Online Teaching: Thoughts on Creating Video Lectures
By Steven Horwitz
Teaching online comes in two general flavors: “asynchronous” which involves creating course material ahead of time for students to work through at their own pace, perhaps something like a chapter a week. That’s different from “synchronous” online teaching, where the professor is delivering a live lecture or running a class discussion with all of the students logged in to the software. Which way you deliver your online learning will depend on a variety of factors. However, asynchronous methods tend to be more common in large introductory courses, as opposed to smaller upper-level ones.
I’ve been teaching both a one-semester introduction to economics survey course for non-majors and a standard introductory macroeconomics course online asynchronously for several years. I wanted to share some of my experience specifically with filming my own lectures for use in those courses.
The first thing to think about is how to set up a full course this way. I will only say that the best way I’ve found is to think about each chapter or topic comprising a distinct module (the learning management system Canvas even calls them that) that students have, say, a week to work on at their own pace. Your job as the instructor is to curate a set of content in each of those weekly modules. This can include PowerPoints, homework assignments, articles or videos from the web, or worksheets or pretty much anything you think will enhance their learning. I have also included one, sometimes two, short lectures by me as part of that collection of learning materials.
It might seem daunting to do one or two of those per week per class, but it’s not as difficult as you might imagine. Here are some tips for recording your own lectures both effectively and efficiently.
- You are not creating digital art here. Do not expect to have something that looks like Marginal Revolution University or Khan Academy. All of my lectures are me sitting at my desk in my home office, dressed like I would be for class, delivering content with the help, at most, of my little whiteboard and markers. That’s all. And it’s more than enough.
- You don’t need fancy equipment. I have a very standard digital webcam and basic software. So basic that I can’t really even edit. All my lectures are one take, complete with stumbles and filler words and all the things that would be there in a physical classroom. Remember, the point here is to get this content filmed, not to win any awards. That said, I also used a separate podcast microphone and not just the webcam built-in. I’m a big fan of Blue Snowball mikes and you should consider buying one. Also check the sound settings in Windows, not just the webcam or mike software. There’s a setting or two there that makes sure the input volume is high enough, which is important.
- That said, do make sure that you don’t have anything in the shot you don’t want students to see. Check the lighting to make sure you are clearly visible (no windows behind you). And most important: check the sound. That is one of the problems I’ve had and I’ve learned to do a 10 second test before I record lectures just to make sure the sound is good.
- It’s okay to let life happen in those lectures too. My dog appears in several for the macro course. I warn the students ahead of time and it’s adorable and humanizes you in a really good way. If you have small kids and they wander through, just keep going. It’s ok, really.
- Keep your lectures short. It’s good to aim for about 15 minutes. A little longer is okay, but not too much. Less than 10 minutes and it might not have been worth it.
- What to lecture about? Ask yourself which part of the material you’re covering would benefit the most from the students hearing you talk through it somewhat didactically. What do they struggle with most in a live classroom? For me, one of those is deriving the supply curve. It takes careful explanation for them to really understand what’s going on, so in both classes I made sure that I lectured on that topic when that chapter comes up. I think it’s also okay to do a lecture on a part of the material that you really enjoy teaching. Let your enthusiasm come through, especially if you have a unique perspective or bit of pedagogy you can deploy in the lecture video.
- It’s also okay to add the occasional “emergency” lecture too. Sometimes there’s a systematic misunderstanding on an exam or a discussion board that can be cleared up by a really short (5-7 minutes) video lecture. Go ahead and do that, even if it means adding it in afterward or in a different semester. It’s all part of the learning process. Plus, when you record yourself in your hoodie because you just had to get that point on video, they’ll perhaps understand how strongly you felt about making sure they understood it!
- Prepare to do this in whatever ways work for you. If you lecture live with just some bullet points, do that here. If you have more extensive notes, use them. Don’t let the medium change how you do what you do. I will add that this is even easier if you have very large monitor or two or more decent sized ones. The one change in practice I would suggest is to consider the investment in a second monitor if you don’t have one. They are so cheap and once you have two, you’ll wonder why it took so long to get the second. Having two allows you to more easily have your notes or other things you need in front of you on screen while your webcam takes up other space.
Again, you are not after perfection here. You are curating content for students to make use of at their own pace week-to-week. It may seem a big hill to climb, but it’s not that hard and doing several of these for the rest of this semester is not that time consuming either. And I’m happy to answer questions you might have about video lectures or anything else involving asynchronous online instruction.
Editor’s Note: Professor Horwitz has shared his online videos for the two courses mentioned above.
Click here to see his recorded lectures for his Survey of Economic Ideas course.
Click here to see his recorded lectures for his Elementary Macroeconomics course.
Steven Horwitz is Distinguished Professor of Free Enterprise in the Department of Economics at Ball State University in Muncie, IN. He is also an Affiliated Senior Scholar at the Mercatus Center in Arlington, VA, and a Senior Fellow at the Fraser Institute of Canada.