What this guide is (and isn't)
This guide is for any educator interested in producing video resources to support their teaching, and their students’ learning. It runs beginners through everything you need to consider when planning a video project.
As an educator, you’ll already have your own tried and tested methods for planning teaching and work with your students. This guide is not a set of hard and fast rules. What follows are general tips, pointers and guidance to help you adapt and develop your own processes for planning the creation of video projects.
New uses for video
The ability to quickly capture and immediately share improvised, unscripted video with mobile devices has brought about new ways for video to support teaching and learning. This kind of video is well-suited to the immediate sharing of ideas and timely communication with students.
This guide aims to help you create professional quality video resources with a longer shelf life, to support or replace traditional elements of your class or course.
Why bother with pre-production?
Just as you know how important it is to plan a course or lesson before you walk into the classroom or lecture hall, any filmmaker will tell you that pre-production is a vital part of their planning process.
Effective pre-production saves time and helps you deliver more effective, higher quality video. It allows you to explore and evaluate a variety of potential production options before choosing the most suitable for your project. Knowing exactly what you need to do also helps give you a better idea of what to expect, reducing the risk of a project taking longer than expected.
Involving your students
If you’re creating video with your students, the pre-production processes discussed here can form the basis for creative and collaborative group assignments.
So, where do you start?
1. Structuring your content
First, you’ll need to determine the scope of what you want your video to teach. If you can answer the following five questions, you’re on the right track.
What is the core subject of the video?
It’s vital to clarify what subject your video needs to cover, and in how much detail.
How many videos do you want to produce?
Are you aiming to create a single video to teach a standalone topic? Planning multiple videos to walk students through a larger topic? Or perhaps something in-between?
Where is the content coming from?
Do you wish to adapt materials from an existing lesson or course (a good place to start if you're new to making video)? Or, do you want to create your video from scratch?
How is the content structured?
How will your content be broken down and presented? Do you want to create a 15 minute video or a series of three five minute videos? It’s worth remembering: research shows that breaking content down into short, bite-size chunks can help students absorb the information.
What are the desired learning outcomes?
What will students gain from watching the video? Is it purely instructional, or does it contain an actionable assignment? If you want students to take an action after watching the video, make it clear.
Telling a story
Video as a medium is perfectly suited to storytelling. As most educators know, storytelling also happens to be a great way to impart knowledge. Finding a way to tell a story (no matter how small or ridiculous) is a sure-fire way to create more compelling video.
'Evergreen' content is a resource that has reusable value. For example, a video explaining a core concept of a course that’s taught annually. Being evergreen isn't always a relevant concern, but if you want to create video that stands the test of time it's worth investing more resources into the production. Quality = engagement.
2. Planning your production
In pre-production it's easy to get excited when brainstorming ideas for your video. This is an important part of the process, but as a beginner it’s a good idea to start small and not overreach: Pick a style of video that you have the time, resources and ability to complete.
Using, referencing and adapting media that students are familiar with can be a great place to start, and can even help kick-start discussion and learning activities.
If you're drawing inspiration from entertainment media, think about why it's entertaining (often, this comes back to story). Can you replicate any effective narrative or instructional techniques from other media?
Choosing the right style
It's important to visualise what form you want your final video to take. Choosing an appropriate and achievable style is key. The style you choose will depend on the content you're teaching, your production ability, personal taste and, of course, whatever you can dream up to put on screen.
If you’re stuck for ideas, take a look at popular educational videos to see what’s realistic to produce and effective. Some common styles seen in educational video include:
If you want to adapt existing presentation resources, consider creating a narrated screencast (a recording of content and actions on your computer’s screen, narrated by you). Check out our guide to getting started – with the right apps and tools it’s easy.
Video you record yourself (live action)
If you enjoy taking photos or shooting video with your camera or mobile device, this style may suit you best. Whether you’re in front of the lens explaining a concept or just shooting relevant imagery to present as part a narrated slideshow, using moving imagery can help make your video more engaging.
If you’re shooting on an iPhone or iPad you can dramatically improve image and sound quality by using a tripod, external microphone and ensuring your subjects are well lit. Read our guides on recording better sound, stabilizing your image and exploring creative shooting using different lenses.
If you’re going to be editing your own video, you don’t need to create every visual element. It can be more effective (and save time) to incorporate existing media such as relevant photos and video you find online. You can use the Creative Commons search to find usable media content on your subject from various sources online the web.
Check out this nice example of explanatory live-action video walking through the science behind boiling water.
If you're feeling ambitious, consider animation. It’s fun to produce and extremely effective for explaining abstract concepts, although it can be time-consuming to create
Probably the most accessible form of animation is stop-motion: a technique where objects are moved incrementally between being photographed. Playing the images in sequence creates the illusion of motion. Our own Flipped Classroom video was produced using this technique.
Stuck for ideas?
Try soliciting feedback from colleagues and students. What do they find most interesting about the content you're teaching? How would they like to see it brought to life in video?
3. Planning in detail: Treatments, scripts and storyboards
If your video has multiple scenes, a complex structure or diverse visuals, preparing a treatment, script and/or storyboards can help you visualise content and plan the details of your production.
Depending on the type of video you're producing, how comfortable you are creating it and your personal workflow, you may or may not need to involve these in your planning process.
Writing treatments and scripts
A treatment is simply a written outline of what will happen in your video. This can be helpful to crystallize the desired sequence of events and progression of content (or narrative) that will drive your intended learning outcomes.
If you’ve chosen a style of video that requires a more formal voiceover then writing a script can help shape and refine the message. A ‘script’ can be as formal, or informal, as you like. Simple bullet points may well do the job.
Short and snappy is better. Unless you’re going to be talking straight to camera for the whole video it’s helpful to note down what will be appearing on screen with corresponding points in the script.
You can use a pen and paper or word processor such as Microsoft Word or Apple’s Pages to write a treatment or script, but we also recommend taking a look at these apps and services:
Google offers free, accessible tools for creating text and image-based documents and storing them in the cloud. It's easy to share access and collaboratively edit documents, which is great if you're working with colleagues or students on a video project.
Evernote is like a digital notebook that syncs your data online. It’s a great place to store text, images and documents, which can be accessed via desktop and mobile apps. A basic account is free, but you’ll need an Evernote Premium subscription to work collaboratively with others.
Sketching and storyboarding
Storyboarding is useful for visualising how different scenes or visuals fit together. It can be as simple as sketching a few stick figures or as complex as illustrating a graphic novel (not recommended!).
Here are a handful of the storyboards we used when planning our animated video explaining the Flipped Classroom concept:
Here’s a few tools and apps that you may find helpful when storyboarding:
A pen and paper
Marker pens and a pad of paper are, clearly, great tools for brainstorming, sketching and storyboarding.
Download and print our storyboard template (PDF) to help you get started, then snap a few photos with your smartphone for an easy way to keep a digital record.
Keynote, PowerPoint or Google Drive
Presentation apps are really useful for storyboarding video. Their slide-based structure and ability to add transitions and notes make them great tools for turning rough sketches into more formal storyboards. You can even create animated rough drafts of your video by taking photos of physical sketches and building on them with simple transitions and digital elements.
If you’re an iPad user there’s some great apps available to assist with sketching and storyboarding. These can be especially powerful if you’re collaborating with students on your pre-production:
- Paper is a beautiful, intuitive digital sketchbook. There’s a variety of different pens, pencils and brushes to aid sketching, and it’s easy to save and share your drawings.
- Evernote’s Penultimate is a digital handwriting and sketching app. Penultimate notebooks can sync directly to your Evernote account.
- Storyboards is a fully featured storyboarding app designed to be used by filmmakers. It’s pre-loaded with all kinds of storyboarding templates and assets, making it best-suited for planning content that involves characters and props.
Pre-production helps you visualise the video you want to create and ensures you make the best use of your time in production. It may feel like there’s a lot to think about but it can often be a quick process: As soon as you can clearly visualise your video and have planned what you need to do to create it, you're ready to jump in and start production!