Workplace vets in the classroom Post #3

A-B-C-D-Es of making classroom videos:

Five methods to reach millennials,

from easy to mildly ambitious

(If you’re just joining the conversation, I’m a veteran journalist who recently finished six years of teaching at Stony Brook University. This series of posts aims to boost the next crop of working-professionals-turned-teachers over their most common stumbling block: classroom technologies.)

By Dean Miller

If you are teaching video production or broadcast journalism, the videos you post to class web pages ought to model best practices in shooting and editing.

But if you’re teaching something else, think of classroom videos as the equivalent of chalkboard sketches and diagrams: it’s okay if they’re not masterful, so long as they are illustrative.

Most importantly, you’ll be delivering information in the way Millennial students educate themselves, so you needn’t over-think production values. The massive traffic to amateur video channels on YouTube™ is ample proof that when a simple video satisfies a need, users forgive DIY producers. Video’s intrinsic versimilitude and aesthetic appeal is too powerful to ignore.

No matter your area of expertise, I strongly encourage you to learn simple video-making skills. Both in the classroom and in your professional life, you’ll reach more people when you learn to use video.

The great news is that while you gather courage and tools, you can begin building a library of custom-to-your-course videos immediately.

A-Easiest & cheapest custom video tool: Curating clips on YouTube

Pause a YouTube video, right-click and here’s the pop-down menu.

YouTube’s simple curation tool (well-explained here) permits you to create a hyperlink that takes students to the exact starting point you want, skipping any extraneous material. Be sure to give them an end-point as well, such as “watch to the end” or “Watch to 3:33.

Now you just send that link to students in email or post it on a class webpage with instructions.

Say you’re a fisheries biologist who has agreed to teach Freshwater Fisheries Management 101. Here’s how you’d use a custom URL to add video to your next class:

VIDEO ASSIGNMENT: After reading chapter 4 of the textbook (Lancaster & Downes’ “Aquatic Entomology”) Watch the three-minute segment of a case-making sedge-fly larva at this link here.

As you watch, write five questions you have about the long-term impact of last week’s diesel spill on fish populations in Fountain Creek. Bring your written questions to class Monday for our mock research-planning meeting, in which each of you will represent different stakeholders.

Video makes your subject matter aesthetically appealing to students. The news story grounds it in a real-world context and the linkage to rigorous textbook material gives students the opportunity to demonstrate new competence in the role-playing follow-up. That’s a memorable set of experiences to cement the material in students’ minds.

B-Easy (for you!) video tool: Hired team videotapes campus speakers

We shot CNN’s chief Foreign Corrrespondent Christiane Amanpour with a multi-camera crew, capturing her as well as the audience. An editor stitched those streams together and posted it to YouTube where it is still in use in a variety of courses.

Any new face or voice is a welcome break from yours and when an outside voice challenges or confirms points made in class, you are feeding the continuing conversation that is the heart of a strong class.

While I was at Stony Brook University, the Dean of the Journalism School, Howard Schneider, used the faculty’s extensive contacts to bring top journalists to campus five or six times per year to give an evening talk about the craft.

Every campus has that same asking power: speakers are eager to reach an audience of scholars and students. Being a state school, we pled poverty and never paid an honorarium.

As Director of the Center for News Literacy , I was fortunate to have grant funds available to pay the production costs, but many campuses offer production services if you plan ahead and make a compelling request.

Best of all, that video is shareable on the Web, so you’re making material for colleagues near and far.

C-Easy-ish video asset : You direct, an expert shoots and edits

I rounded up a camera crew and editor to shoot this montage of interviews with professors and mature students to introduce them to our culture of blunt critique.

Once you start assigning video clips, it’s only a matter of time before you get frustrated that you can’t find a video that addresses some key idea.

If an excellent problem is at the heart of every excellent product, you have just discovered a need you can fulfill.

When this happens, I strongly urge any professor in any field to appoint themselves Executive Producer and go create the needed video. On this first step into production, you should still round up a videographer/editor so that you can focus on content instead of technique. The time you invest this semester will pay dividends every semester when you send students to watch a video lesson custom-built for them.

As the professor who often taught journalism majors their first course at Stony Brook, I noted some students were taken aback by my tart critiques of their work. My colleagues said the problem persisted long past freshman year. Interviewing a mix of professors with top-shelf newsroom experience and mature students who were veterans of internships in Manhattan, we built this video to dispel the expectation that trophies were due to every participant.

I was at that time working with Mike Spikes, a self-taught multimedia wizard who not only shot and edited this piece, but also improvised the music on his keyboard. This is the beauty of college campuses: They are magnets for talent.

D-Still easy-ish video asset: Studio interview with a campus expert

Rather than read and regurgitate an expert’s advice, sometimes you can find an expert on your school’s faculty and interview her on camera. Political Science Professor Leonie Huddy edits the Oxford Handbook of Political Psychology and is Director of the Center for Survey Research, making her ideal for a session on analyzing poll results.

It’s a short step from C, the “grab-interviews-on-a-topic-of-your-choosing” video, to a slightly more elaborate studio shoot.

The easiest way to tap into your campus’ brain trust is to invite colleagues to your classroom to share their expertise.

But there is no guarantee their schedule will sync to your class time, so if you tape an interview it is available whenever you need it and you’ll have it every semester.

By arranging a studio-style interview, you can assure your interview subject the lighting will be flattering, the sound clear and the product will be something they can use as well. Most campuses have at least one studio available, as well as portable seamless drape and lighting kits.

As a longtime newspaper editor and reporter, I had analyzed hundreds of polls, bought polling services and directed poll coverage. But that means I know only enough to be a danger to myself and my students.

So, when I needed a lesson on skillful deconstruction of polling data, I turned to Prof. Leonie Huddy, a colleague at Stony Brook and busy pollster. My broadcast journalism colleagues, accustomed to producing for Lara Logan on 60 Minutes or for Dan Rather’s CBS Evening News, rolled their eyes at my on-camera performance. Fortunately for me, student expectations are conditioned by YouTube. They focused on her and got the information they needed.

Point is: don’t be intimidated and don’t be afraid to risk failure. Students will let you know if it works and that’s all that matters: Delivering memorable lessons.

E-Least-easy video asset: You shoot and edit

Using picture mounting putty, secure smartphone on instrument panel or dashboard. Set on selfy mode, record your intro. Note the music. As long as your purpose is educational and you only use a brief snippet, it’s a fair use that brightens your opening. In this case, I asked recent graduates to cover the same topic and upload their videos to my YouTube account. YouTube’s video editor is reasonably intuitive and forgiving. Patch all the videos together, et Voila!

Some videos don’t warrant the full production team treatment.

They are either too short or for such a small class that you can’t get departmental support, particularly if your idea is untested.

If you’ve been doing A-D above, you’re probably getting more confident in your ideas about educational video.

The big leap this time is you are doing it all. As mentioned ad-nauseum, students will forgive a DIY aesthetic. That said, there’s no excuse for bad audio, a shaky camera and overly-gimmicky editing effects. But with a little planning, you can build serviceable videos for use in your class. Students will benefit from the information and from the example you set as an experimenter.

Video editing, which can devour hours of your life, got a great deal simpler when YouTube added an editing tool. Of all the editing software I’ve used, it is the simplest and most forgiving and will permit you to clean up clips and stitch them together in a clean, simple fashion. Best of all, it is free.

My latest self-produced project, “Shoptalk” was easy to prototype entirely on YouTube.

I was convinced that, like newsroom rookies I had managed, young journalism students paid closer attention to their peers than to the boss-man. But, I needed to build some prototypes before hiring a pro team.

So, I started a series of topical videos in which I was a kind of anchor organizing field reports from recent J-school graduates about topics like the importance of doing background research in advance of interviews. Here’s the first prototype.

I shot my segment in my car and sent it to the participants, asking them to record some of their reflections on a set of question I sent with the intro.

They sent me their recordings and I uploaded them and stitched them together for use in a basic reporting class for undergraduates.

A note about the at-the-wheel settings in that video. As a reporter, I discovered a car is a great place for an interview: it’s private and quiet and if the interview subject is driving, their control of the environment puts them at ease.

And there’s a radio.

Opening your shot with the radio tuned to an appropriate song allows you to introduce a snippet of music without royalty concerns: since your purpose is educational and you are not selling your video, a five-second segue brightens the shot without violating the spirit of Fair Use.

Dean Miller is a veteran journalist who served as Director of the Center for News Literacy from 2009–2015. He chastely changed from a suit to a tux in his car — on camera — for a classroom video series on bedrock journalism skills.