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Tips & Tricks for Effective Lecturecasting

Lecturecasting is all the rage these days.  And whether you are lecturecasting specifically for a class (either online, face-to-face, or any combination thereof), or are putting your lectures out to the wider public on a platform such as iTunes U, it takes a lot of work to get your lecturecasts to the point where they are effective vehicles for your content.

I’ve been lecturecasting consistently for a little less than 2 years now (check out the lecturecasts from my History of the Digital Age class for examples of me doing my thing), and I’ve found that effective lecturecasts are as much about the little things – the things that might not be so obvious – as they are about the “big issues.”

And in the spirit of “the little things,” here is a list of (relatively) simple tips, tricks, and thoughts that will hopefully contribute to producing better lecturecasts.

As with all “tips & tricks” lists, this one is hardly comprehensive.  These are essentially the result of my own personal experience – so, take them in the spirit that they are given.

Test your Audio and Video Before Recording

There is nothing worse that getting halfway through recording a lecturecast only to realize that you selected wrong mic to record or your camera was turned off (believe me, as basic a thing as this sounds, it happens a lot).  So, do yourself a favor and run a little video and audio check before launching into the actual recording.

Put a Sign on Your Door

If you are recording in your office (as I do), make absolutely sure that you put some sort of “do not disturb” sign up on the door.  Murphy’s law dictates that as as soon get to the point of no return in recording your lecturecast, someone is going to invariably knock on your door.  And you know for a fact that if they hear you inside, but you do not answer, they’ll keep banging (thinking that you hadn’t heard the first knock).

Make a Choice About Tone

Do you want your lecturecast to be formal or informal, conversational or ceremonial?  Ultimately, your choice depends on your preference.  However, its really wise to make the decision beforehand (and prepare accordingly).  If you go from being super formal to informal right in the middle of your lecturecast, your viewers are probably going to be thrown off a little.  The same thing applies for lecturecasts within the same “series.”  If you are presenting a bunch of lecturecasts as a series, and you flip-flop between a formal and informal tone for each individual ‘cast, your viewers might not see the entire package as a cohesive whole (and if you are trying to make a larger point across the series, this could be a problem).  If there is a specific pedagogical (or content) need to switch tone, acknowledge it.  Saying something like “in this lecture, we are going to change things up a little from the previous lecture…” will go a long way. By doing this, you are clearly staying that the current ‘cast is part of the series, and (hopefully), your audience might be thrown off quite as much.

Screwing Up Doesn’t Necessarily Mean Starting Over

The perfectionist in all of us will want to stop the recording and start over if we make a little gaffe.  But it doesn’t have to be this way.  Lets be honest here, our actual lectures are rarely ever perfect.  They are peppered with “umms,” “ahhs,” and (upon loading the first lecture slide) “holy crap, that isn’t what I was supposed to be talking about today” (well, maybe not that last one, but you get my drift).  Why should your lecturecasts be completely perfect?  Personally, I think that a more organic lecturecast (read: with mistakes) makes the professor seem more human, and the lecturecast less soulless and sanitized.  Each of us is going to have our own standards as to what constitutes an acceptible screw up, and what constitutes a mistake that requires you to hit the reset button.  Just be sure to identify yours.  That way, you won’t be caught in the middle of a lecturecast (after having screwed up) thinking about whether you should start over.

Have a Script

If you are going formal, make sure you have a script.  Even if you aren’t going formal, its always good to have some talking points.  If you are going to record your talking head (as opposed to talking over some slides or video material), put the script at eye level somewhere.  There is nothing worse than having to look down at a sheet of paper to figure out what you need to talk about next.  I put my script up on one of my other monitors (which I’ve got positioned just behind my laptop – the machine on which I do the actual recording).  This way, I can scroll through the script without looking away at all.

Lighting

Now I know your lecturecast isn’t a 100 million dollar budget blockbuster (though, if it is, you should email me, cause…I’d like a piece of that action), but there is no excuse of having bad lighting.  “But I don’t have a lighting kit” you say?  Don’t worry – sometimes all it takes is turning the lights on in your office or (if you have one) positioning your desk lamp just so.  Give it a try (when you are testing your audio & video) and I’m sure that you’ll be able to come up with something that works for you.

Positioning

Your position in relation to the camera is an important factor  in the quality of your lecturecast.  Positioning yourself so that you are looking down at the camera makes it looks like you are some sort of lumbering giant.  Positioning yourself so that you are looking at the camera from below makes it look like you are a scholarly lilliputian.  Granted, you might actually want to carry off an effect like this (sometimes I like to pretend I’m a robot, but that’s a discussion for another post).  What you want (generally speaking) is to have your eyes roughly level with the lense of the camera.  I do this by adjusting the height of my chair (because I’m generally sitting when I do my lecturecasting).  This gives the impression that I’m talking directly to the audience.

Look into the Camera

We all know that eye contact during a face-to-face lecture is important for creating a connection with students.  Lecturecasts are no different.  Be sure to look directly into the camera, or risk your audience wondering what you are staring at just over their shoulder.

Lecturecasts as PR

In many ways, lecturecasts are your promotional material.  If you embrace an open courseware philosophy (and make your class materials freely available online), your lecturecasts are going to be accessible by a wide variety of people – beyond the lucky few who’ve actually registered for your class.  This is especially true if you are making lecturecasts available outside of the context of a specific class.  The result is that your lecturecasts will be visible by prospective students – who might use them to decide whether they want to take one of your classes.  Your lecturecasts will also be viewed by colleagues (either local or long distance).  In this regard, they might serve as fuel for your growing scholarly social network.  Your lecturecasts might also play a role in getting a first job (or a new job) or your tenure & promotion process.  So, when producing lecturecasts, be cognizant of the fact that they are more than just a little lecture video viewed by a handful of student – and produce something that you are comfortable being represented by.

Do you lecturecast?  What strategies, tips, and tricks have you developed over the months/years?  Better yet, why don’t you share some of your lecturecasts with the Profhacker community?

Image by Flickr user AchimH / Creative Commons licensed

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