Tips for Creating Educational Videos at HGSE

Tips for Creating Educational Videos at HGSE

by: Sophie Chung | Online Learning FellowImage of Karen Costa's bookWhat a year this has been — it truly says something about our community of lifelong educators that we’ve been able to pivot so quickly, taking the challenging shifts of 2020 in good stride and spirits. From my perspective as a TLL Online Learning Fellow for Media Production, I witnessed firsthand the effort that HGSE faculty members put into using video to humanize their courses and engage learners through multiple means of expression and presentation. I can only applaud all the faculty and teaching teams for taking on new tools like Panopto with such gusto, especially as we grappled with delivering content through new means.

In many ways last semester, we learned to swim by plunging into the deep end of the pool. But now that we’ve proven our ability to float, how can we look forward to melding best video production practices with the course learning goals?

It was for this question that I opened Karen Costa’s 99 Tips for Creating Simple and Sustainable Educational Videos. With over 15 years of higher education experience and the making of impactful videos, Costa is a formidable force in the field whose recommendations come from both an impressive trove of experience and a passion for teaching. While I viewed many of the 99 tips worthy of discussing, I handpicked a select few that I feel are salient to our HGSE community:

Ask yourself what seems the most obvious but is often the most overlooked question: Why am I making this video?

Or perhaps more specifically,

  • What instructional problem do I think I can solve with a video?
  • How will videos serve both my students as they reach the goals set in the course design and my own strengths as a teacher?

Costa recommends reflecting in order to distill your top three primary goals for videos, hers being “to humanize, instruct, and clarify.” Very much in the vein of the Backward Design process in which educators first identify desired results for their courses, it pays to take a few moments before pressing record on Panopto to crystalize the why of your video. Perhaps it’s to define difficult terms for the diverse body of students in your courses or to show your availability. Perhaps it’s to be vulnerable first and model what it might take to build a community, even across what seems like the chasm of Zoom.

With the why firmly in place, now we peer closer at the nuts and bolts of making videos. I’ve taken the liberty of parsing through the many tools Costa hands us to fill our toolbox.

Welcome to Hollywood
Well, not exactly Hollywood because our priority in this time is   not to focus on slick production of our Panopto videos. But   there is some wisdom in the basic design principle of the   aesthetic-usability effect, that is, how “our perception of how   something looks (i.e., whether we find it pleasing to the eye)   influences our perception of how easy (or difficult) it will be to   use that item” (Lidwell, Holden, & Butler, 2003). Here are three   of the most easily implemented best practices:

  • Find lighting
    Whenever possible, record next to a window, with the natural light falling onto your face. Your visible face helps increase student engagement.
  • Control surrounding sound
    As you can to the best of your ability, minimize surrounding sound. This means checking to confirm your speakers are off or windows closed in the event of street noise.
  • Amp the energy
    Remember that the camera will eat your energy. Costa reminds us that if you speak in your normal tone of voice with your usual mannerisms, it could fall flat on screen. As you feel comfortable, amp up your energy beyond how you would normally project. Smile, laugh, move!

Woman gesturing animatedly

“Old-School” Tricks

Woman using sticky notesOn the other end, there is also wisdom to be gleaned from the way people have taught for years, some “old-school” tricks so to speak:

  • Use notes, not scripts
    Costa wonders “if letting go of the reins a bit and surrendering to the process of teaching and learning” is what makes these videos work. She gently reminds us that there is only a small population of people who can read off a script and make it engaging, namely professional broadcasters. What if, instead of using a script, we jot down general ideas and bullet points? What if we used flashcards to glance down at during the video? What if it’s okay for the video to feel more human in this way?
  • Maintain eye contact  
    Especially if we are unaccustomed to making videos, this one presents a challenge. Practice by monitoring your own videos a critical eye to see where you avert gaze and how that affects the engagement factor.                                                                    

Closeup of camera lens

Beyond the Lecture

Three-image panel of people engaging with video recording

Photos by Harry Cunningham, Nathan Dumlao, and CoWomen on Unsplash

For most, the why of the videos is to instruct, often through a PowerPoint lecture. But could we expand our perspective to think of use cases beyond the lecture?

  • Try making videos beyond the lecture, such as
    • Specific Q&A sessions responding to student questions that emerged in the live sessions or on Canvas
    • Welcome and relationship-building hooks that are precise, quick 30-second videos to grab student attention through sharing an enticing fact about course content or a well-posed question that asks students to consider a topic in light of their own experiences
    • Relevant narratives that involve students emotionally in the course content
  • But also, ground your lecture videos with basic design principles:
    • Use more images than text (and briefly describe images for students with visual impairments).
    • Limit all text to around 10 words per slide.
    • Use one main idea per slide as a means to capture attention.
    • Provide examples, build on prior knowledge, ask questions, pause for students to self-reflect.
    • And remember, the ideal video length is no more than 5 minutes.

Example slide that shows 10 words or less and an image

Finally, if I had to tease out an overarching theme of Costa’s 99 Tips, it would be this: let your video and the “you” that speaks in it be flawed and natural. The energy that comes through is what will keep your students engaged and excited to be taking your course.

It’s the human aspect of being on camera that helps you build relationships and respond in ways that make your students feel seen and heard. Relatedly, I wonder how to take Costa’s final thoughts about vulnerability and present applicable actions the HGSE community could take. Could the HGSE teaching faculty create a community around the challenges and worthwhile discoveries of creating videos, perhaps a forum or drop-in hours or even live discussions? What would it look like for us to rely on each other, fellow teaching faculty and staff alike, for the continued improvement and maturation of our course videos? These are some of the immediate questions we must continue to ask ourselves as we act upon innovative ways to create engaging and humanizing online learning experiences.



Costa, K., & Pacansky-Brock, M. (2020). 99 tips for creating simple and sustainable educational videos: A guide for online teachers and flipped classes. Sterling, VA: Stylus Publishing.

Lidwell, W., Holden, K., & Butler, J. (2003). Universal principles of design: 125 ways to enhance usability, influence perception, increase appeal, make better design decisions, and teach through design. Beverly, MA: Rockport Publishers.






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