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Why DIY videos are easier than you think

eSchool's columnist shares how he overcame his fear of making videos

“I don’t think it’s appropriate for my students to learn from video.”
—Me (until a month ago)

I’ve been afraid to have my class learn from video for most of my career. I’ve told myself, “You can’t replace good whole group instruction.” I’ve advocated vehemently for teaching in front of the class for years.

Here were my reasons:

1. I always felt like my strength as a teacher was my ability to explain things clearly and relate to students who may not have been successful in the past. I’ve always prided myself on my ability to scaffold understanding and identify misconceptions. Video can’t replace that.

2. I have searched the internet high and low for videos that I feel are good enough for my students. Most of the videos I find online don’t teach concepts the way I want them to be taught.

3. Creating my own videos seemed like a lot of work up front that I didn’t have time to do.

4. I fancy myself a pretty engaging and funny guy. Why wouldn’t my students want to be subjected to my dad jokes?

Here is why I was wrong:

1. Using video in class will never replace me; in fact, it will enhance the work I am doing. Videos free me up from the front of the room and allow me to do more of the good work of identifying misconceptions and helping students individually.

2. If I create my own videos, I don’t have to worry about the intricacies of how someone else is explaining my lessons. In the time it takes to find a good video, I could have already made one myself.

3. After making my first set of videos, I was surprised that it really didn’t take that long. I would much rather spend half an hour after school making videos than repeating the same notes multiple times in a row during the school day.

4. I found that I’m actually more engaging and funny when I’m not exhausted from saying the same things multiple times a day in front of a whole room of students. Plenty of time for bad dad jokes!

Tips for making your own videos

Have a purpose
The first time I tried to make a video of myself teaching, I completely froze and gave up. Then I realized that I really didn’t have a big picture plan for how I was going to use video in my class. Whether you are creating video for absent students or using self-guided playlists, you need to know what role video is going to play in your class.

Start simple
When I was initially tinkering around with the screen-recording app on my computer, I was trying to do too much. I had positioned my laptop’s webcam to record myself teaching on my smartboard while also recording my computer screen for a picture-in-picture effect. No wonder I froze and gave up!

Start simple with a screencast of you explaining a problem or introducing an idea and go from there. Also, don’t make any videos longer than 2-3 minutes. If you think it’s hard to keep your students’ attention when you’re teaching to the whole class, just try asking them to watch you talk for 10 minutes straight on a computer.

Make some mistakes
While recording myself, I am always hyper-aware of making mistakes. At first, I found myself scrapping my work and starting over way too many times. Most screencasting apps allow you to pause your recording midway through creating a video. If you make a mistake, push pause, take a deep breath, and go back at it. Just think about how many mistakes you make while teaching on a daily basis. Your students aren’t going to care if you make a mistake and correct yourself on a video. Just keep going!

Use the proper device
I teach math, so most of my videos are screencasts of myself explaining math problems while writing on the screen. I’m pretty sure doing math with a computer touch mouse is punishment for shoplifting in some countries. I use a tablet and a stylus to do math while recording my voice and you never see my face. Depending on what purpose video is playing in your classroom, make sure you’re using the proper device. There are plenty of screencasting apps for both computers and tablets available.

Make your students accountable
Though we like to think that our students will do exactly what we tell them to do all of the time, kids have a tendency to skip through videos or not watch them at all. EDpuzzle is a great website that allows you to keep track of whether your students are watching your videos as well as prohibit them from skipping ahead. The website also allows you to insert questions at any point for your students to answer to check for understanding.

Facing my fears

Using video in my classroom has completely changed my lessons. My students are engaged and working independently on topics I have taught as whole class for years. I feel invigorated by being freed up from the front of the room, and I feel like I have more time to help those who are struggling. I guess all I had to do was get out of my own way and give it a try!

[Editor’s Note: See previous Blending My Practice columns here.]

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