Future-proof your videos: occasional vs. content videos

One important lesson we have all learned from the pandemic, and one of its few silver linings – assuming that there is such a thing at all, given all the tragic and negative consequences – is that by now it seems unnecessary to have to convince anyone that instructor-recorded videos of various types can be very useful in your courses, and release valuable meeting time when you and students are in touch (in live face-to-face meetings, or virtually via Zoom, or even asynchronously via LMS text-based discussions). This approach which in our pre-pandemic past was often referred to as “flipped classroom” is not new, and by now finally everyone gets it.

Now, think about the following situation: in a course taught remotely (fully online), the instructor diligently and regularly records their new video lectures during the weekend, and on Monday mornings they get published and become available for students to view. Students then complete activities based on the lecture. One week, due to technical difficulties, the original recorded lecture file gets corrupted, and has to be re-recorded. Consequently, the instructor is technically late with the lecture… Recording their “Take 2” narrated PowerPoint, the instructor decides to open the recording by saying “Hello everyone. I am very sorry that this lecture is late this week…” and proceeds to explain briefly what happened. At this moment the instructor does not realize it yet, but this brief in-the-moment comment makes the video practically unusable in the future when circumstances change (next time when the class is offered, this video will not be late – it is already available, and there is no need to apologize!). The video will either be clearly obsolete (referring to unclear circumstances that no longer exist), or the video team will have to edit that fragment out (think time and $). Recording video lectures is often time-consuming, for some people it is also stressful, and when recorded videos require extensive editing and captioning, it can become quite expensive. This video is a clear example of what I call occasional videos.

There are two important lessons I have learned from the experience of hyper-use of recorded videos: the first is that to be academically useful, any reading, viewing, or web-browsing/exploring needs to be purposeful (focused on specific goals, rather than generic reading, watching, or browsing – see an older post about that); the second is that to get the best results and not make your department go bankrupt in the process, it’s good to separate course-content videos from occasional videos. In this post I want to focus on the latter distinction which doesn’t get anywhere nearly enough attention. So what are these?

Occasional videos make frequent references to a context in which your course is taught. For example, when you refer to a specific semester or season (for example, you say “this summer semester”; or “we are having a beautiful fall day outside!”), or you make a reference to a seasonal event (for example you say “just two weeks left before the winter break!”), or you refer to last week’s game your team won. Sometimes faculty mention personal info, to the extent that they are comfortable sharing it with students, for example last weekend’s trip with your family that is somehow related to what you are talking about. In all these cases, you are making your video occasional. Occasional videos are GREAT in helping you build very positive instructor presence in your course (see my summary of types of presence written a while ago as an assignment for my QM TO Certificate), and helping you establish a good rapport with students. Occasional videos are important especially in heavily blended and fully online courses, where students do not get to see you in person often, or at all. But there is a downside: most occasional videos are like the flowers you’d buy for a special occasion – no matter how impressive (and expensive!), next year, you’ll have to get another bouquet: they are context- and time-specific, and have to be re-recorded every time you teach the course; they go out of date fast. The smart solution to this problem is to clearly separate your occasional videos from your course-content videos.

So what are the course-material videos, and how are they different? Usually they are much, much longer – between 15 and 60 minutes, rather than 3-5 minutes for occasional videos. Unlike occasional videos, course content videos are strictly business. no small talk about the weather, your cat, last weekend’s game, or what was happening on campus last week… They can still be informal and friendly in tone (use direct, 2nd persons address: you / your / for you. instead of 3rd person, generic and distancing “students”), but they include no time references to academic calendar, no module numbers, no references to the seasonal weather outside, or current events, or even references to specific course number, or previous or next module number, if possible. This allows you to re-arrange the order of modules in the future if needed, or – if you need to re-use the same module or lecture elsewhere – with a purely course-content video you CAN. With an occasional video? You’re out of luck (not to mention 3 hours this weekend!) Think of course-content videos as lectures or presentations that focus on the material students have to learn to succeed in your course, and – importantly – as something you record at most once every 3 years (or every third-semester / time you teach the same course). A good course content video does not have to be re-recorded every year, or even every two years. Even if something important changes (for example CDC just released new guidelines that make the ones you mentioned in the video obsolete), such localized, very specific changes can easily be addressed with a note below the video. For example, you can add a comment that says “AT min. 3:25 note that the CDC information has now changed: ….” You can add such correction as a note below the video or some streaming systems (for example, YouTube and Vimeo) allow you to add this comment right on your video, so that it cannot be missed. Separating your occasional videos from your course-content videos is a win-win:

  • students will find it easier to review and find relevant information for quizzes, exams, or other assignments;
  • you do not have to rerecord as often;
  • your department will be grateful – since many programs use universal design approach, and caption ALL media used in courses, the cost of captioning such carefully functionally separated videos is substantially reduced, when only the short (2-5 minute long) occasional videos need to be re-captioned every time the course is offered. For example, in a 15-week course, the cost of captioning (not including your time and effort, and support staff time) for a course with updated occasional videos would be $188. In a course where all fifteen 30-minute lectures that mix occasional and course content need to be re-recorded and re-captioned, that cost would be $1,125, an almost $950 difference. And if your program offers multiple courses (my department offers between 40-45 courses in a typical semester), it’s easy to see how substantial this $$$ difference can quickly become.

To summarize: understanding the differences between occasional videos and course content videos in your courses, and recording them separately and deliberately, is useful and practical: it benefits students (less time needed to review for exams or quizzes), reduces your workload (no continuous re-recording of everything every time you teach the course), and it can substantially reduce the course production cost in programs that use universal design approach (= that caption all media). Happy mindful recording!

Photo by Kushagra Kevat on Unsplash