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Reflections on my First Video Lecture

Reflections on my First Video Lecture

Creating a video lecture differs profoundly from producing a more traditional, classroom-based lecture.

Camtasia Screen Shot
Screenshot of the chaos.

This, in and of itself, did not really shock me–I mean, no duh. To do the former you need more stuff: a camera, (speedy) computer, video editing software, microphone, a quiet room. And this does not even begin to address the trauma of watching yourself over and over and over again on film. (I took a lot of speech classes as an undergrad where we had to film ourselves, which largely eliminated the trepidation I had about being on camera; however, editing the video and watching myself over again was more difficult than I had anticipated.)

What did surprise me was how much the content of my lecture and the style of delivery changed, while the process of writing remained largely the same.

For a classroom lecture, my process is pretty straightforward: First, I determine the purpose the lecture serves in the overall arch of the course. What is my rationale for writing it; what is my rationale for having my students experience it? Second, I generate two or three smaller lecture questions. This brakes the whole of the lecture into digestible, purposeful chunks, which students can use to organize their notes and study for their exams. The later I write specifically for the students; the former are only for me.

After I am satisfied with the general purpose of the lecture, then I fill in this structure with the lecture content. My final step is to find images or songs or video to present alongside my lecture material, augmenting the content and entertaining the students (a little bit, at least).

Nothing in this process is particularly revolutionary. In fact, I am sure most professors will claim a similar system in writing an individual lecture.

A few months ago the instructor for the online course I will be TA-ing for in the winter contacted me about writing and filming a video lecture for the course. I absolutely LOVE lecturing–the chance to talk about something I am equally passionate about and knowledgeable about? Yes, please!

Thankfully I did not need to worry about the content of my lecture, since I have thought about the history of zombies often. However, I was nervous about transitioning from analog to digital. I knew I need to make some changes (heavens, I’ve argued in favor of a uniquely digital pedagogy for years now), but I was uncertain about how to begin.

So, I began at the beginning.

First, after discussing my idea for a lecture with the instructor, I tried to frame my lecture in the course and then to generate some research questions.

Second, I produced and organized the content for the lecture.

Third, I found some images to entertain the eye and reinforce my lecture.

Fourth, I rehearsed the lecture on video, so I could see how it went, teaching myself Camtasia as I went.

And how it went… was an unmitigated failure. Not only was it far too long, I relied on hand gestures that could not be seen, gave too much detail about the films (films that I absolutely love and could barely contain my excitement about), and, in the end, my message had gotten lost among the technology.

The system was not broke, but my lecture was.

After a day or so of sulking, I began at the beginning. My confidence in the purpose of the lecture and the lecture questions remained; however, I needed to rethink how I conveyed that message. Instead of focusing on the structure of the content, I began by listing out exactly what information I felt the students needed to come away from the lecture knowing–in this case, the definition of a zombie, the origins and phases of zombie development, and that fear and monsters tell historians a lot about history.

From here, my workflow changed:

My next step was to put together images. In fact, I started with a straight-up Google Images search. Partially for inspiration; partially for connecting my thoughts together. Putting together the visual component first allowed me to frame my lecture more visually.

After I liked the structure of the visual component, then I wrote a lecture outline. This resulted in a much tighter, less detailed lecture. Because students can rewind and watch the lecture as often as they want, video lectures can move faster from topic-to-topic. In classroom lectures, I make sure to keep coming back to important points, repeating definitions, and restating difficult concepts for clarity. While necessary in classrooms, on video this wastes–your precious recording seconds, your students’ attention, and your ability to convey the pertinent information. On video brevity reigns supreme.

And it was done! By fixing those two issues, I turned a crappy first draft into a polished video lecture.

In the end there are things that I would change (I need to figure out some more interesting and variable ways of expressing the visual component of my lecture); however, I love how the technology fades away, emphasizing my message over my medium.

The takeaway:
1) Video Lectures, like those in the classroom, need to have a clear purpose within the scope of the course.
2) Emphasize brevity in writing your lecture outline, omitting redundancies.
3) Use the technology as a tool, one of many in your arsenal.

A (Brief) History of Zombies in the 20th Century

A (Brief) History of Zombies in the 20th Century

Zombies, like all monsters, have a history.

Exactly what that history means depends on the scholar doing the asking: scholars of film, media, popular culture, literature, fear, and on and on.

In this video, which I was asked to put together for an upcoming online course, I want to introduce undergraduate students to the fundamentals of zombie history: what is a zombie and how have Americans used this monster to express societal fears.

Over the last quarter, I have muddled my way through learning how to be an online instructor–from the technology to the pedagogy. Most of the time it has been a joy, but sometimes a struggle. So, I am trying to focus on the process of learning the software and the skills, instead of the frustrations and hard work. With that in mind, over the next few weeks, I am putting together a few posts on the lessons I have learned, adding my voice to the increasing numbers muddling through this too.