Adventures in Video: A Q&A on Connecting with Online Students featuring Tracy Schaelen

Tracy Schaelen is a Distance Education Faculty Coordinator at Southwestern College in Chula Vista, California. She began experimenting with instructional videos during the fall 2013 semester. At the time, she implemented other strategies as well, but video seemed to have the biggest impact on her online courses.

Traditionally, online courses are text heavy. Simply reading information can be distracting, and does little to reinforce instruction. Even more, text doesn’t have the same power as a teacher standing in front of the room. But there’s a way to breathe new life into your digital courses so it feels as if you’re right there with your students: with green screen.

We sat down with Tracy to learn more about how she uses video to transform the online learning experience for her and her students.

TechSmith: Tell us about your introduction to video and green screen.

Tracy: When I first experimented with video, I was the student. I used a free program to build my e-portfolio, but quickly wanted to do more. That’s when I found Camtasia. I was amazed by how easy it was, and wanted to explore more of its features. I started using green screen in 2013 with the launch of Camtasia Studio 8.1.

TechSmith: What is it about green screen that you liked?

Tracy: It’s the element of surprise and delight. When I first tried a green screen, it was in introductory videos. I would put myself in unusual places to grab my students’ attention. For example, in a writing course, I put myself in the Library of Congress. I’ve never actually been there, but I was able to present myself to my students as a tour guide. Green screen is a novel thing for most students, and it helps to whet their appetite for material right off the bat.

TechSmith: How do you use green screen in your classroom?

Tracy: There are three ways I typically use it. First, to introduce a new concept. When my students can see how excited I am about a topic, it rubs off on them. Second, I use it to host virtual field trips. This brings immediacy to the material and gives students a way to immerse themselves in what they are learning. And last – but not least – I use green screen technology to elevate a simple slide presentation. I do this by popping in at various points in a video to remind students that I’m still there and to point to (literally!) key elements of a slide.

TechSmith: What do students think about the feature?

Tracy: My students have responded really well to video and green screen. Because it’s something they don’t see often, it brings an element of curiosity – where will Tracy be next? I’ve also found that my students are more eager to watch videos because they don’t know where I’ll transport them to each time.
TechSmith: What are the biggest benefits to using video in the classroom?

Tracy: For students, it’s getting to have the teacher with them as they’re working on lecture material. For teachers, it’s an engagement tactic that lets us share our passion for what we are teaching and connect with students in new ways.

Interested in incorporating video and green screen into your online classroom? Get started with Tracy’s list of best practices.

1. Create as many of your own stock visuals as you can. Look for moments in your daily life when you can stop and take a quick photo or video to use as a background later. TechSmith’s Fuse app is an excellent way to transfer this mobile content to your Camtasia productions. By bringing real-life examples to classroom content, it feels more natural for students to do the same in their assignments.

2. Keep your videos student-focused. When recording with green screen, always look at and talk directly to your students. Ask questions, and remind them that they’ll be able to talk about the video’s ideas during the week’s discussion.

3. Limit your videos to a few minutes. Online classes aren’t the virtual equivalent of a class period. Most students’ attention will drop off at five minutes, so keep your videos between three and four minutes. If you’re working with a tricky or complicated concept, chunk your videos or segment the material. Not only does this make it more likely that students will retain information, it also makes it easier for them to go back and review at their leisure.

4. Repurpose content to streamline creation. While there are videos you’ll make for certain groups of students, those with green screen tend to be the ones you can reuse semester after semester. You can plug-and-play certain slides or images, simply repackaging how they’re delivered.

5. Don’t over-invest your time. As far as recording the video, you should aim for one or occasionally two takes. You don’t ask for a retake in the classroom, right? Invest your extra time into adding annotation and other effects to energize and personalize the content for your online students.

6. Perfect isn’t the answer. If you’re striving for perfect, you may end up compromising your teaching. You will make fewer videos, and they may not have the same warmth and energy. In fact, it may work to your advantage to have videos that aren’t perfect. If your dog walks through the room or you trip over a word, keep it! Silly mistakes endear you to your students, and adding human elements to your videos reminds them that you’re a real person.

7. Be prepared to have fun. Once you’re comfortable with green screen and video more generally, it just may become your favorite part of teaching. Not only does it reinvigorate online learning for your students, but it also gives you a way to breathe new life into the content you teach.