Editor’s Note: Following is the last in a series of four articles offering insights from faculty members at the American University in Cairo on how to make online classrooms more effective. The comments were originally published in New Chalk Talk, a newsletter of the university’s Center for Learning and Teaching, and have been edited for clarity here.
Since moving to online instruction after the coronavirus crisis hit earlier this year, the American University in Cairo has required that at least 50 percent of classes be held synchronously, allowing students access to live classes and time with peers and professors.
Short pre-recorded lectures that focus on key content can be an important digital aid in preparing students for a synchronous class that is discussion-based and interactive.
Balance is key in these preparatory videos. Keeping them short (10 to 20 minutes) is good practice, with a check-your-understanding touch point such as a short non-graded or low-stakes quiz.
Following are ideas from two faculty members on specific aspects of successful videos.
Elisabeth Kennedy, Department of History
Length and structure of videos:
My pre-recorded lectures take the place of one class session per week; our second class session is always synchronous and discussion-based. I divide my lectures into 10- to 15-minute videos, with the total time not exceeding the equivalent of one in-person class session. Each video segment has a clear title, covers a free-standing chunk of material, and has an arc. I begin each segment with a few sentences of introduction and end with a brief wrap-up.
How I create and post videos:
I dress up, project a lot of positive energy, and smile a lot!
I set up a simple recording space in my home office with the purchase of an inexpensive photography backdrop frame available on Souq.com. This allows me to have an uncomplicated simple fabric background and to record my videos where the lighting is best, moving the backdrop according to the natural light.
I record using Panopto, with PowerPoint displaying slides as I speak. I make sure to have a good-quality, full-screen photo slide for every point I make. More slides with limited, bold content in each slide are preferable to a small number of static, crowded slides. I do not combine texts and photos within slides, and I keep text to the minimum when I use it. The result is a visually rich video presentation that keeps moving.
You can look up TED Talks’ guidance on using slides and visuals for tips and the rationale on this approach to presentations.”
I post them on Blackboard as links, not embedded files.
Time management and value:
I record my videos several days in advance of posting, to make sure there is time for the videos to upload and process. It takes me the better part of a workday to record a full lecture video [in segments]. My family knows I will be exhausted by the end of a recording day and in need of food, drink, and TLC! But the investment is worth the time because once I have made the videos, I can use them again the following semester. Even when we return to in-person instruction they can be useful in case of illness, travel, or just to provide occasional variety in format. Students find them very useful for finals review as well.