Selecting a Video Style

By Christine Scherer

What type of video should I make?

If you arrived at this blog post hoping for a prescriptive answer to that question, you won’t find it here. Instead you will find a framework for including video in your online course, a framework to help you focus your course development efforts by narrowing the process of making a video down to three main sequences of events.

Begin by identifying the need for a video solution

The proliferation of video-enabled devices, as well as the tradition of capturing lecture for use in online courses, may have set up the expectation that you need to make a video. While video is useful for telepresence, is convenient to make due to the lowered barriers to production, and is available almost anywhere, it’s not always the most effective choice.

If you’re developing a course at Northwestern, our distance learning environments require some level of instructor presence through audiovisual recordings. If you’re at an external organization you may have a similar requirement. But beyond some mandatory inclusion of video for instructor telepresence, where else can the use of video help in distance learning?

If you’re comfortable regularly using images and sounds to communicate you might prefer video for it’s convenience and simplicity, as it allows you to capture a traditional style of communication: oration of a lecture. But when the model shifts from in-class to online, how does a traditional teaching style adapt to self-described nontraditional learning?

Tony Bates and Vanderbilt University have some suggestions for both the continued use of a traditional lecture style teaching method that makes use of video. They also raise concerns of overuse of the medium and offer alternative solutions.

But if you’re set on making a video, it’s important to select an appropriate style, one that matches the subject matter you’re teaching. This is where convenient and familiar can shift to confusing and foreign: advanced video production is not the same as capturing a real-time event. Imagine if a Hollywood movie were filmed all in a single take from one angle.

Matching your video style to your content

Again, if you’re preparing materials for a course at Northwestern, we’ve helped narrow down the plethora of options. Readers from other organizations will likely have a set of institution-supported tools, and the principles of video production examined in the post should apply to many other tools as well.

There are some very popular styles of video in online learning, and MIT published a study comparing two types. While the results of the study don’t define a one-size-fits-all template for video, it does indicate that students are more forgiving of informal videos that don’t have high production value and may even learn better from those.

However, a video that is too lacking in production value or inappropriately matched in style can have a negative effect. Beyond selecting the tools for making your video, other areas to consider when making a video are:

  1. your familiarity and skill level with those tools.
  2. any past precedents or examples of videos that cover a similar topic (successfully or unsuccessfully).
  3. any assessment needs associated with the video.
  4. the timeline for completion.

Creating a video

The actual process of making the video is well-documented on the Distance Learning website in a series of guides on the main video page. Resources to help you plan, make, and share your video are all available. Even if up until this point you have not consulted with Distance Learning staff, it is highly recommended that you do so before producing a large amount of videos. Having peers evaluate a sample of your work is mandatory in the video production industry. While SPS currently offers no platform to test a video on a student audience before releasing it in a course site, this peer evaluation process is at least one level of quality assurance before the video reaches its intended audience. Gathering feedback on your final video is an equally important part of the production process. Some tips for measuring your the impact of your videos are listed below.

Measuring the success of a video by measuring student success

Student grades and course evaluation forms are an indicator of the overall quality of a course, but to measure the specific impact of a video you should employ additional tools for gathering information. Some simple measurements include:


  • Amount of times viewed – The amount of views a video receives can indicate student interest, but can also mean that the video was difficult to watch or hear and students had to revisit it multiple times to make sense of the content.
  • Scores on related assessments – If you use assessments directly connected to your video (such as a quiz or discussion immediately following a video) or have in-video commenting or quizzing enabled (possible through Zaption or Arc), you can measure how specific areas of the video supplement the information information students need to complete assessments. You may be able to develop correlations between students who score well on assessments and students who engage with videos, but keep in mind that it isn’t always as simple as that.
  • References to video content cited in student work – If you search student work for terms and phrases specifically mentioned in your video, or if students link directly to course videos in discussions, assignments, or other course communications, this can demonstrate engagement. Some students may be more inclined to directly reference items in a course than others, and they may have very positive or very negative experiences with the material that leads to their decision to comment on it.

The advantage of having a digital learning environment is the ease of connecting students and materials in a course to other digital platforms, allowing them to learn from them and also contribute back to them. Mixing styles of video is common in other digital communities, and there may be times where all you need to do in a video you produce is add a layer of expert level context to existing resources from YouTube. If a video can achieve a goal of helping students learn, and you can save yourself the effort of having to produce something entirely yourself, why not use it? But when you discover an opportunity to fill in an area that has yet to be covered in another form, whether that be in video, a textbook, or other medium, the Distance Learning staff will help make that possible.

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