The Problem With Flipped Classrooms: Teachers Shoot Lousy Video

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As I observed in this year’s State of Educational Video in the Streaming Media Industry Sourcebook, teachers from elementary schools to colleges are freeing up classroom time by recording lessons for students to watch before class. The convenience of desktop recording has fueled its popularity.

However, after viewing dozens of video lectures, I’ve heard enough rough audio and seen too much shadowy video. These problems don’t always derail lessons, but they do create speed bumps on the road to learning. So here are some tips and best practices for flipped classroom instructors (and the technology pros who assist them).

Students rely on what you say more than any other element in your video. So improving your sound recording is the single most important thing you can do. Because most laptops and tablets have built-in microphones, many teachers simply use them by default. While adequate for Skype calls, these microphones are not great for educational video. Consider how difficult it is to understand a caller on a speakerphone -- plagued by room echo and background noise -- compared to someone using a handset. Your laptop’s microphone is like that speakerphone.

Luckily, it is very easy to add an external microphone. The best choice is to use a USB headset or stand-alone microphone; either costs less than $75. A headset is nice because the mic is right in front of your mouth, minimizing room noise and echo. A standalone microphone is also good, provided you position it close enough; 6" to 12" from your mouth is ideal.

Teachers use a webcam because showing their faces helps maintain a personal connection. The problem is that office lighting is not designed for video. You don’t want to appear as a dark silhouette. That undermines the whole point of using a webcam. This is also very easy to fix, and you don’t even have to buy new equipment.

One major culprit is a bright light behind you, which causes your webcam to compensate by darkening the whole picture. The most common backlight is a window. The simplest remedy is to turn yourself and your computer around so that you’re facing it. Then you’ll have pleasing natural light illuminating your visage. If that’s not possible, draw blinds or curtains to block or soften the light.

Overhead lights aren’t great either, projecting shadows downward on your face. Another strategy requires nothing more than a desk lamp. Move it beside or behind the monitor so the light projects on your face. It should be brighter than other lights in the room; dim or turn them off if possible. Proximity works in your favor -- the closer that lamp is, the brighter it will appear.

It’s good to experiment some. Make sure you can see your webcam video on the screen, then try different placements until you get a nice image.

Practice does make perfect. You shouldn’t be afraid to watch your own videos critically. Is your voice easy to understand? Are the visuals and video clear? Is text readable? If anything needs improvement, do another take.

In fact, doing multiple takes is one of the most effective ways to go from good to great. You also have an opportunity to hone your delivery or reorganize your presentation. Many screen capture applications also edit, letting you take out mistakes or assemble the best takes.

A valuable side benefit many teachers have realized is that good videos can be used over again. If you teach the same class or lesson, why not reuse your flipped videos? You’ll feel better about doing it when you’ve invested a little extra effort into making them. Plus, you’ll be that much more practiced when you record new ones.

This article appears in the April 2014 issue of Streaming Media magazine as "Creating Flipped Videos That Soar."

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