I Don’t Think People Understand

So, one thing that I think people don’t understand about remote education is just how much time teachers will be putting into making videos. I tried to explain it to a friend of mine on the phone, how I do take after take when recording a video, and somehow I failed to convey it well — she seemed to think I was saying that teacher insecurity was what led to online prep taking so long. What I was trying to say is that it’s just inherently time-consuming making even semi-decent videos.

Take this one, for example. Kel messaged me yesterday and asked if I could make a quick intro video for Fiberworld registration in the next few hours — about 30 seconds. I had to stop and think for a minute before saying yes, because I knew I was mostly scheduled in meetings for the next few hours, and I’d need to set aside about 30 minutes for this. In the end, it took me about 20 minutes to complete, and more than 30 ‘takes’ recording it.

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Here are the steps:

– write the script (Kel did that for me)

– either memorize the script, or just start recording it, knowing that by the time you say it twenty times, you’ll have it mostly memorized anyway

– shift position a bunch of times, moving distracting items (like my potted plant that was halfway behind my head) out of the way

– fix the lighting so people can actually see your face

– stumble over the words a bunch of times, so you have to start over

– get frustrated with the angle and how your face looks and start recording all over (okay, that part, I’m willing to put down to teacher insecurity, but it really does take a while for most people to get over that)

– realize that even though you’re holding the phone up near the screen with the words, your eyes are still darting over to glance at the next line periodically, and it looks weird, and you really are going to have to memorize it and walk away from the screen

– but mostly, repeat and repeat and repeat until it actually looks semi-natural, as if you’re just talking — which is important, because otherwise, students will get distracted and fixated on your tics and errors and will miss the actual point of what you’re trying to say. (Imagine a teacher who walks into class with toilet paper stuck to her skirt. Imagine just how many kids will be paying more attention to that than to what she’s saying. There’s a reason why we care about presenting well.)

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This is the process that I learned when I was making my first Kickstarter video (Kickstarter has a good video on this, actually, talking about how you should condense written paragraphs down to bullet points you can just talk, etc.), and I’m not even talking about pushing through the self-consciousness, etc. Thankfully, I’ve done enough videos now that I’m mostly past that, and can just accept that it’s not going to look perfectly professional and also I will not magically transform into a supermodel.

And there’s certainly an interesting option of doing what the kids do, and letting it be more raw and stumbly and whatever, which is undoubtedly a lot faster to produce, and has the virtue of seeming very honest and relatable. But that its own art form too; if you could see my daughter editing a TikTok video (or watching endless YouTube tutorials on how to do so), it’d be clear that the appearance of casualness is often not very casual.

So, anyway. I just wanted to lay this out a little, that for every minute of video time your teacher produces, they may well be putting in 30-60 minutes of production time. They’ll get better at it and faster as they go, but for a lot of them, this is a very new process, and it’s intimidating and hard.

And after all that, if teachers choose to point your kid to a Khan Academy video or something on YouTube instead of recording something themselves, that’s not a sign that they’re just lazy — it’s often a better, more efficient option, and will result in a better educational result. (And remember that reviewing lots of videos and selecting ones that are appropriate for your students and your class goals is also time-consuming work. Lots of videos don’t offer transcripts either, making it a slow process.)

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I’ll also note that this is the process for a short video, maybe 3-5 minutes, and no, I wouldn’t try to memorize an hour-long lecture. But I also would recommend against recording hour-long lectures; it’s super-challenging to keep students engaged through something like that, and most of them will click off.

There are tricks you can use, like embedding quizzes periodically, but if any of you have done mandatory work anti-harassment trainings and the like, you’ll know that those often feel really clunky and annoying. If our goal is student engagement, helping them to get honestly excited about the material and actively thinking about it, short videos are generally going to be much more effective than long ones.

So if your expectation is that the teacher will just stick a recorder in front of their face and talk, as if they were in front of a classroom — well, it just doesn’t work very well. If that’s what you’re demanding from your kids’ teachers, no wonder the kids are super-bored and falling out of their chairs.

Here endith the lesson.

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