Published October 29, 2020
Today’s traditional students do not remember when video production and distribution was reserved for skilled professionals. Those days are gone, and over the past two decades we have seen a proliferation of consumer video technologies that allow anyone with a cell phone or webcam to create and stream (broadcast) endless amounts of video content.
My four-year degree in broadcast production and my 25-plus years of refining my video production skills have been reduced to a cell phone and point, click, save, share. And so it goes.
Don’t get me wrong, this is not necessarily a bad thing, but it does raise a question in my mind about what we may be losing as viewers when we accept some video as “good enough”. Ever since the introduction of home video recorders, we have become more and more accustomed to viewing amateur, imperfect video and being perfectly okay with it. While we still expect high production standards from our network, cable, and streaming television programming, most of what we watch online is not scrutinized for high production values. While this is fine for videos of talking pets and chicken wing activism, I argue that in educational video, quality still matters.
Before I can get you to actually take steps to improve your online educational videos, I need to convince you that it’s worth doing. So let me make my case.
First, let’s be clear about the types of production values I am referring to. I believe most viewers don’t take the time to think about what it is that makes a video “look good,” but everyone notices when it doesn’t. The technical aspects that make a video or film engage a viewer include lighting, contrast, color balance, frame composition, editing, frame and bit rate, audio clarity, and background. All of these characteristics can contribute to an engaging experience or turn a viewer away from a meaningful experience. This engagement is crucial for students in online learning, and faculty should be aware of these factors that can influence student engagement.
Okay, so the research on these production values and their effect on learning outcomes is sorely lacking, but we can look at some studies that touch on this relationship. Findings from studies on instructional video and student engagement suggest that video frame composition and editing style can both positively effect student viewing patterns (IIgaz et al. 2020). One study also concludes that pre-planning and scripting of educational videos, tailoring content to specifically be viewed online (as opposed to simple lecture recordings) had a positive impact on student engagement (Guo et al. 2014). Finally, a comprehensive literature review concluded that aspects of video production including length, speaking style, graphic and animation choices, audio fundamentals, and interactive elements all can affect student engagement and learning (Brame 2016). Again, this is an area in need of continuing research (hint, hint UB researchers), but I have spoken to a number of colleges on this subject over the past few years and there is a general consensus that educational videos must meet a certain level of quality in order to prevent student disengagement and to enhance student learning.
At least one study showed that videos viewed on a university website are perceived as more valuable even if similar content is available elsewhere (Giannakos et al. 2015). Another study concluded that in the first week of an online course, students examine course resources carefully, including videos, to develop their opinions about the instructor and course expectations (Dennen, 2007). Quite simply, the quality of faculty videos can only increase students’ perceived value of our university and individual faculty reputations. I believe that as a faculty member you take extreme pride in your teaching. Before you walk into a classroom, you make sure your materials are in order and understandable. You probably wear professional attire and present yourself in the best possible image. Your classroom is designed both environmentally and technologically to create the best possible in-person student experience. The microphone and sound system is tuned just right and you adjust the lighting to make it better to see the screen and yourself. This is value the students can see firsthand on-campus and we must find ways to recreate this perceived value online. A commitment to producing better visual and audio experiences in our online courses is fundamental to meeting student expectations and forming their perspectives about UB.
I believe we should all be positive, active stewards of the UB brand. We should all be aware of the collective message and identity we convey in our teaching and online presence. Everything we put online, whether on a public YouTube channel or a private UB Learns course, reflects on the brand and reputation of our university. This should matter, and it should be worth a small extra effort to make our videos reflect positively on the UB brand.
My guess is that faculty are most worried about the extra time it may take to consider, plan, and produce videos with some amount of higher production values without having the skills to do it well. Communicating content becomes the priority, and not so much how that content looks or sounds. I get it. I understand both the time constraints and pressure faculty are under to transition to online teaching and we cannot expect faculty to now become award-winning directors.
Fear not. There are a number of simple technologies and techniques that can improve the quality of your videos without needing the skills of Tarantino or the need for time to stand still. I will discuss these in future blogs, but for now, that’s my case. I hope at the very least we can agree that better video can benefit students, faculty, and our university. If we can agree on that, we can start working together to improve our practices and create better experiences for our students.