BUFVC training course “Think Visual: video storytelling in education” – a short report
I was not expecting our 2013 LSU Exec video to feature as part of my training day last week at the British Universities Film and Video Council.
As part of a session discussing ‘how to use video to market your university’, a link from a frothing-at-the-mouth article in the Daily Mail took us to this infamous video. How we laughed. Whilst this video received the group’s strongest reaction of the day, and was so bad technically as to make the pro videographers (and anyone with a love of music) beg the presenter to stop it, it did highlight one of the main points of the day: authenticity.
It was clearly an attempt to make potentially dull message (‘What Goes On In The Student Union’) interesting in a YouTube style. They made a ghastly mess along the way, but because they made it themselves (no actors…) and were clearly having fun and outside their own creative comfort zones, you could excuse it. Kind of…
We then watched the 2014 version, which immediately showed better production values and was judged to be the kind of thing the 2013 exec had been trying to pull off. Again, whilst cheesy, it was their own cheese. They weren’t hiding their faces or using more conservative techniques so the levels of authenticity were still high. When a message’s authenticity is clear, it improves the video’s chances of it being watched all the way through.
The course was mostly about recognising and understanding what makes video a good medium for educators. In short, it needs to connect with (prospective) learners, engage them and leave them changed in some way. Where video fails is when audience and presenter needs are forgotten. Placing an academic in a small office with a camera in their face and making them go through a PowerPoint stack was demonstrably not the way forward. Alternatively, TED Talks benefit from high production values, but they work because the presenter is motivated, the (live) audience is keen (and gives feedback), there’s usually a clear narrative flow and no audience members perish by PowerPoint.
The narrative flow comes from 5 Ws and an H:
- What is the story/purpose?
- Who is the intended audience?
- Why use video?
- What is the tone/duration?
- Where is it going to be filmed? and
- How is it going to look and feel
As we all critiqued and pored over each of these during the day via the medium of YouTube, I came away with the following thoughts:
- Presenters must deliver with passion – a script may be too constricting, but an outline running order may help keep you on-message.
- Lower production values but higher authenticity makes for a better video.
- Pacing, imagery and synchronisation are skills which need experience to master.
- The bottom line is the budget. This will dictate the technologies and skills used, but a low budget should not cramp creativity.
- YouTube clips for wider viewing need titles which are crafted for search engine optimisation.
- Spend time/effort on getting good audio quality.
- Slideshow/screencasting techniques make powerful videos when paired with strong messages from passionate presenters.
- Use of moving typography and animation (RSO series) is a strong way of reinforcing messages. The skills are significant, but can be aped using PowerPoint/Keynote or other apps like Sparkol Videoscribe.
- Scripts, where written by academics (or anyone not a professional scriptwriter), need testing and reading aloud. There’s an observed tendency to follow the axiom ‘more is more’, which is a problem when you’re only has a couple of minutes running time.
- If presenters/academics are uncomfortable in front of a camera on their own, then interview them – works on location as well as in studio/lecture theatre.
- Google Hangouts are a useful tool to capture live webinars/interviews, especially as they can use presenters from more than one location, and then automatically upload to YouTube. This makes it good for an interview series (as used by Futurelearn MOOC on Moons).
- Whilst licensing film can be expensive, there are other alternatives (BoB and other archives?), and there is plenty of royalty-free music at places like Audio Network, Jamendo, MobyGratis and others.
- iSpring and Active Presenter were quoted as useful alternatives to Camtasia (which was also very highly rated).
- Some universities are actually closing down busy video production teams on the basis of cost saving (and ubiquity of video technology, forgetting the paucity of video production skills – ladies and gentlemen, may I remind you of the LSU 2013 Exec video).
Did I say short report? Apologies for length, but it was a useful and though-provoking day.