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Sharing secrets: The Atomi guide for creating engaging video lessons

By Isabella Wood on 29 April 2020NSWstaffroomCOVID-19EdTechInnovationonline learning

Supporting educators in a world that is demanding more from them than ever before is important. So, in the spirit of making education as accessible as possible during the current disruptions, we’ve put together our secrets of the trade to help teachers like you create videos like ours. You see, despite making tens of thousands of lessons so far, we don’t yet have content available for all subjects, topics and elective units. Sometimes the content you require is so specific to your students’ needs that in order to best support them you may be inspired to hit record yourself.

Do you really need to make that video?

Before you spend more time than you have in your teaching week on creating video content, ask yourself two things: ‘Is this video going to add value?’, and ‘Will the value be proportionate to the time it takes me to create it?’. Don’t get us wrong, we’re big believers in creating engaging video content to facilitate learning. But trust us, it takes more than time to pull off clear, useful and engaging videos. You could call it an art, but let’s stick to the facts: at Atomi, we invest serious money and teams of resources to consistently get our videos right. And because we’re teaching critically important content that’s watched by thousands of students and teachers like you, the investment is worth it. Though, if you’re looking to create videos simply to answer questions from your class or make general announcements, skip the following guide and jump straight to the tools of the trade section. You likely won’t need a full-blown scripted video in these scenarios and will get more value from simply recording yourself. After all, perfection is the enemy of progress.

You might be tempted to use video to replicate in-class lessons, but remember it often doesn’t translate quite so smoothly. So, if you’re tasked with adapting to distance education and navigating a pandemic, all while homeschooling your own kids on the side, we’d recommend leaving video content off your already compromised to-do list. That being said, if you’re trying to explain critical content necessary for students to succeed, investing your valuable time in video content is worth it. Use the following guidelines to create videos the Atomi way: short, scripted, well-edited and geared towards maximising student engagement and retention.

The golden rule for engagement: Shorter videos

Six-minutes short to be exact. As a teacher in 2020, you don’t need empirical studies to tell you that attention spans are getting shorter. Chances are you’ve got enough qualitative data from your classrooms to write the study yourself. But for accuracy’s sake, let’s bring in the research. A study on how video production affects student engagement found that the median engagement time of students is at most six minutes. Think you can get away with something a little longer? Students in the same study often made it less than halfway through videos longer than nine minutes. At Atomi, we try to keep videos around the 4-5 minutes mark (800 words scripted) and make sure any video longer than this comes with a justifiable reason. Moral of the story — make sure your videos account for short attention spans by using short running times. Always think about the end goal of keeping your students engaged, attentive, and completely aware of what they should be learning each step of the way.

So, how do you pull off a six-minute video when you’re teaching year 11 Physics students about thermal conduction calculations? Or investigating Rococo and Neoclassicism in year 12 Art? Edit, edit, and edit. Write a script, then get it down to its most concise and direct form possible. Got a lot to cover? Find the most logical place to split the content effectively into multiple videos. Having two short videos beats one long one. As a rough guide, a 1000 word script = a six-minute video.

Nail your plan, nail the video

Just like the value of a well-planned lesson, investing your time in the pre-production phase of your videos will help your students to see, understand and retain key lesson points with confidence. At Atomi, we plan our video content around breaking down syllabus outcomes clearly. So one of our first steps is to lay out which points will be covered in what parts of the script. Structuring your videos this way will make them easy to follow, helping you give students what they need, when they need it. It will also focus your content on key pieces of practical advice, saving the rabbit holes of broader discussion for your live video conferences.

When it comes to the script itself, remember to keep it conversational. Write as if you’re back in class talking face to face with your students. Here’s where you’ll get to inject your trademark teaching style, putting your own touch on the content with your expressions, phrases and perspective. That being said, try to keep the introduction entirely content-focused so your students know what they’re in for. A good rule of thumb is to keep the intro around 30 seconds long, or under 100 words. We like to use the PEEL writing method as a basic reference. Once you’ve nailed those arithmetic theorems or inextricably intertwined power and authority in the Modern World in six minutes or less, it’s time to wrap things up. Try to use your conclusion to give a conceptual summary rather than just regurgitating your prior points. You could do this by mentioning the key sections of your video while tying them together in a new way. For example: "first we learned that X. This helped us see that Y, which is great for answering questions like Z".

Clean it up in the edit

Taking the structure from your plan, divide your script into key points or sections. That way, you’ll have clear markers when it comes to actually editing the footage. Placing slides at these points will signify each section visually, making the video easier to digest on the first view, then acting as markers if your students need to skim back through. If something that seemed masterfully explained in your planning phase hasn’t quite hit the mark, leave it on the cutting room floor. Use the editing room as a last checkpoint for necessity and relevance.

Tools of the trade

High production value is nice to have, but for the sake of getting things up and running, it shouldn’t be your focus. The tools you’ll use to create your video will vary slightly depending on what you’re teaching. For example, if you’re teaching Extension 2 Maths, you might want to step your students through equations on a digital whiteboard using something like Photoshop. Or, if you’re taking your Geography class through diverse ecosystems you might use a slideshow (like PowerPoint or Google Slides) so you can visualise diagrams. Either way, you’re going to need to record your screen. You can do that using desktop applications like Quicktime on a Mac, or websites like Loom or Screencast-o-matic that let you record yourself and your screen. They’ll also let you edit your video and even share it with your students. See what software licenses your school has available to you, and ask a colleague whose well versed to run you through them. Once you’re done with your video, host it on your LMS, or upload it to YouTube or Vimeo with password protection.

So that’s your guide for creating video content your students might actually engage with. At the end of the day, using existing content where available, like ours here on Atomi, is going to fast track the experience for both you and your students. Though, when brought to life with a solid plan, creating your own videos will undoubtedly foster that face to face connection you and your students are missing right now.


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Brainwaves Podcast: Asynchronous learning during COVID-19


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