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How to create video lessons

Knowmia.com is a place for great video lessons of all types and styles. Students are looking for lessons that they can relate to, and they all learn differently. Selecting the right tool for the job can heavily influence the type of lesson you end up creating.

Unless you are using Knowmia’s own iPad lesson creation tool (Knowmia Teach), the key with any tool is to produce a video file that contains your lesson. Once you have a video file you can upload it to your account on Knowmia.com (myKnowmia), fill in the lesson information page and quickly turn it into a lesson that any teacher or student can access.

Chapter 1: Using iPad tools
Chapter 2: Recording yourself with a camcorder
Chapter 3: Using screencasting tools


Using iPad tools

The iPad is a very interesting tool (or environment) for lesson creation as it is so tactile (you can move things with your fingers), portable, and has its own built-in camera and microphone. It’s a one-stop-shop for lesson creation.

Advantages:

  • All you need in one piece of hardware (no need for extra webcams, microphones, tablets, etc.).
  • Very consistent results. With other devices your results may vary based on the equipment you have.
  • Simple integration with other iPad tools (e.g., photo and video editing).
  • You can integrate videos without switching devices or dealing with complex video import issues (as long as the videos were captured using an iPad or iPhone).

Challenges:

  • Requires an iPad (different generations of the iPad offer different capabilities – for example, the first generation of the iPad does not include a camera).
  • Handwriting on an iPad is not as refined as with a stylus/tablet or tablet laptop.
  • Sometimes your documents (for teaching) are on your computer so you have to copy them to your iPad for use in your lessons.

Tips:

  • Use free 3rd party cloud services (e.g., Dropbox or Google Drive) for file sharing between your iPad and your computer.
  • Email is another simple way for transferring files (though more limited in capacity).
  • When writing or drawing on the iPad (while recording your lesson) be careful not to tap too hard as even your fingers can generate little tapping sounds that can be captured by the microphone.
  • Be thoughtful about how you record a video using the iPad. See tips about recording a good video below.
  • The back-facing camera (opposite side of the screen) produces significantly higher quality video than the one on the front. When possible, choose the back camera as your primary capture device.
  • When recording your face (as part of a lesson – “picture in picture”):
    • Make sure that your face is evenly lit, the light is soft and it doesn’t make you squint.
    • Make sure to orient the iPad based on your dominant hand. If you are right-handed, position the iPad with the lens on the left side and vice versa (so your hand doesn’t get in the way of the camera when you touch the screen).
    • Make sure that you mount your iPad steadily before recording. The iPad will be recording your every move so if you move it a lot (by touching it firmly or your hand getting tired) the image will be shaky. Try looking for an iPad tripod to help with that.

Accessories to consider:

Examples (all using Knowmia Teach):

  • 07:06

    Simple lesson with slides, pen drawings and laser pointer

  • 15:56

    Longer lesson with more use of drawings, images and the laser pointer

  • 13:30

    Simple lesson that uses lots of shapes and text

  • 07:22

    Lesson that uses images, basic animation and screen captured images from the iPad itself

  • 06:16

    Lesson that uses lots of writing on top of images/graphics

Recording yourself with a camcorder

This is one type of lesson that can always work but can be very involved. What you do with it really depends on how creative you are and your technical skills in capturing and editing video.

Advantages:

  • Students can see your facial expressions, hand gestures and any prop you bring into your lesson.
  • You can write on the whiteboard or perform an experiment while delivering your lesson.
  • You can choose to record only your hands (writing on a piece of paper or a whiteboard on a table)

Challenges:

  • You need to be aware of your setup, lighting and distance from the camcorder/microphone.
  • Moving the camera or pausing the recording while teaching can be distracting
  • Most good camcorders produce huge files that are difficult to store, transfer, edit and upload.
  • Sometimes it’s hard to read what is written on the whiteboard.
  • Sometimes your body and hands can get in the way of what you are trying to teach – find the right angle and a place for you to be while the viewers are trying to understand what you just drew/wrote.
  • It is difficult to include high-quality videos or images in your lesson unless you can edit the video after recording it.

Tips:

  • Carefully examine what can be seen in the video frame and avoid any distracting objects (like ceiling fans, flickering lights, messy environment, etc.)
  • Never show a bright object in the video frame (like a bright lamp or a window) – it will degrade the quality of your video.
  • Find a quiet environment – people talking in the background, cars in the street or buzzing machines can ruin any lesson.
  • Use a tripod (even a low-cost one) – it’s hard to find a good angle by placing the camcorder on a piece of furniture.
  • Use a camcorder with a great microphone – Sound is more than half of the lesson!
    • If you know how to use a neck microphone you will get the best results.
    • Do a simple test – place the camcorder in the desired distance and record yourself speaking in a normal voice – can you understand yourself in the recording?
  • Explore the camcorder settings – Can you reduce the video resolution? The resulting video files will be smaller and more manageable with a lower resolution. Any video beyond 1024x768 will be scaled down anyway
  • Place a timer next to the camcorder lens and try to record your lesson in a single shot (do not stop in the middle).
  • Try to minimize any editing (after recording). Unless you're familiar with video editing, the process can be very time consuming.
  • If you want to use a whiteboard in your recorded lesson, make sure that the marker is wide/bold enough and the color dark enough so it can be easily read in the video (do a little test ahead of time.)
  • Do not record yourself teaching in class (with students in the room) – Video lessons are different and require a different focus and structure.
    • Keep it short.
    • Plan your key points ahead of time.
    • Give it structure (beginning, middle and end).
    • Have fun – it shows!

Tools to consider - What camcorder should I use?

  • You don’t need a professional grade camcorder to produce great results.
  • A simple home camcorder or even a pocket camcorder can sometimes be enough (depending on lighting and distance to the camcorder).
  • Sometimes even a cellphone camcorder might be enough (high-definition smartphone) but it’s much harder to keep it steady or mount to a tripod.
  • Make sure that your camcorder can produce MPEG4, H.264 or QuickTime files – other formats might not be supported.

Accessories to consider:

Examples of video lessons made with a camcorder:

  • 05:17

    In a class environment (no editing)

  • 17:11

    With editing (with “green screen” to replace the background)

  • 02:04

    Video of hands (edited for fast motion)

  • 05:17

    Two videos combined (edited to merge two videos - face and hands)

  • 01:21

    Highly produced edited video

Using screencasting tools

Screencasting is a general name for video lessons that are created by capturing everything that is happening on a computer screen overlaid with audio or video. The most famous teacher to use this technique is Salman Khan of The Khan Academy (http://www.knowmia.com/search?teacherName=Salman+Khan).

Advantages:

  • You can use any application that you wish for creating the lesson’s content (presentation application, word processing, spreadsheet, calculator, graphing tools, drawing tools, etc.). You simply record whatever is displayed on your computer’s display.
  • Very easy to setup and use.
  • In most cases, no further video editing is required.

Challenges:

  • You are limited to what you can show on your computer.
  • It is difficult to move graphic elements around to give the lesson a more dynamic feeling (you are dependent on what your software can do and how accurately you can move your mouse.)
  • It is more difficult to write text during your lesson recording unless you have a tablet computer with a pen.
  • Lessons produced this way tend to look like recorded slide presentations, making it difficult to add visual diversity unless you know how to create compelling presentations.

Tips:

  • Keep your lesson short (under 10 minutes – ideally under 5 minutes). It’s more difficult to keep students engaged with lots of static slides.
  • Try to add animation and transitions (where it makes sense) to make your lesson more visually engaging.
  • Use your mouse cursor as a pointing device during the lesson.
  • If you play an audio clip during the lesson it will be picked up by the microphone and can add something new to the lesson (an opening sequence for example.)
  • Most screencasting utilities will allow you to capture video from only a portion of the screen. This will allow you to eliminate computer menus, user interface and other distracting elements.
  • Some screencasting utilities come built-in with useful special effects and simple video editing.
  • Some screencasting utilities will allow you to record yourself (your face and hands – “picture in picture”) while recording your screencasted lesson. This can add a special dimension to your lesson that works well with many students.
  • Your screen is significantly larger than the video you are capturing. What might seem completely legible on a large screen might turn out to be too small to read when viewed as a video. Keep your fonts large and the contrast high.
  • Invest in a good computer microphone. Audio is more than 50% of the lesson and would affect student’s perception of quality.
  • If you are recording yourself in a video (“picture in picture”), invest in a good webcam and see tips about recording a good video in the “Recording yourself with a camcorder” section.
  • Some computers add a lot of noise to the video (e.g., due to a noisy fan). Try avoiding these situations by placing the microphone in different places. Do a little recording test – can you hear the fan in the background?
  • If you intend to type text on the computer keyboard while recording your lesson think about the noise your keystrokes will add. Even a small tap next to the microphone can sound like a drumbeat and be highly distracting to students.
  • If you use PowerPoint it allows you to write on top of your slides. If you use a tablet you can add sophisticated notations and give your lesson a more dynamic feel, since items are being added to the screen while you speak.

Tools to consider:

Accessories to consider:

Examples:

  • 11:43

    Simple screencasting example with slides

  • 17:03

    Simple screencasting with a tablet drawing/writing

  • 05:51

    Screencasting using a tablet notebook computer (writing on the screen with a stylus)

  • 09:15

    Screencasting with face recording

  • 04:03

    Screencasting with zoom effect and writing with a stylus

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