What’s the Best Way to Deliver Video Content?

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[Originally Posted Sept 18, 2014]

This year, I’ve spent a huge amount of time developing video content for my classes.  So far, I’ve done a tablet-only video style, using a skeletal PowerPoint presentation, which is annotated with a tablet as I narrate.  This works well for presenting information cleanly and concisely - but it’s boring.  I’m continuing to ponder how I can improve my format to be more engaging and effective.

To be honest, I really love standing in front of a class, communicating an idea.  I like reading student’s faces to see if  they’re with me.  I like the spontaneous, lively, and  sometimes very funny twists that a discussion can take.  I love dropping a quick joke when things are lagging, and bringing people back together.

So, how can we capture (or at least imitate) the interactivity and engagement of a face-to-face lecture in a video format?  Fortunately, this is not without precedent:  The television industry has been experimenting with delivery formats for seventy-plus years, and success in TV is all about engagement.  As I think about connecting with an audience and/or communicating information, here are a few that I find particularly effective:

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  1.  The Nightly News.  The anchor creates a personal connection (think Walter Cronkite, P
    eter Jennings, or Katie Couric), but there is usually a screen with key information that is overlaid, and then a cut to a narration-and-footage story.
  2.  The Blue Collar Comedy Tour.   One of the keys to any stand-up production is that it’s recorded in front of a live audience.  The camera always  pans to show the audience laughing and engaged, and the viewer is caught up in the feeling of sitting in the audience.  The million-plus hits on Bill Engvall’s Dork Fish bit on YouTube testifies to its effectiveness.
  3.  The Daily Show.  Similar in style to the nightly news, but designed to be a comedy show, with a live audience that is never shown, and so similar in many ways to a laugh track.  
  4.  Glenn Beck’s Chalkboard.  An incredibly simple way to convey information, and Beck used it very effectively.  The advantage here is that the student can watch the instructor interacting with the problem.  Unfortunately, most professors (myself included) lack the artistic ability to really make this work.  
  5.  The Ted Talk.  An increasingly popular format, but I confess I’ve never gotten into it.  It mixes the screen and the narrator pretty well, but involves an extensive set and production.

There are a number of other video formats which have been used on the web for teaching STEM subjects, such as Tyler DeWitt's hands-and-face format, the very cool behind-the-scenes set from Simon Walsh, founder of Maths Doctor, and even the occasional artistic production that is visually stunning, but well out of the range of my capabilities.  And, frankly, sometimes I find that I’m so mesmerized with the artwork on these productions that I forget to pay attention to the content.  Like a song in which you love the tune, but don’t know the words.

I’d love to hear from readers on this one.  What delivery formats you find to be most effective for engaging students and promoting learning?   What are the strengths and limitations of each one?  (Note:  There are a coupled of politically-charged examples above, but this about communication.  Please keep comments focused along those lines).  I look forward to reading  your comments!

About the Author
Kevin Revell received his bachelor's degree from the University of New Orleans in 1995, then his Master's Degree in Organic Chemistry from Iowa State in 2000. After several very formative years working in the pharmaceutical industry, he decided to go into education, and from 2002-2006 he taught chemistry at Southeastern University in Lakeland, FL. Following completion of his Ph.D. from the University of South Florida in 2006, Kevin joined the faculty at Murray State University in Murray, KY. Kevin's research interests include organic synthesis and functional organic materials. He loves to teach, and is increasingly interested in science education in flipped and online class settings. He and his wife Jennifer have 3 kids, and they stay busy between family, church, school, and playing basketball in the driveway.