Welcome online students!

— Jeanne M. Slattery and Randall M. Potter

Both of us are teaching new courses online in the near future, which has us thinking about how we’re going to approach them. One of us (JMS) is teaching Abnormal Psychology, a course that many students see as interesting and relevant, while the other (RMP) will be teaching Statistics, a course that few students are initially excited to take. As we prepare to teach these courses, we have been thinking about how to engage our students as effectively as possible.

One strategy that we have been considering is using online videos to introduce our courses, offer tours of our D2L sites, discuss problems, etc. In preparing to make videos, we have watched many videos — both good and less so — of faculty talking about their courses or introducing a topic. Mike Marin and Khan Academy offer good illustrations of how one could teach Statistics online. We’ve also watched many hours of videos about technology and how to use it well (David A. Cox is our favorite). In watching these, you’ll learn what you like and what you don’t. These are our suggestions based on our review:

  1. Make it warm. One important reason for videos is to help students engage with the course and course material. Especially in introductory videos, show your face and let your personality show through. Tell stories. Let your clothing and background tell something about who you are.
  2. Keep it simple. Extraneous pictures and stories can be distracting. Use pictures and written words to make your point.
  3. Map it out first. What are the most important points you want to make? Why? It’s easy to appear to be rambling in a video without a strong outline or set of storyboards.
  4. Keep it short. Introductory videos should probably be no more than three minutes. We would need to seriously think about using a video of more than 10-15 minutes to introduce or discuss a topic, and would generally prefer several shorter videos.
  5. Keep it small. It’s easy for video to be space hogs — one 90-second video provided by the publisher of my (JMS) Abnormal Psychology text is 77 MB! Such videos are difficult for students to download from home, where internet connections may be subpar. Our own videos have been compressed, so they can be easily uploaded to D2L or YouTube, making them more accessible.
  6. Expect to do multiple shoots, at least initially. The first time I (JMS) did an intro video, I made about 10 passes and learned a lot in doing so. The next time only took two. Expect a learning curve.
  7. Test drive the technology. We are creating our videos at home and have run into a variety of glitches (most recently a computer fan muddying the audio). Check your lighting, sound, background, etc. first.
  8. Have fun! Play around with the technology. Expect to make some “mistakes,” and learn from them.

What’s the right technology? For introductory videos, we use talking heads (see the examples here, which were shot with Photo Booth, then lightly edited with iMovie). We are using Camtasia and ScreenFlow for later lectures; both programs make simultaneous captures of video and audio from our computer’s screen, microphone,  and webcam. Finally, presenting statistical ideas should be a dynamic rather than static process (not just teaching the answer but demonstrating the process), so Randy will be using his Wacom tablet to capture the process of posing then solving statistics problems.

Technology’s not the point, though. Use bells and whistles as needed to facilitate your students’ understanding and learning. Use bells and whistles to welcome your students and to create a warm and welcoming environment.


Jeanne M. Slattery is a professor of psychology at Clarion University. She is interested in thinking about what makes teaching and learning successful, and generally describes herself as a learner-centered teacher. She has written two books, Counseling diverse clients: Bringing context into therapy, and Empathic counseling: Meaning, context, ethics, and skill (with C. Park), and is writing Trauma, meaning, and spirituality: Research and clinical perspectives. She can be contacted at jslattery@clarion.edu

Randall M. Potter is a professor of psychology at Clarion University. He is currently obsessed with learning R, exploring all kinds of Mac software, beer making, and bicycling. He can be contacted at rpotter@clarion.edu

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One Response to Welcome online students!

  1. Pingback: Videos in Online Courses: The Evidence, Theory and Tools | Hand in Hand

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