situations, pre-written content can help to keep the video moving.
Naturally, I do not have to mention how you need to avoid reading your PowerPoint slides. Slides should be short and bulleted and should serve as a reminder of what you want to say rather than as a reading prompt.
There are also some tips for communications. You want to avoid highly formal language. This is because people tend to get lost when the language is dense. This means using 1st and 2nd person rather than third, which means speaking directly to the audience. When you talk directly to someone it forces them to pay attention at least a little bit.
A second suggestion is to avoid too many details. Experts love to share their expertise. However, most of our time is spent with non-experts. Therefore, every detail about every theory and concept is not always necessary. The amount of detail needs to match the expertise of your audience. College freshmen need fewer details than grad students. Generally, no matter what you are teaching, there is a good chance that the students will have another opportunity to learn it. This means it is not necessary to tell them everything if it causes them to fall asleep.
Whenever possible, try to wrap the content in a story. Storytelling is engaging and helps people to have a contextual frame in which to remember details. The stories don’t have to be that creative. It could be as simple as a story of when you first learned about the topic you are lecturing about. The point is to mix the theory with some form of reality that people can relate to.
Lastly, asking questions can also be beneficial. Of course, you will not be there to hear the response. However, when you speak directly to the audience and ask them what they think they have to pay attention to. If possible you may be able to make your videos interactive, which would allow you to post questions students can respond to during the video.
Beginning Middle and End
This is probably obvious but keep in mind that you need to introduce what you will talk about, present what you are talking about, and then summarize what you talked about. Many teachers can sometimes skip this. Doing so can lead to confusion for students at times.
Making videos online can be difficult. However, some basic tools can help a teacher to develop efficient and interesting content. It’s important to understand how you teach so you can maximize strengths and minimize weaknesses as you help students.