Learn how you can use simple videos to connect with your students and help them feel welcome in your course.

I remember the first time I sat down in front of the computer to create a video for my students. I was nervous but prepped. I had written a script, created notecards for reference, staged a neutral background, practiced a few times, and then hit record. What unfolded the next hour and a half though was a vicious cycle of start-stop-repeat. With each “um” or uncomfortable glance, I stopped the recording. Each time my dog barked in the background, I stopped the recording. Every time I lost my place in my notes, I stopped the recording. It took an hour and half to capture a six-minute video for my students. Teaching with video? Ridiculous!

The next time I hit record I was a lot wiser.

While sometimes stressful and intimidating, creating regular videos, like the following Welcome Video, for your students is a great way to humanize and remind them that there is indeed a real, live person behind the Canvas course engaging with them.

To support you in adopting this strategy, I share the following three tips:

  • Scripting for a Welcome Video and other weekly video updates
  • Setting up a simple studio to record your videos
  • Prepare to humanize

Scripting Your Video

I always write up a verbatim script for my videos. While I do not reference this script during my actual recording, I do use it to prepare and get my head in the game. Reading my script over a few times solidifies my message and key points in my mind before hitting record. Following are my quick tips for script-writing, whether you are prepping a welcome video for your students at the start of the course or teaching with video throughout the semester.

Be Short: Short and concise is best. Welcome videos should not be longer than 5-6 minutes. Course content videos should also be as concise as possible. Consider chunking content videos out into multiple clips when covering heavy, important content. This offers your learners important time to pause and digest key points.

Be Engaging: Let students know you are excited about having them in your class and look forward to interacting with them throughout the term. Show your personality and speak naturally. To help you take a relaxed and welcoming approach, consider having a friend or family member in the room to speak to, so you aren’t just talking to a computer screen. Or, you can be like me, and tape a picture of a friend near the camera of your computer and pretend they are in the room smiling and nodding as you speak. What’s important is that you are yourself.

Tell A Story: Remember how mesmerizing it was as a child, to sit down with a family member and take in a good book before bedtime? When it comes to teaching with video, don’t underestimate the power of the story. As you consider your class and your content area, remember everything has a story, and you can bring that story to life in so many different ways. You might link an article or piece of content to a particular experience in your grad program. Maybe the experience of a former student would really resonate with listeners (pending that student’s approval to share their tale of course). The possibilities are endless. As you script your thoughts, brainstorm the story that you want to tell your students. It could be serious or whimsical, or something in-between.

Seek Feedback: Ask a colleague or friend to read through your script and provide feedback. Make edits accordingly.

Once I’ve practiced my script a few times, I minimize it to a few helpful bullets and stick a Post-it next to the camera of my computer as a quick visible reminder of the key points I need to make. I set a two-take limit and roll! This encourages me to put my most authentic self towards the recording while still ensuring students get what they need from that particular piece of content. I accept the occasional pause, or pet interruption as a reminder to students that I too am very much human.

Setting Up a Simple Studio

Video setup with lighting & Zoom background settings showing Ball State We Fly background
It’s important to consider the space where you will be recording your content. You don’t need anything fancy to ensure decent lighting, video, and audio quality. When I first started teaching with video, I didn’t have a professional light kit. Instead, I borrowed lamps from around my home and set them up strategically to flood my picture plane. I also didn’t have a microphone, but I did make sure to minimize extraneous sound while recording like not shooting on garbage pick-up day.

If you are able to level up your equipment, linked are some reasonably affordable suggestions. I have a small lavalier mic that I use most often. This can be clipped onto my shirt during recording. I also have a more obvious mic for when I want to feel like a DJ. These are mics I’ve gotten on my own, but please know that there are similar models available from IT, or perhaps from your department.

My home office is in a space with no natural lighting. As a photo major in undergrad, I appreciate this because I can 100% control the amount of light hitting my face. The next best thing, is to face a window as you record, allowing all that natural light to flood the frame for you. If you are in the market though, consider purchasing a basic light kit like the one here.

Something else to be mindful of is your background. Over the years, I have learned to take a very minimal approach to my background, because, when teaching with video, sometimes what is behind you can be more interesting than the message. Omit the distraction entirely with a blank slate – or you can check out some of the Ball State background backgrounds available.

Prepare to Humanize

Laptop with video of Sarah Ackermann smiling at students

As you look at the screenshot above, what do you see? How would you feel if you were a student taking in this content?

This is a screenshot from a recent video I recorded for students. I was sitting in the courtyard just outside of the Kunsthaus Museum in Zurich Switzerland. I was teaching an online asynchronous course for art education majors focused on using the art museum as a teaching tool. While many of the videos I created for my students were recorded in the comfort of my home office, I tried to go out into the field and record in spaces and places that related to my topics as often as possible—one of the benefits to teaching with video is the “classroom” can be anywhere.

Something else that I hope you notice in this screenshot is the relaxed facial expression. While I personally will never get used to hearing the sound of my own voice in a recording, I have learned to deal with it and not take myself too seriously. When I came to this place of understanding and acceptance, I realized that I was able to finally be my true authentic self in front of the camera. Ultimately, just as it is in the physical classroom, when teaching with video, the authentic teacher is the most impactful teacher.

Share with us below ways you can incorporate some of the strategies shared here in meaningful ways for your students.

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  • Sarah Ackermann

    Dr. Sarah Ackermann’s background is in educational technology, instructional design, teacher leadership, and art education. She has experience teaching and leading in online, face-to-face, and hybrid formats. Her most recent research is in the area of teacher response and professional development during the COVID pandemic. Additionally, she has written and illustrated a children’s book which encourages young learners to identify their personal strengths.