Video Production

Dr. Eric Luttrell teaches “English: 2332 Literature of the western world from the bronze age to the renaissance” . He produces high quality lecture videos for his students. We asked him to talk about the process and share some tips for faculty and staff interested in creating their own videos.


- What inspired you to make your own lecture videos ?

I teach mostly ancient and modern literature, so I want students to have some sample of the visual art and material culture from the places and times in which that literature was first written. When we read a novel set in 21st century America, we have no problem imagining what the world of that novel looked like. But when we read the Epic of Gilgamesh, we don't have anything other than the anachronistic imaginings from modern media to use when visualizing that text. For that reason, I collect images of statues, manuscripts, cuneiform tablets, tools, weapons, clothes, etc. from the places and times that generated the texts the class is reading. I'm especially interested in images of statues and paintings that can be used to visualize the characters in the texts. This helps students to humanize and differentiate between otherwise-unfamiliar characters. Other images, such as timelines and maps, help students keep track of where and when these texts were produced and how they relate to each other in history and geography.

In face-to-face classes, I include these sorts of images in slide shows that accompany and structure my lectures. When it was time to create an online course, I couldn't imagine doing it without that same multimodal delivery of information. Besides all of that, I have taken several MOOCs through Coursera and EdX, and I can't think of one class that didn't come with video lectures replete with visual representations of otherwise-abstract information. I knew that I wanted to deliver that same sort of experience to my online students here at TAMUCC. Although most MOOC professors have entire teams of AV specialists to record and produce their videos, I found that creating the videos my class needed wasn't all that hard to do on my own.


- For any faculty interested in making their own videos, can you give a brief overview of your process (including any recommendations you would make to faculty) ?

I make my videos primarily with two applications: PowerPoint and Camtasia. I occasionally use Adobe Photoshop to edit the images that I use in the videos. I get most of my images from Creative Commons sources like Wikimedia, and I also get images from museums that allow reproduction of their images for educational purposes. When using an image of an object, I usually erase the background in Photoshop and save the image as a PNG file. This allows the illusion that we are looking at a 3-dimensional object. It just helps to make the experience feel a little more tactile.

We've all heard the condemnations of PowerPoint, but the program has the ability to do much more than make bulleted lists. First, I create a background that is subtle enough not to distract too much from foreground objects. For my Western World Literature class, I use a darkened, low-contrast map that features all of the countries, from Iceland to Iraq, from which the literature in the class originates. Sometimes I use it as a map and highlight cities and regions, but most of the time it's just a background. For my composition class, the background is a paper notebook. I do this to remind students to take pen-and-paper notes, a practice that repeated studies show improves recall, even in the digital age. In either case, the background works like a desktop (an actual, physical desktop rather than a computer desktop). It remains stationary while learning objects move into and out of frame. As a viewer, I'm usually unnecessarily distracted by transitions that move the background. My favorite transition is "Morph," one that is only available in the Office365 ProPlus edition of PowerPoint (which is available to us through TAMUS). It automatically and simultaneously moves all of the objects from their location on one slide to their new locations on the next slide. This saves the user from having to program in specific animations for each object.

Once the slide show is finished, I use Camtasia to record the slide show while recording a video of my lecture. Always have plenty of light when taking a selfie-video. That means either facing a window or putting at least two desk lamps just behind your computer or camera. I highly recommend a USB microphone. If you use the computer's microphone, it will pick up ambient noise, such as the computer's fan. If you use a mic with a 3.5 (headphone) jack, the sound isn't quite as good, either. Sometimes I read notes attached to the slide in PowerPoint, and sometimes I just wing it. Each strategy has pros and cons. When you read, it will be obvious to the viewer. It will be less engaging, but at least you'll be less likely to remember everything you wanted to say, and it will take less time to say it. However, when you go without lecture notes, you still have the cues on the slides themselves. It will seem more engaging, like a face-to-face conversation, and your interest in the subject of your lecture will be more apparent and, hopefully, more contagious. Don't worry about pauses, repetitions, and, uh, I mean, like, you know, um, fillers. You can edit those out with Camtasia's editing tool once you've finished recording. While most of the how-to videos on YouTube are narrated by disembodied voices, I recommend putting yourself on the screen somewhere, even if you just take up a tiny corner of it, and look directly at the camera as much as you can. It helps to create the illusion of face-to-face communication and keep the viewer engaged. My online students greet me on campus all the time, apparently forgetting that I've never seen them before. I try not to spoil the illusion.


Below is one example of Dr. Luttrell's video lectures. This is the introductory video for the Fall semester of 2017 of English 2332, Literature of the Western World from the Bronze Age to the Renaissance, at Texas A&M University, Corpus Christi. It introduces students to the readings for the semester, the purpose of the class, and the Blackboard interface.  This semester, the class and the university will be adapting to accommodate the needs of students affected by Hurricane Harvey.



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