The New York Times dubbed 2012 as the Year of the MOOC. In case you are Rip van Winkle waking from a long, deep slumber, a MOOC is a massive open online course, which can have enrollments in the thousands. It's easy to calculate that one MOOC can reach more students in one semester than in an entire teaching career. (And I'll be the first to admit there are pluses and minuses to this format. But that is another discussion, another blog.)
So let's say you are a brave soul and want to MOOC it, and you want to create the video component for your course. What does it take? In a word, time. Lots of it. Over the summer, I prepared videos for a materials science MOOC, and I'm here to share how you can avoid the newbie mistakes I made.
1. Getting In Gear
Recording a lesson can be pretty straightforward once you get the proper gear, and get accustomed to using it. Here is what I used to get my recordings done:
- Screen Capture Software: Camtasia for Mac
- Tablet: Wacom Create
- Drawing Software: Sketchbook Express (free!)
- Audio: Logitech headset with microphone
- Wire Book Stand (to keep the script in place)
- A Quiet Room (Background noises are alarming and require lots of editing.)
2. Learning the (Editing) Ropes
I will be the first to admit that I was mistaken in thinking I could put together a MOOC quickly. It took more time than I expected. The time sinks came in creating the notes and in the recordings themselves. The recordings needed to be polished, and that ate up my summer. Recording lectures that will be attended in perpetuity requires more perfection than making a classroom presentation. The ear is forgiving when a course is taught live. But in a MOOC, when a student’s only connection to the material is your voice, you've got to make sure that words are clear, correctly phrased, and free from distractions. To manage mistakes masterfully, I would suggest becoming savvy with the video capturing software and learning how to edit on the fly.
3. Reduce Smack Talking
One thing I learned from recording my voice is that I occasionally (and embarrassingly) smack when I am talking. (That is, there was a noticeable pop in my speech.) It is a bad habit, it's distracting, and it needed to go. In a classroom, speech anomalies might be OK, but in a video, you have to get rid of the snap, crackle and pop. So, be honest about your word fillers or speech habits, and be ruthless in removing or reducing them.
4. Cultivate a Clarity of Voice
One way to keep your voice clear is to keep a glass of water on hand and take small sips during the recording. This keeps the noise pops away, but drinking lots of water leads to other repercussions -- lots of interruptions. Another trick is to suck on green apple slices. It's an industry trick that helps dry the mouth, but still keeps the vocal chords hydrated. This works like a charm and stops the pops. Also, stay away from drinking milk products before you record. Milk does a body good, but it wreaks havoc on the throat and voice.
5. Stick to the Script
While a script seems like a mechanical method for delivering information, it can be your best friend. Ad-libbing can lead to bloopers and mistakes you might not catch. Winging it can often cause video recordings to be longer, too. A script helps you economize your words. But be forewarned: writing a script takes lots of time, so prepare for this.
6. Elevate Your Energy
Delivering course material requires that you have a certain level of energy. There are two things to be cognizant of: your voice and the material. Keeping a lively voice requires caffeine, rest or voice exercises. As for the material, being familiar with what you're going to say is extremely helpful. So know your script. One way to do this is to record your lesson within a few days of writing it. Your energy for the material has an expiration date, just like on a milk carton. Don't let your script sit too long. And rehearse so that you can punch up the energy to reflect how you felt about the material when you wrote it.
7. Create Crowd-Pleasing Content
Video lectures are great, but consider using the video as a forum for solving a problem, too. When I was making my videos, I tried to think as if a student was visiting my office hours, so I spelled out how to solve a problem in all its gory detail. (An advanced student can simply fast-forward to the parts they need.) When recording, I stayed away from jargon and tried to write things clearly. Writing clearly was a challenge for me, since my handwriting can look like a painting by Pollock. So, to spare my students from the pain of my penmanship, I occasionally typed in key details beforehand.
8. Breed a Brand
MOOC videos are popping up everywhere. And if you think you'll be making more than a handful, consider making them uniform so that the videos can identify you. Tailor a style. For example, a black background with colored writing is the Khan Academy, and a black marker on a white board indicates a video from the MinutePhysics series. My own series of short science videos (Material Marvels) had a little logo in the corner that indicated its source. This is a good idea, since your videos will have a global reach.
9. Consider the Takeaway
While MOOCs are a new teaching format, what hasn't changed is the basics of trying to convey information. As teachers, we should think about what is the salient point we want students to know after watching the video. What is the takeaway? And from a data collection point of view, it would be nice to have something they could do right after the video to show their progress. While I am not a big fan of multiple-choice tests, I was asked to create questions to register that students watched the videos. Despite my reluctance to make these questions, they illuminate what we should be thinking about from the beginning: what do you want your students to take away?
10. Have Fun
For all the hard work you'll put into producing these MOOCs, make sure you're adding fun along the way. Include your passion for the topic. Learning is contagious if the content creator (that's you) shows the fun of learning the subject. Students are eager to learn and will appreciate it.
While MOOCs might be massive, it is the little things that support and encourage learning.