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Creating Video
by Jim Lengel, Education and Technology Consultant, 02/28/2006

The availability of inexpensive DV cameras, built-in digital editing software, and web-based distribution of movie clips has encouraged many teachers and students to learn to develop their own video for educational projects. It's never been easier to create your own clips, and they can be useful in many subject areas. But to create good-quality video that is viewable and audible is not easy. It takes a bit of planning and attention to get it right. From coaching hundreds of teacher and student videographers over the last decade, I have learned a few things that I want to share with you in this week's article.

Setup is key

Camera (and microphone) placement is crucial. We have learned through many unsatisfactory experiences that you can't just point and shoot and get useful results. The setup is key. Attention must be paid!

No single physical setup will suffice for all situations. The setup must be tailored to the physical nature of the space and the type of situation that you want to document. For instance, to document a teacher working around a table with a small group of students in a peer-editing situation, you would need to set up for a close shot, place an external mike on the table, and know how the teacher plans to carry out the session (so you can capture the relevant sequences).

Plan ahead

Without a plan, you lose. Before you begin shooting, both the subject and the camera operator need to have in mind what they want the completed video to look like: Do they want to capture the look in the students' faces? Do we need to see the text on the pages in front of them? The teacher's gestures? How long will the completed clip be?

I can't hear you

Audio is more important than video. More educational videos fail because you can't hear what's happening, than any other cause. For example, if it's a teacher's lesson that you are filming, you must mike the teacher. (To mike someone is to place a microphone on or very near them to pick up the sound of their voice.) Student speech will be inaudible unless you mike them, use a directional mike on the camera, or shoot from less than three feet away.

Steps to follow

My advice to students or teachers planning to create video would be:

  1. Think through what you want to capture in this session. What are they key ideas or activities that you want to show? When will they happen in the session? What images, and what sounds, are essential to communicating these key ideas? Make sure your actors and camera operator know the answers to these questions.
  2. Make a storyboard of what you'd like the final video to look like. ("First a wide shot of the students entering the room, 5 seconds. Then a close up of the teacher greeting one or two students and answering their private questions (close audio), 10 seconds. Then cut to a wide shot of the teacher introducing the lesson to the whole group (close audio), 15 seconds. Next a clip (with voice-over to be added later) showing students forming into small groups (10 seconds). Then two small groups of students at work, close video, close audio, capturing visual expression and voice, 20 seconds each. Close with a wide shot of final discussion with the entire class, with B-roll of close-ups of five students and three different teacher shots, 20 seconds.")
  3. Plan the setup with 1 and 2 in mind. This will in most cases call for the cameraperson to carry an outline of the script, to move around the room to get the best angle, and to re-place the microphones as necessary.
  4. Learn about light. Shoot so that your subjects are lit from the front. Never, never shoot into the classroom windows. Shoot with the light behind you.
  5. Close in. Most student and teacher videos are shot much too wide to be useful or interesting. Pretend you are following a reporter on 60 Minutes, trying to capture the beads of sweat on the subject's forehead.
You and your students might find the article in this series, Shooting Good Video, to contain additional useful advice on this topic.

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