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7 Steps to Make Teacher Videos More Accessible and Engaging During Distance Learning

By Gretchen Vierstra, MA

Understood's resources for educators are backed by research, vetted by experts, and reviewed by classroom teachers.

Understood's resources for educators are backed by research, vetted by experts, and reviewed by classroom teachers.

Making videos during distance learning can be a great way to support your students, especially the 1 in 5 who learn and think differently. There are many benefits to making your own videos. And the more you record, the better you’ll get at it.

Watch this teacher-made video to see how to use seven steps for making asynchronous videos that are engaging and accessible to all learners. You can also scroll down to read about the seven steps.

1. Decide which type of video to make.

Teacher-made videos usually fit into one of two categories: “talking head” videos or screencast videos. Knowing your end goal will help you decide what type of video to make. 

“Talking head” videos

A “talking head” video is when you record yourself talking to the camera. Make this video if it’s important that your students focus on you during the lesson.

Good reasons for choosing this type of video:

Screencast videos

A screencast video is when you record your voice and your computer screen. Make a screencast video if showing something close-up — like slides, a document, or an interactive whiteboard — best supports your learning goal.

Good reasons for choosing this type of video:

  • To explain the directions for an assignment

  • To show how to solve a math problem

  • To demonstrate how to use an assistive technology tool 

There are many screencast tools to choose from. Depending on the tool, a screencast video may show a small image of your talking head in the corner. This feature can help personalize the video.

You can also use a videoconference tool like Zoom to make a screencast video. Start a meeting with just yourself (or with another teacher if you are co-teaching), share your screen, and record the meeting. 

2. Plan a short video focused on one topic.

A good plan will save you time — and frustration. Depending on how often you want to refer to notes as you record, write a simple outline or a detailed script for your video. You’ll also need to prepare any images or slides. 

Remember that many of the best practices for online lessons apply to videos:

  • Keep it short (6 minutes maximum) and focused on one topic. This is especially important for students who struggle with attention or who have trouble with working memory. Read your script aloud and time it. Break the video up into more than one video if it’s too long.

  • Plan to share the learning goal at the beginning of the video to take the guesswork out of why your students should watch the video.

  • Plan to use explicit instruction when showing or teaching a skill or concept. 

  • Prepare questions to engage students, guide their learning, and check for understanding.

  • Plan for wait time after asking questions and between topics. These pauses are especially important for students with slow processing speed

  • At the end, include takeaways and next steps so students know what to do. 

3. Gather your equipment and check your lighting.

You don’t need fancy equipment to make videos for your classroom. Here are the basic tools you need to get started. 

Camera

For “talking head” videos, you can use the built-in camera on your laptop, tablet, or smartphone.

For phone videos: You’ll need to decide to record vertically or horizontally. If you’re embedding the video on a website, you probably want to record horizontally. If you think your students may be watching on a phone, you may want to record vertically.

For screencast videos: You don’t need a camera to record your screen. But if you want your screencast video to also include your talking head, use the built-in camera on your laptop or tablet. (A touchscreen device works well for screencasts of interactive whiteboards.) 

Tripod

A shaky video can be hard to follow. Don’t have a tripod? There are many easy DIY ways to make one with household items. 

Microphone

You can use the built-in microphone on your phone, tablet, or laptop if you record within arm’s length of the camera. To lessen the chances of capturing background noise, plug in earbuds or headphones with a microphone. If you’re going to be moving around as you record, try to stay as close to the microphone as possible. 

Lighting

Make sure you have enough light so your students can see you. This is especially important for “talking head” videos. Turn on the lights and open up the curtains. But don’t record with a window behind you. If you’re outside, keep the sun in front of you. Experiment with different lighting setups to find what works best for you. 

4. Keep your background simple.

Keep things simple so that making videos is easy and fun — and so that your video is not filled with too many distractions: 

  • Keep your wardrobe simple. Avoid clothes with textures, busy patterns, or stripes. 

  • Choose a location with the least background noise. Let the people around you know you are recording. But also know that with so many people working at home, no one expects a perfectly quiet location. 

  • Keep your background simple. Scan the area to make sure everything that is in the camera’s view is something you want to be recorded. For screencast videos, tidy up your computer’s desktop and turn off any pop-up notifications. 

  • Keep the items you need — including a glass of water — within reach.

  • Do a test. Film for a few seconds to check the lighting, sound, and background. Make sure your whole face is in the shot. Check that any props you’re using, especially ones with text, are visible on camera. 

5. Record in one take — even if you make a mistake.

Try to record everything in one take. Even if you make a mistake in the middle, don’t hit stop. Just start that part over and keep going. This will save you editing time and avoid making your video look choppy. 

Here are a few other pointers: 

  • Check your camera settings. Avoid auto settings to prevent the look changing mid-shot. If you’re using a phone, record at the highest resolution, and activate the HDR function (if you have it). 

  • Use “do not disturb” mode to make sure you don’t get calls or alerts while recording. 

  • When you start, press the record button and wait a few seconds before speaking. The same goes for the end — wait a few seconds after your last action to press stop. 

  • Look directly into the camera lens to make eye contact with your students. 

  • Be yourself. Talk directly to your students as if you were in your classroom.

  • Remember to use wait time. 

  • Use cues. In “talking head” videos, use gestures, like pointing to something important. In screencast videos, use highlighting, underlining, and circling to guide students’ attention, but don’t overdo it. Too much of this can be distracting.

6. Do a little editing.

You don’t need to have a perfectly polished video, but you may want to trim the beginning, the end, or a mistake in the middle. Your phone, tablet, or computer usually has basic editing software to make simple trims and add titles. For example, Apple products have iMovie and Windows products have Microsoft Photo

If you have the time, you can also use an interactive video editor to add engagement elements like questions with answers, polls, and short quizzes. But don’t add too many. You only need a few elements to engage your students. 

If you don’t have access to an interactive editor, try using your basic editing software like iMovie or Microsoft Photo to add a text card to the beginning or end of your video. This text card could have a link to a Google Form to check for understanding or to a Padlet where students can share ideas or questions. 

7. Use tools to make your video accessible.

You may need to include transcripts and closed captions as accommodations during distance learning for students who have an (IEP). But these tools can help all students access the content. For example, these tools can support English language learners, students who have trouble with focus, and students who benefit from reading content.

Transcripts

When you make a transcript, students will be able to read the entire text of your video. To make a transcript, all you need to do is play your final video while using voice typing in Google Docs, Microsoft’s Dictation, or OneNote to capture in writing what you said in the video. Then edit the transcript as needed, using these tips for formatting

Another option is to use Otter to create a “conversation” you can edit and download. 

Closed captions

Closed captions allow students to read the words a speaker is saying, as they’re saying them. Many video hosting services come with auto-generated captions that use speech recognition technology. Others don’t. Here are two ways to add captions to videos: 

YouTube:

  • Upload your video to YouTube. 

  • Turn on automatic captioning.

  • Captions won’t be perfect. Use the caption editor to make changes to your captions. 

  • From there, create a transcript by clicking the “more” menu (three dots) next to your video and then selecting “open transcript.” 

  • Copy and paste this text into a blank document to make your own transcript. 

Google Drive:

  • Make a transcript first. 

  • Upload your video. 

  • Click on the top right menu and select “manage caption tracks.” 

  • You will be prompted to add a transcript file to create the captions.

These extra steps might seem overwhelming at first, but once you see how easy it is to add captions and transcripts — and how much they help students and their families — you’ll be glad you figured out how to do it.

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