Blended Content Studio

Lesson Two: Creating Explanatory Video

A note about “class equivalent time” and recorded videos

One common confusion faculty have when they want to replace a two hours and forty minutes of class a week  with video is that they have to produce two hours and forty minutes of video. This is isn’t true. Videos are partially like a class presentation, but partially like a reading. They are more concise, more compact, designed to be watched multiple times if necessary. And students will actually watch them multiple times — at least some of them. 

So if you are thinking of producing a bunch of short videos as a class replacement, take the class time you aim to replace and divide it by something.  What that something is will vary. Short course introduction videos take pretty close to run-time to watch (divide by 1!). But concise explanatory video is denser than class presentation. It’s stopped, and reviewed, cross referenced with assignments and text. So maybe divide it by 1.6, or 1.5. Two hours and 40 minutes of class might be replaced by 1 hr and 36 minutes of explanatory video. If you add in questions or activities in between the videos — short quizzes, reflection, discussion prompts, it’s even less. You might end up with 50 minutes of video and 50 minutes of reflection/quizzing. And as long as the videos are introducing new material and concepts in a concise way, this holds whether the videos you’re asking students to watch were made by you or someone else. 

This is particularly important because the biggest mistake professors make going online is they assign more work than they did in the face-to-face version of their class. Assuming your videos are scripted, concise, and introducing new concepts or skills, replacing a week of semester class meeting could look like:

  • Three 10 minute videos on crucial concepts (30 mins)
  • Two inter-video quizzes (10 mins)
  • One or two reflection prompts on a video to replace classroom discussion (30 mins)
  • Two fifteen-minute videos made by someone else or a synchronous study session (30 mins)

And that plus whatever outside activities they were doing before is equivalent work. If anything, the students will work harder at that than most did attending class, and if you make your videos concise enough may consume more material overall.

More on total work hours and how to think about them.

Three Techniques

If we’re going to talk about multimedia effectively we need to understand the major functions of it. Here we cover three techniques that make educational multimedia effective:

  • Signaling
  • Segmenting
  • Weeding

You probably have done all these things before without knowing it! But by knowing the names of these techniques and better understanding how they work to minimize cognitive load and help students integrate new knowledge we can move towards making more effective videos.

Production Note

One note on the production of these videos: for this module I simply used Zoom to record, i.e. I started up a Zoom session with just myself in it, turned off my camera, and hit “record locally to my computer”. I used the $79 Wacom board for drawing. I then uploaded it as an unlisted video on YouTube, though you could of course do the same and then upload to Panopto or even drop it in the LMS.


We talk about signaling, an important function of multimedia presentations.


We discuss segmenting, an important principle in the design of instructional videos that allows students time and space to integrate incoming information. By understanding what segmenting is meant to accomplish, you can implement it even in environments like HyFlex which initially seem inhospitable to the practice.

Why is it important to understand this principle? Because while it’s not important that you choose a specific method of segmenting, it’s important you choose a method of segmenting.

Some ways of segmenting include:

  • Recording short videos, with activities or questions for reflection in between them
  • Putting questions and opportunities for response in the middle of videos, using Panopto, VoiceThread, or Canvas Studio
  • In synchronous sessions, using breakouts or discussion periodically to help students pause and process

And there are other ways as well! The important thing is you find some way to encourage students to stop, process, and organize what they’ve just learned so they don’t lose it by the end of the lecture. 


Removing extraneous information is something you may already do in your lectures. Yet often the prepared nature of recorded video or audio can allow us to prune and focus our presentations even further.

Wrap up on Techniques

A couple last points on style and speed, as well as a review.

We talked about signalling, where we use one channel of audiovisual communication to help students organize another. Segmenting, where we give students a chance to process information periodically. And weeding, where we remove extraneous material that might be confusing to students.

A couple additional things: speak quickly (speech on video seems slower than in person). Give a sense of immediacy, the sense you’re talking to the specific person listening at a time approaching now. And we talked about this a bit in terms of segmenting, but give the students opportunities for active learning. You don’t learn what you don’t integrate, and integration is linked to doing, not listening.

How I made the whiteboard videos

I’ve tried to minimize the tech and software I’ve used to make the instructional videos you just watched so that you can duplicate the process. For this set of videos, I used Zoom to record (even though it compresses the video and sound quite a bit) and OneNote (free to you) as the whiteboard.  If you have a laptop or tablet with a touchscreen you can use that to draw. If not, we plan to have some Wacom tablets you can check out.

One thing I’ll note — before this I’d never used a Wacom tablet before — I’ve generally done my doodling on real paper under a document cam. It takes a bit to get used to, but by the end it started to feel natural. 


We’ll talk a bit about screencasts in the weekly Zoom meeting, so I thought in preparation for that I’d show you what they look like and how they are made. Below is a screencast where we show students how to verify an image is real before sharing:

And here is how we made that screencast. Note that taking a screencast of making a screencast is actually a bit of a hard problem, as we explain. So hopefully the way I’ve come up to show you this is not too confusing. We made this with Screencast-o-matic, the installation instructions for which are in module one. You can just as easily do this with Zoom or Panopto though.

Other models

You can use your imagination — there’s really no limit to techniques. This is a video I made in 2011 explaining what an edcamp is using a style referred to as “the Common Craft” style. My wife Nicole drew the characters. Years later, the video has explained what edcamps are to almost 20,000 people. But you see the same principles here, in a video made with a circa 2011 phone camera.

PowerPoint Narration and Inking

And here’s the resulting PPT.  Download and jump to the Interpersonal Interaction slide and play to see how it comes out.

Session One – Teaching Presence _inked.pptx

Reading from a script

I’ve talked a bit about this in other sections, but I thought some might like more detail on it.

First off, for a lot of presentations, you don’t need your video. You can put up something to read from, and use your slides or use whiteboarding. No one can see what you’re reading from. This is my preferred way for most presentations.

But sometimes reading something you’ve written, word for word, is your best option. Here’s how you can do that while looking a little like a hostage reading from a demands paper.

  • Place your script as close to the camera as possible. If you have your document open on a laptop, put the lines you are reading near the top of the screen in a narrow window and scroll as you go, glancing down for prompts, and then back to the camera.
  • Loosen up. Stand up and “shake yourself out” if you feel too tense. Stand up and take some deep breaths.
  • Remember you are explaining to *one* person, not a full class. It’s a bit more personal. Sometimes I imagine I’m explaining this to a particular friend of mine. They’re on the other end of the lens. 
  • Treat the lens of the camera like the eyes of someone to whom you’re talking. You don’t have to stare at it 100% of the time, but check in when you can with occasional direct looks into it. 
  • Write conversationally. If you trip over words, if it feels a lot to get through, if it feels — stiff, it might not be your performance. It could be your words. Make it a bit more…conversational. Ellipses. Pauses. Sentence fragments. Shorter words. You know what I mean? That sort of thing. (See what I did there?) 
  • Don’t worry about false starts. I find I end up starting about four or five times and getting 20 seconds in and starting over. I just delete and start over. Then on time four or so I plug into the right rhythm and I’m able to plow through.

Reminder: Coherence and Rhythm


The way this course looks — the way I use eight different ways to explain things, the way one module is structured as short videos and quizzes and the next is structured a totally different way — 

I’ve structured this class to show a wide variety of approaches to structuring online presentation and interaction. This is so you can decide which of these methods are best for your class. But your class will need to choose a few core methods, and repeat them week to week. 

This is important because students need to know the rhythm of the course just like they know the rhythm of a class session. A typical rhythm, repeated week to week might be:

  1. Course readings & external video
  2. Two whiteboarding videos on specific concepts
  3. Course session with breakouts and Voicethread feedback
  4. Four question quiz
  5. Weekly feedback video, based on student questions and feedback

That might fit into a three week module like so:

Module Start

  1. Course module introduction video

Week One

  1. Course readings & external video
  2. Two whiteboarding videos on specific concepts
  3. Course session with breakouts and Voicethread feedback
  4. Four question quiz
  5. Weekly feedback video, based on student questions and feedback

Week Two

  1. Course readings & external video
  2. Two white-boarding videos on specific concepts
  3. Course session with breakouts and Voicethread feedback
  4. Four question quiz
  5. Weekly feedback video, based on student questions and feedback

Week Three

  1. Module wrap-up video (We’re coming to the end of this module, here’s what you should know…)
  2. Course readings & external video
  3. Two whiteboarding videos on questions students have had trouble with in first two weeks.
  4. Course session with breakouts and Voicethread feedback

Module End

  1. Practice Quiz
  2. Study Session
  3. Module Quiz

Or, you might have a different rhythm, with short explanatory videos with quizzes in between. You might use Canvas Studio instead of VoiceThread, or start each week with a discussion forum that gets students thinking about a specific question. But the rhythm should be there from week to week, so the students know the sequence of things they must do each week before they even go into the LMS. 

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