Montreal faculty member Adam van Sertima – a self-described “Dad, philosopher, art historian and Games Studies specialist” who teaches film courses – sat down with Liz Allen-Pennebaker of the Core Division and CLT to share his filmmaking expertise with all of us at Champlain who want to up our videoconferencing and video recording game.

Adam’s top tips:

– Break down your lectures into short, digestible videos

– Use virtual backgrounds or screencasting tools that let you appear to interact with your slides

Breaking Up Your Lectures

Liz: I’ve found making video recordings to be pretty challenging and time-consuming – and the end result is, well, definitely not Oscar-worthy. More like, cringe-worthy. I’m worried my students will get so bored that they won’t bother watching to the end. What can I do to make my videos easier to record for me and less miserable for my students to watch?

Adam: If you’ve got a lecture that you want to record, break it down. You […] usually have, say, three, five, seven points that you want to make. Break it up: one point, one shoot. Make each point a separate video. That way you don’t have to do any editing if you make a mistake. You just redo that one point. It’s much quicker.

Also, after I started making my own videos of class content, I realized that it’s tremendously boring to look at the same person for forty five minutes talking into a screen. So, when you shoot your lecture in small chunks, change the background so that it’s different in each little video – just so there’s something else going on. Move to a different spot around your house. I even shoot from scenic areas in Montreal – it helps give students a little bit of a “semester abroad” experience. And that way it’s not always the same thing on their screen.

Showing Yourself and Slides Together

Adam: I also use virtual backgrounds to mix things up. Zoom’s got a really good slideshow capability. You can show slides behind you. You’re in front of them so you can actually interact with the slide show, sort of. It’s a bit difficult because you’re not mirrored, which can throw you off because you’re not used to seeing yourself not mirrored, but you can speak and gesticulate and all that good stuff to keep things interesting. I can even adjust the crop – that is, how I frame myself in the camera – and move myself around on the screen to where I want to be.

Liz: I tried this!!!! I definitely found it a lot easier to record video in smaller chunks. Among other things, it helped keep me fresh – otherwise, I found that I got tired and started messing up, and of course, when you mess up, you create more editing work for yourself. So breaking up my recording sessions was definitely a good thing. Also, recording in chunks enabled me to post the videos to Canvas bit by bit as I captioned them instead of having the captioning hold everything up.

How to Use a Virtual Background for Slides with Zoom

The Zoom slides background trick is not intuitive. Here are Liz’s three tips, in her own words:

  • You really need a green screen – or at least a plain sheet – behind you to do this effectively. I don’t have either and the video cutout of me flickered against the slides and appeared and disappeared in a way that I suspect would be really distracting to anyone watching.
  • If you have a green screen, note this when you set your virtual background (In Zoom, go to Settings, then Background and Filters, then choose the “Virtual backgrounds” tab and check “I have a green screen”.) That will make the background render better. (If you have a plain sheet, but it’s not green, don’t check the “green screen” box.)
  • The lack of mirroring is not an insignificant thing. If you want to “lecture” in a way that comes close to what you normally do in class – i.e. by gesturing and pointing to the slides – you will really have to watch yourself on screen as you do it, because otherwise you’ll find yourself pointing with the wrong arm. Practice a bit first so that you don’t just stand there in class flailing your arms trying to get it right.

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