(The opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of Al-Fanar Media).
Editor’s Note: Following is the last in a series of four articles offering insights from faculty members at the American University in Cairo on how to make online classrooms more effective. The comments were originally published in New Chalk Talk, a newsletter of the university’s Center for Learning and Teaching, and have been edited for clarity here.
Since moving to online instruction after the coronavirus crisis hit earlier this year, the American University in Cairo has required that at least 50 percent of classes be held synchronously, allowing students access to live classes and time with peers and professors.
Short pre-recorded lectures that focus on key content can be an important digital aid in preparing students for a synchronous class that is discussion-based and interactive.
Balance is key in these preparatory videos. Keeping them short (10 to 20 minutes) is good practice, with a check-your-understanding touch point such as a short non-graded or low-stakes quiz.
Following are ideas from two faculty members on specific aspects of successful videos.
Elisabeth Kennedy, Department of History
Length and structure of videos:
My pre-recorded lectures take the place of one class session per week; our second class session is always synchronous and discussion-based. I divide my lectures into 10- to 15-minute videos, with the total time not exceeding the equivalent of one in-person class session. Each video segment has a clear title, covers a free-standing chunk of material, and has an arc. I begin each segment with a few sentences of introduction and end with a brief wrap-up.
How I create and post videos:
I dress up, project a lot of positive energy, and smile a lot!
I set up a simple recording space in my home office with the purchase of an inexpensive photography backdrop frame available on Souq.com. This allows me to have an uncomplicated simple fabric background and to record my videos where the lighting is best, moving the backdrop according to the natural light.
I record using Panopto, with PowerPoint displaying slides as I speak. I make sure to have a good-quality, full-screen photo slide for every point I make. More slides with limited, bold content in each slide are preferable to a small number of static, crowded slides. I do not combine texts and photos within slides, and I keep text to the minimum when I use it. The result is a visually rich video presentation that keeps moving.
You can look up TED Talks’ guidance on using slides and visuals for tips and the rationale on this approach to presentations.”
I post them on Blackboard as links, not embedded files.
Time management and value:
I record my videos several days in advance of posting, to make sure there is time for the videos to upload and process. It takes me the better part of a workday to record a full lecture video [in segments]. My family knows I will be exhausted by the end of a recording day and in need of food, drink, and TLC! But the investment is worth the time because once I have made the videos, I can use them again the following semester. Even when we return to in-person instruction they can be useful in case of illness, travel, or just to provide occasional variety in format. Students find them very useful for finals review as well.
Engaging students with questions:
I end my lecture segments with open-ended, reflective questions that can only be answered based on the video material. Students have until the end of the week to post their response to our class Slack channel. Responses must be unique, so students need to read everyone else’s posts first.
Karim Addas, Department of Physics
Use a video playlist approach with flipped teaching:
I have over 200 short videos on YouTube that cover all the course material for one of my courses. https://www.youtube.com/channel/UCDpoGa0QHwWVimKP45h1vZQ
During class, depending on how far I’m going with the material, I try to see if I can assign some of the remaining material that is not so essential to explain in class as videos for students to watch at home. The maximum time I would assign for videos is about 10 minutes and not more than 15 minutes.
At the beginning of the next class, I ask students if they have any questions about the material and address those, then move on without explaining that material again.
I also developed Excel sheets with links to the class notes and also the videos. Students just need to look up the topic in the sheet and they can click on the videos for that topic. This is useful if a student could not attend class or wants to review the lecture explanation after class; they have access to what was explained in class. Usually, they prefer the synchronous explanation in class, since they can ask questions while I’m explaining, but it’s good to have the explanation also available if they need it later.
Some Additional General Recommendations
Deciding whether something is better presented to students as a pre-recorded lecture or live during a Zoom session or similar is an important decision. Key considerations include how difficult it might be for students to learn this new material on their own without asking questions, how much time you and the students have, and how interactive it would be if done synchronously. Sometimes recording a short video allows you more time to interact during the synchronous session.
Remember that even a pre-recorded lecture can be interactive. Many tools such as Panopto allow you to insert quiz questions, or you can create short videos and insert short exercises to do between them. You can even ask students to pause and think about something.
Finally, there are two free video playlists online on how to create good video. Karen Costa’s YouTube playlist, to accompany her book 99 Tips for Creating Simple and Sustainable Educational Videos, and Mike Wesch’s “Teaching Without Walls” playlist.
The authors are faculty members at the American University in Cairo. Maha Bali and Hoda Mostafa, of the university’s Center for Learning and Teaching, curated all of the commentaries in this series.The other articles are: