Unable to meet up with subject matter experts in person to film or record their contributions to a course? Lack of recording equipment? Want to widen the diversity of your course contributors? Follow these practical solutions to include video in your course by recording remotely. Also, see our designing video steps guidance.
Six best practice tips
1. Keep it simple
Learners are not phased by low-quality video, but they are bothered by the quality of the content within them. Don’t worry about fancy visuals, tracking shots, pans, zooms and multi-camera shoots. Keep it simple, one fixed camera and one microphone. Less kit = less to go wrong and more time on content and delivery.
2. Maximum length is 5 minutes for video
This is the same for all videos, is aligned to our QA criteria. Estimate how long it will take to read your script by using this handy script timer.
3. Be stable
Avoid holding your camera by hand. Shaky footage disorientates and distracts learners. Rest your mobile phone, tablet, D-SLR, or laptop on a stable surface, or use a tripod. If your video will include moving around consider investing in some kind of gimbal to keep your shot stable. Don’t be tempted to move around too much or too quickly. Use the five-second rule. Shoot for five seconds, move for five seconds, hold for five seconds.
Position yourself in the shot. Consider what else is visible. Aim for a simple head and shoulders shot. Penn State provides some easy-to-follow tips on how to compose your shot.
Filming on a mobile or tablet? Always shoot in landscape! Why vertical videos are bad.
4. Audio quality matters most
Learners will persevere with poor quality video if the audio is good. Always do a test recording first! Minimise background noise: turn off the washer/dryer/, mute every device you own, turn off air conditioning, unplug the telephone. Find the quietest part of your home, usually somewhere equidistant from the road.
Dampen the area where you’re going to be recording by reducing the number of hard surfaces around you (which cause sound waves to bounce back). Surround yourself with cushions.
An external microphone is the single best investment. Clipping on a lavalier (lapel) mic leaves your hands free to gesture for emphasis; it means you can move around without the sound levels changing as you get closer or further from the microphone. It’s less likely to pick up the little bumps and clicks from your desk or laptop as you record too.
Pay attention to the recording levels (also referred to as gain or sensitivity). It’s straightforward to boost sound levels if they’ve been recorded a little too low, but if the sound is too loud and becomes distorted, it’s almost impossible to salvage the recording.
5. Enhance your media with a decent script
Scripts avoid repetition, hesitation, or deviation! One option is to read it out loud using a teleprompter app. Cueprompter.com is free and easy to use, and there are a number of free auto-cue apps available for tablets. Or learn it by heart. Don’t film yourself reading from a piece of paper or looking down. Be sure to focus on a conversational tone to increase educator presence.
6. Choose a setting free from clutter
Aim for consistent lighting. If the weather’s looking very changeable, don’t shoot outside or near the windows. Continuity will become a problem when you come to the editing stage. Don’t position yourself with the camera in front of you and a window directly behind you. Instead, try using window light to illuminate your face by putting the camera between you and the window (watch from 01:30). Remove any prominent brand logos from the shot. This article gives some useful insights into backgrounds
Before you film
Check you have enough storage space. If your phone accepts external storage, invest in a micro SD card with 64gb or more, and choose the fastest card you can afford. There’s a lot of confusing jargon in the SD card market. Look for a Class 10 / U1 / V1 card as a minimum.
Set the resolution/quality, pick for the highest resolution possible. If your device can film in 4K, that’s great! It means you’ll be able to crop or zoom in whilst editing without losing too much quality. Otherwise, aim for full HD (1920 x 1080).
Clean your lens!
Slidecast top tips
Slidecast videos are presentation slides with a voiceover. They allow you to explain complex subjects with diagrams, photos and illustrations on your slides and to emphasise or define key terms with bullet points. Avoid using these alot. They are less engaging and can lead to a drop in learners viewing your video content.
- Reduce text on slides to a minimum - learners may find it difficult to read the slides and listen to your voice at the same time.
- Make sure any text on your slides is large enough to read on a mobile screen (font size 18+ recommended).
- Supplement your slides with stock video and photos to add visual interest. You can use sites like Pexels, Unsplash, Freeimages and Pixaby to find rights-free images or take out a subscription for a service like Getty, Shutterstock, Storyblocks, or Pond5.
- It’s possible to tell a compelling story using only stock images and a great narrative voiceover - here’s an excellent example from Coventry University Online’s healthcare MSc.
- Remember to check that you have cleared the rights to use any images you’re putting into your presentation.
Once you have prepared your presentation visuals in Powerpoint, Keynote or even Google Slides, you can turn your attention to the voiceover. Keynote and Powerpoint both have a built-in feature to record audio while you’re clicking through slides:
Recording your slideshow presentation with audio voiceover in Keynote (left) and Powerpoint (right)
Follow the advice above to write a script and record high-quality audio on your computer - ideally using an external microphone.
If you can’t record at high quality, or would prefer not to voice the slides yourself, consider commissioning a freelance professional voiceover artist. You can hire someone on a site like Fiverr. Tips for slidecast voiceovers:
- Don’t just read out the text on your slides.
- Keep your pacing as natural as possible - pause for breath
- Vary your pace, pitch, register and timbre - here’s Julian Treasure’s TED Talk on how to speak so that people want to listen
Editing and exporting
Once you have your slides/images and your voiceover audio, you can combine the two together using iMovie (Mac) or any of these free video editing applications. Windows also has a built-in video editing tool but it’s less flexible and a little hidden; this article explains how the Photos app in Windows 10 can be used to automatically create videos.
When you’re ready to export your video file, look for the highest quality setting you can pick. Ideally, export at Full HD (1920 x 1080) as a .MOV or .MP4 file. If you are given the option to set the ‘bit rate’ (often under the ‘Advanced’ settings), go for at least 2 Mbps (2,048 kbps) or higher. That will ensure your video looks crisp and enables the HD option on FutureLearn’s video player.
You could invest in a GoPro, or a DJI Osmo (the latter combines a gimbal and camera in one handheld device), or a more traditional camcorder , but in all likelihood the camera on your phone or tablet will be good enough if you bought it in the last 18 months or so.
You could consider kitting out your mobile or tablet with accessories for recording better quality audio and video. With the addition of some form of stabilisation and an external mic, you’ve got a pretty passable mobile journalism solution in your pocket.
- RINGR records both ends of a live conversation over the web at high quality and then stitches them together (or allows you to download each side as a mono file on its own).
- Windows 10 comes with its own built-in audio application - here’s a detailed guide to using Voice Recorder.
- Audio Hijack and Piezo (Mac OSX) allow you to record any audio that’s coming out of your Mac, so could be useful if you want to record a Zoom call.
- We’ve heard good things about ECamm call recorder for Skype (again, for Mac OSX)
There are volumes more to be written about sound quality, so here are a few resources that go into more depth than we can here:
- Elearninglearning.com - all articles tagged ‘microphone’ and ‘quality’
- Articulate.com - 4 simple tips for recording high quality audio
- Sellcoursesonline.com - how to record quality audio for your course videos: 8 beginner tips
Rode smartLav+ microphones are relatively cheap (around £45), good quality and relatively foolproof to use. You can plug this model into most laptops and it will be recognised as a mic (though Rode also sells certain adaptors). What’s more, you can plug it into a phone’s headphone jack and record straight on your mobile using whatever voice memo recording app you like.
Get the full shot, by filming in landscape when using a mobile phone or tablet:
Terminology on this page that you aren’t familiar with? Check out our glossary.