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#118: Using Explainer Videos in Online Classes

This content first appeared on APUEdge.Com.

Podcast with Dr. Bethanie L. HansenAssociate Dean (Interim), School of Arts, Humanities and Education 

Explainer videos are a great way to share information with students in a highly engaging way. In this episode, APU’s Dr. Bethanie Hansen provides insight into tools to create explainer videos, content options, video length, and more.

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Bethanie Hansen: This podcast is for educators, academics and parents, who know that online teaching can be challenging, but it can also be rewarding, engaging, and fun! Welcome to the Online Teaching Lounge. I’m your host, Dr. Bethanie Hansen. And I’ll be your guide for online teaching tips, topics and strategies. Walk with me into the Online Teaching Lounge.

Explainer videos are becoming more and more common across the Internet and the world wide web. And we want to talk about these today and figure out how to do them. This is an interesting thing to explore.

First of all, what is an explainer video? And what is it not? And then, how do you do it? The first thing about what an explainer video is, is that this is a tool often used in marketing areas. In fact, it’s a very common thing in marketing one’s products. You might be wondering, “how does that connect to online education?”

Well, of course it connects. Your students are watching YouTube, they’re on the internet all the time, and they’ve seen good explainer videos. So, they’re familiar with this mode of conveying information. And an explainer video is just a short, concise way of describing something, telling what it is, what it isn’t, and then how to do it or why it’s important.

Options to Make Explainer Videos

There are a lot of resources available to you on the internet about how to make them. And there are many different platforms you can use, such as TechSmith’s tools. They have Camtasia. They also have the Snagit application. You could try either one of those. Canva also has a great way to make explainer videos. And then again, you could make a standard video of yourself talking at the camera, with or without any kind of animation. It could be you talking for just a few minutes. And it can be that simple.

Or you could take it to the far end of animated complexity, where you have animated screens and animated explainer components and different words popping in and out and a lot of things moving at once.

It’s up to you how simple or complex an explainer video will be. I want to talk a little bit more about why explainer videos can be so effective. And it’s this idea that great communicators are also great explainers.

Explainer Videos Help You Communicate Well with Students

As online educators, we all want to be great communicators. We want to speak effectively to our students, teach them effectively, and guide them to use this subject matter in their lives and in their careers. There’s an article in “Harvard Business Review” by John Bell Dhoni in 2009, called “Great Communicators are Great Explainers.” And in this article, he simplifies the process as I’ve already explained it, three ways to be an effective explainer. And I’m proposing here that these are the three main parts of an explainer video.

Step 1: Define “What it Is”

The first one is defining what it is. So, the purpose of your explanation is to describe an issue, an initiative, a concept, a problem, something that students need to know about or understand in your online class. For example, if you’re pushing for cost reductions, explain why they are necessary and what they will entail. That’s the example used in the “Harvard Business Review” article.

You could also be telling about a concept, such as in the music appreciation class, an explainer video might easily teach the term tempo and discuss that it is the speed of the music, how fast or slow it is, comparatively, tempos can change, etc. So, we’re going to define what it is in that first part of the explainer video.

Step 2: Define “What it is Not”

The second part, as we learned in the “Harvard Business Review” article, is to define what it is not. And this is where you go into that advanced level of thinking. Never assume anyone understands exactly what you mean by what you have said. Define exclusions. And, in the example from the article I referenced here, it is returning to our cost reduction issue. If you’re asking for reductions in cost, not people, be explicit. Otherwise, employees will assume they’re being terminated. Don’t leave any room for assumptions. It’s just not true for potential layoffs, but for any business issue, or teaching issue, for that matter.

So, if I were doing that same example from the music appreciation class of what tempo is and what it isn’t, I would then say tempo is not the steady beat, the pulse alone. It’s not the color of the sound. It’s not the texture. It’s not going to be that single melody that’s popping out to us, that we can hear on top of everything. There are a lot of things I could say tempo is not. And then in defining what it is, I can circle back to that if needed.

Step 3: Define What to Do or the “Call to Action”

And lastly, we need to define what we want people to do. This is the opportunity to give them a call to action. And in an online class, it is the opportunity to engage them in what they’re going to do, to demonstrate their learning or practice their learning. Establishing those expectations with others is absolutely critical, otherwise, your video is useless.

Now, in that example from the “HBR” article, cost reduction means employees will have to do more with less. And you’re going to explain what that will include in clear and precise terms. You can also use the expectations step as a challenge for people to think and do something different. Your explanation becomes more broadly significant when you do that.

And another tip is to not overdo the details, especially in what, it is what it isn’t, and what you want them to do all three of these components. Really, hitting all three points should not take a very long time, we want to do it clearly, concisely and in a way that grabs our listeners’ attention.

You will have many students who don’t want to sit for more than a five-minute video, so I would suggest that that’s your cap for any explainer video. Keep them small, brief, concrete and under five minutes.

In defining what you want people to do, you could give them a task to take outside of the classroom and try out their learning. You could also introduce an assignment and discuss what you want them to do on that; you could also use this explainer video approach to define the assignment itself. And define what it is not, what it should not look like, and what students should not do. And also define what they should do to submit it at the end.

So, initially, you might give them an overview of the assignment, maybe it’s an essay, maybe it’s a PowerPoint discussion that they’re going to put together. Whatever it is, you want to define it and give some clarity to that so you’re really guiding people. And then, of course, define what it isn’t. We’re going to describe what that would be.

And then, lastly, what you want them to do. You want them to attach it, submit it by a certain day, whatever that is. So, explainer videos can be used for a lot of things, and they can be very simple. You’re just telling what it is, what it isn’t, what you want them to do.

Now, as you look across the internet for different resources, I want to tell you to stop by the Canva site, canva.com. You’ll find a free explainer video maker. In fact, it’s very simple. You can put this together very quickly using their formula here. They walk you through a five-step outline of how to create an explainer video. And it starts with choosing a template, then customizing the video with stock images or recording yourself speaking or cropping the videos, whatever it might be. And third, you’re going to add text and captions. If you’ve written out what you’d like to say in advance, this part’s really easy. But you can also do it at this point in the creation. Fourth, you can add music voiceovers or animations. And lastly, download the video and share. When you download it from Canva website, you could then upload it into any LMS. And you could put it in your course announcements, and it’s pretty portable and very easy to do. So Canva is a great resource if you use.

If you use the TechSmith Camtasia product or the alternative, which is the Snagit–it takes pictures and screenshots, but Camtasia puts them together in like a longer video. So, you could use those things to grab videos, grab images, and then put them together in Canva. Or you could build the whole thing in TechSmith’s Camtasia platform. So, they have seven steps that they recommend.

And similar to the Canva site, they (TechSmith) suggest choosing a video style, which would either be a whiteboard, drawing a screencast video, or live action. They suggest then writing a script. So, you’re explaining something, focusing on your audience, solving a problem in some way through your explainer video and also telling them what they should do to get started at the end of the video.

And they actually suggest keeping your explainer videos one to two minutes in length, which is much shorter than the five minutes I recommended. So, you have a choice there, have a range of really short to moderate, and definitely be conscious of your student’s attention span.

Third, you’re going to record and edit the audio narration. Fourth, you will collect graphics, video and other assets and put those together for the video. And then, lastly, you’re going to edit and arrange the media. If you want to, you can of course do the bonus round, which is adding music, and then you’re ready to go. You can publish, share, or just share out from this area. You can download as a local file. You can upload it to screencast.com, YouTube, Google Drive or other places. So both of these are really great ways to share out an explainer video. And you have, of course, your three components that make a good explainer video. And, lastly, your call to action where you ask students to engage with you in some way afterwards or engage with the content.

You can share it with your students and track the views through some of these different platforms. For example, screencast.com and YouTube, you might be able to see how many views you’ve got. And then, of course, you also can take a look at what you’re doing with the students to really engage them over the course of your instruction through this method.

So, they’re going to retain what you’re teaching because they’re listening, they’re reading they’re watching. And you’ve covered also some of your accessibility areas by having a transcript on the screen or captions on the screen. By having visual and auditory components, you’ve got a lot of pieces that are going to reach a lot of learners. And it’s going to be a really high-level piece that you can put in your classroom.

Now, as I share the explainer video concept with you, I don’t recommend this everywhere throughout your class. I recommend this for some specific ideas that you think are most important, or some key assignments that you find students really struggle with. As you put those things together, you’re going to have a solid piece that you can use from course to course and your students are going to get more engaged and more information from you.

And then, of course, you can ask them for their feedback. Was it helpful? Did they like it? Would they recommend any changes? And you can always modify and improve your videos as you go. Well, I hope you’ve enjoyed this discussion of explainer videos, and I especially hope you’ll try it out in your online class. I wish you all the best in your online teaching this coming week.

This is Dr. Bethanie Hansen, your host for the Online Teaching Lounge podcast. To share comments and requests for future episodes, please visit bethaniehansen.com/request. Best switches this coming week in your online teaching journey.

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