How to make instructional videos

By Maryam Shafiei, ACT Support Assistant

You have probably heard the mantras, “Show, don’t tell” or “I hear and I forget, I see and I remember”. Visually illustrating a new skill is now a significant element of multi-modal instruction and a frequently used tool in instructional design. You can find training videos everywhere – from how to bake a cake to how to use a computer application or how to use an online service. Users can watch videos/tutorials over again, if needed, and work at their own pace. This post will focus on some strategies for using a computer screen recording application to create instructional videos. If you would like to make videos an important component of your teaching, here are a few tips on how to make them engaging for your students.

The first step in creating videos is to answer the following questions:

  • What is the purpose of your video? Try to have a clear, SMART goal for your video.
  • Who is your audience? Ask yourself these questions: Who are they? What do they need to learn? How can this be delivered? What are their skill levels?
  • What is the action you want the learners to take? Think about your message and your goals.

Before recording:
1. Organize your content.

  • Lay out your content in sequential order.  This will help the learners organize incoming information and remember the information you provide.
  • Provide an outline of your content. Introduce the subject and tell your audience what they are going to learn. If your video has different sections, provide a title for each section so your audience will be prepared for what they are about to learn.
  • Break up the content of your video into smaller pieces. It will help the learners to quickly find the part they are looking for.
  • Shorter is better. One of the ways to keep learners engaged is to be mindful of video length. Due to limited attention spans, you will need to keep your video short, 2 to 6 minutes if possible. If you need more time to deliver the content, try to break your video into segments or separate videos.
  • Include interactive components in your videos, such as questions, quizzes and customized examples and exercises. It will keep your audience engaged with the video and will reinforce learned concepts.

2. Use a script. Writing out a script in advance, even if it’s just a bullet point list of steps, will help keep your video concise and focused.

  • Keep the steps simple and short so you read the script while also looking at the monitor.
  • Try to keep your narration informal and spontaneous. Use a conversational tone when writing your script.
  • Read it out loud a few times before recording. Ask someone to read it to you so you can can hear how the script flows.

3. Clean up your computer desktop.  Make sure to hide or minimize any distracting items on your desktop, close unused programs and ensure your email notifications are turned off.

Record your video:

  • Record the full screen. Some instructors like to look right at their learners when they are talking. If you would like to create such a connected bond while teaching or if you need to show your audience something other than your computer screen you can always use a webcam or  a camcorder to record videos and integrate them with your screen video later, but for those who are new to recording video an easy route to take is just to record the full screen using a screen recorder application. This ensures you capture everything on screen, which you can edit later if you want. You can scale and crop your video to smaller dimensions, but making it larger later on will cause it to blur.
  • Use a decent microphone. Good audio is a key element for any type of video sharing. If you are using a laptop, please do not use the built-in microphone which picks up a lot of extra noise. You can simply use an inexpensive USB microphone instead.
  • Slow down. Try not to put too many concepts into one video. If your audience is unfamiliar with your video content, take it slow.
  • Control your mouse. When recording, try not to move the mouse around while you talk. Never wiggle your mouse to emphasize a point.

After you record:

  • Choose an editing application. Review the range of free or inexpensive online editing platforms and have a look at their simple guides to start editing.
  • Use callouts. Add callouts where necessary, like when you want to draw attention to some object on the screen. Depending on the program you are using to edit your video there might be different options for callouts to choose from, including arrows to point directly to something specific in your video, spotlight which darkens everything on the screen except for the area you want to focus on, or a blurcallout to hide certain areas of your recording that you do not want everyone to see like login information. (Please see examples below.) Try to keep the callouts, annotations or animations as simple as possible and avoid adding too many callouts because they will increase your video file size.
    Callout - arrow

    Callout - arrow

    Callout - spotlight

    Callout - spotlight

    Callout - blur

    Callout - blur

  • Add a title to your video. Add a title slide to describe the purpose of the video. Fade it out as you fade in the recording.
  • Control the audio. Check the audio levels through both speakers and headphones and adjust the levels if needed. If you are using music, make sure it is just loud enough to be heard but not so loud that it interferes with the narration.
  • Determine the next step. At the end of the video include a specific call to action. Ask yourself what you want your viewers to do when they have finished the video: watch another video? Take a quiz? Go to your website or email you their questions?
  • Share your video. Finally, share your video and make it easily accessible for your viewers so they will be encouraged to use it. Making content available on an online video hosting site or an LMS is an efficient way of increasing accessibility. Provide your learners with the information on how to access your video.

Visual Oompf!

Post 3: Video Killed the Faculty Star

You remember the feeling from your elementary school days. That all to perfect moment when, the teacher stepped away from the chalk board, rolled out the a/v cart, hit the play button (or, gasp, fed in the film reel to the dusty projector) and retreated to the back of the class for…. a movie.

However, the longer we are in school, those precious opportunities to spend whole periods engrossed in Bill Nye episodes obviously dwindles. In higher education especially the impetus of knowledge transfer, critical thinking and philosophical pondering often takes priority over entertainment. Is there something to be considered when a six-minute Funny or Die “Drunk History” clip   can not only explain the history behind father of western technology, but also make it memorable?

My Visual Ooompf! dribble today aims to reposition our beloved “video” as a useful lecture and learning tool.

Videos have a place in the university classroom

This past winter, I attended an engineering lecture on the titillating topic of pumps. As I sat in Convocation Hall, amongst the 300 + young and occasionally distracted undergrads, I witnessed first hand the power a College Humor video had on re-engaging a group. During the traditional lecture part of the lesson, some students tuned in an out, impressively talking to their friends, playing games on their phones, and eating breakfast, all the while jotting down the odd lecture note. About a quarter into the lecture the lecturer switched gears, clicked on a pre-loaded video link and suddenly things changed.  More students looked to the front of the class and some actually laughed. While many still talked to their friends, I heard a couple people actually talking about the video!

I’m not saying that videos are better than live humans for engaging a group.  I only mean to illustrate that the act of breaking up the lecture with a visual tool, using a wildly different tone, is an awesome way to re energize and draw more of the class’s attention to the topic.

The example I witnessed in the engineering lecture was also a good illustration of general video showing best practices:

  •  the faculty member set up the video asking a question to help guide the viewers while they watch (showing videos does not mean people get a brain break)
  • this is an obvious one, but the video was related to the lesson topic
  • the video was relatively short in length
  • at the end of the clip, the faculty member asked a question and invited student reactions (this could even be done in groups as a collaborative exercise or dare I say, “Think-Pair-Share?)


Moving from thinking about using video clips to actually using them in your class requires a necessary (and, I admit, somewhat cumbersome) discussion on Copyright. If you are going to show a clip in class you are automatically entering the realm of Canadian Copyright Act.

The surest way to navigate this area is to use Media Commons to access your video clips. The Media Commons online record’s details tells you plainly the terms of use for each item. In some cases, you may be required to contact the copyright holder to obtain permission. For clips you find outside of Media Commons (on websites etc.), make sure to read the specific terms and conditions of use.

While it may be tempting to gloss over the question of Copyright, it is important to remember that Canada’s Fair Dealing (or what some dangerously think of as a “get out of jail free” card) is much more strict within the categories of education and teaching than the US’s Fair Use.

If you have questions about Copyright always err on the side of caution and contact the Copyright holder directly or CTSI ( for guidance. Avoid a fight, use it right.

Getting the Goods

One of the major hurdles that can dissuade faculty from using video is the stress of finding quality video for a class. Chris O’Neal, a blogger from, calls YouTube a “giant video flea market,” which gives you the gist of the type of labour  involved in retrieving useful clips with what can seem like

a big mess of junk.

There is no way around it – using videos to add oompf to your lectures does require extra effort. Below are several sites, which may help you in building your “classroom clips” library.

External Sources – scientific research clips – philosophical discussions on “big issues” amazing source for independent movies free to use as an educational tool, on demand! – public lectures by some real visionary people

UofT Libraries

AV Catalogue searching
 Search Media Commons AV holdings in the Library catalogue by broad research topic.

AV Subject Searching
 Connect to Media Commons AV holdings in the Library catalogue by broad research topic, such as gender diversity or visual arts.

Online Video Resources 
A growing number of online video resources is now offered by U of T Libraries, available for classroom and individual streaming.

Resources & Links

New Arrivals

Embracing videos in university classrooms beyond the level of instructional “bells and whistles” does not have to pander to the nostalgic idea of a thoughtless movie period or shift anyone’s core teacher values. Punctuating every lecture with a snappy YouTube clip would (I guess) grow old.  Videos and interactive elements of visual entertainment should always support the timeless and simple goal, furthering student learning. That being said, learning about gravity is so much more fun watching Bill Nye throw stuff off of a roof. .

Focus on Faculty: Engaging Students with Extra Credit Projects

For many chemistry students, organic chemistry is a course that forms the basis of the rest of their program, and can be an intimidating and challenging subject. To Lana Mikhaylichenko and Effie Sauer, however, it is a subject filled with creative potential. So for them, finding ways for students to enjoy organic chemistry was about more than just fun: it was about turning around traditional course anxiety into true engagement with the subject.

When choosing the song assignment, some students create an original song, and others take a Pop song and adapt the lyrics. The major criterion to be satisfied is that the song must relate to a course topic: pi-bonding, nucleophilic reactions and resonance are popular topics to translate. There is now a large enough repository of songs produced that Sauer and Mikhaylichenko can play a different song video for each week of lecture. When students see the clips, “they light up”, says Sauer. “When they realize they’re watching their peers, it’s extra delight.” Word of mouth has travelled within the UTSC community and both Lecturers often hear second- and third-hand comments from students and faculty about the videos.

As a result of the improved engagement with the course material and their faculty, more students say that Organic Chemistry is a course they enjoy, which is what Sauer and Mikhaylichenko were hoping for. For them, the payoff has far exceeded expectations, resulting from a very small change in their curriculum. Mikhaylichenko puts it in terms of seeing teaching as a two-way process that should build relationships. “I didn’t change myself, just the way they see the learning.” Having previously worked with CHM B41, Sauer looks forward to teaching CHM B42 this summer because of the different topics to offer students. “I’ve been blown over,” she says. “I’ve learned that our students are awesome.”

Read more about the CHMB41/42 initiatives, and view more videos at CTSI’s Focus on Faculty.

Evaluating participation

Students in discussion at desks

Image by lynn dombrowski; Used under Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 2.0 Generic (CC BY-SA 2.0)

Evaluating student participation in tutorials or seminars can be a challenge for everyone from first time TAs to experienced instructors.

Recently, I came across an interesting suggestion posted on the Student Participation/Active Learning page on the website of the University of the Sciences in Philadelphia.  They offer the suggestion of providing students with the opportunity to assess themselves part-way through the term and receive feedback.  The blockquote below shows the choices that the University of the Sciences suggest for students to engage with for self-assessment:

  1. I contribute worthwhile comments several times during every class. Please cite an example
  2. I contribute one or more worthwhile comments almost every class. Please cite and example
  3. I often contribute or participate in class discussions. Please cite an example
  4. I occasionally contribute
  5. I rarely contribute

Thinking Visually: Doodling, Concept Maps, and Notetaking

As a student, were you one of those kids who doodled in the margins of your notebooks, or even on your desk (to the bane of janitorial staff everywhere)? Often thought to be something done to stave off boredom, doodling is something that, when channelled in the right direction, can lead to productive notetaking and reflection.

A recent study reported that doodling during meetings, for example, can help you retain more information, because it uses just enough executive brain function to prevent the mind from wandering, and losing focus on the discussion at hand. This especially helps listeners stay on task in a passive environment, when it is easy to start daydreaming.

We especially like this example we learned about from BlogUT , of recreational mathematician Vi Hart creating doodles to help understand mathematical principles like infinite series, using only the tools of a pencil, ruler, and a ruled 8.5×11 sheet:

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Collaborative Learning Techniques in Action

Classes are in full swing, tutorials are up and running and we’re hearing reports of great experiences in the classrooms. Sandra Romain, a PhD student in the Department of Anthropology and the UTSC TA Trainer for the TATP, is having a great start to her tutorials. This is Sandra’s second year with the TATP (after a number of years working as a TA at UofT) and has been applying teaching techniques learned with her TATP team and TA training. “I have had the confidence to develop tutorial material based on collaborative teaching structures,” Sandra said. She’s had an inspiring response from her students.

From the start of her tutorials, Sandra put collaborative teaching techniques to work. In the first tutorial, she used Think-Pair-Share (an exercise that pairs off the students to discuss a topic then report back to the rest of the group) to look at research paradigms (a rather complex theoretical topic for 2nd year students). In the second tutorial, Sandra took this one step further by using the 3-Step Interview (where students work in groups of three – an interviewer, a responder and a recorder. Students change roles throughout the process as they work through concepts and questions). When she met with a bit of resistance with some students – someone grumbled about having to ‘pair up’ with another student – Sandra “jokingly told her I’d get back to her at the end of the activity.” When asked if the student could answer her own question about why they were doing these activities, the student answered, “Because I just finally understood what Interpretivism was!”

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Open Doors on Teaching

Most of us are well aware that learning doesn’t end with a degree or when we have acquired a teaching position. We can learn from our students, our research and we can also learn from each other. Open Doors on Teaching is a University of Toronto initiative to get instructors back in the classroom – this time as an observer. Members of the Teaching Academy, winners of the President’s Teaching Award, are opening their classroom doors to colleagues. By booking an appointment through CTSI, you can visit a classroom, watch a colleague in action then engage in a post-class discussion.

Visit Open Doors on Teaching for more information about this initiative, including participating Teaching Academy members and the available lectures. If you have any questions or to schedule a visit to one of the lectures, please contact Thuy Huynh, Programs Coordinator, CTSI.


Naming names

Believe it or not, most students attend courses in which the Professor or Teaching Assistant barely knows their faces, let alone their names. Yet, learning your pupils’ names or nicknames can be a terrific asset in your teaching year. As the Romans used to say: “nomen omen” (“the name is a sign” or, if you prefer, “aptly named people”) which means that knowing your undergrads’ aliases could even help you in understanding at a first glance the personality of some of them. Joking aside, being able to call them by their first name (or last name, if you believe in formality) will spread a sense of belonging in your course – and thus a sense of familiarity – which will likely push them in keeping up with homework and assignments. It might also help to prevent attempts to plagiarize or commit any other academic offense as established by the Code of Behaviour on Academic Matters.

Ok, but how can I remember my students’ names if I have, let’s say, 30 or more unknown faces in front of me? First, don’t panic. One easy method is the name tent. You simply ask each of your undergrads to take a sheet of paper, fold it in three equal parts, and write on one of the sides their name or moniker/nickname with a thick marker. Then they’ll have to place the handmade tag on their desk, in front of them, so that you may read it. After a while, you’ll be able to associate names to faces and everything will flow nicely.

My personal hint is to actually buy a set of name tent cards (you can find them for a few dollars in most paper stores) and to assign one card to each student, together with a marker of a different color. At the end of each class, make sure to have all the cards returned to you, so that in the next class the only one who has to remember to bring everybody’s titles will be you. A second method, maybe a bit more creepy, is to ask each student to bring a small photo (i.e. a passport photo) to your second class. Once at home, you’ll have to work with glue and pen to create your personal students’ album, connecting the photos to the names. A third method is to ask your students not to change their seat during the semester, and to reproduce a map of the class seating in your handbook. Personally, I prefer the name tent, but hey, whatever works for you, it works!

Coming Soon – Large Classroom Teaching

The Centre for Teaching Support & Innovation will soon launch an online module on Exploring Large Classroom Teaching. The University of Toronto’s faculty and graduate students have a fair bit of experience in this area (as you might imagine) and we have looked to them for insight and advice on this topic. We’ve divided this section into four areas (Planning, Strategies, Assessment and Technology) with videos, resources and tip sheets available.

We hope to launch in a few weeks. Please stay tuned!

CTSI Back-to-School Workshop Series

From Tuesday, August 23 – Friday, August 26, 2011, the Centre for Teaching Support & Innovation will host a series of “Back-to-School” sessions on a range of teaching topics to help instructors get ready for the new school year.  These sessions are open to all new and returning instructors at the University of Toronto.

Here’s the schedule,

  • Tuesday, August 23
    • Setting the Tone for Success: The First Day and Beyond (9am – 12noon)
    • Supporting Student Learning: What Instructors Can Do and Who Else Can Help (1 – 4pm)
  • Wednesday, August 24
    • Building a Blackboard Course (9am – 12noon)
    • Small Group Instructional Approaches to Engage and Enthuse Learning (9am – 12noon)
  • Thursday, August 25
    • Assignment Design (9am – 12noon)
    • Formative Assessment: How to Keep Teaching and Learning on Track (1 – 4pm)
  • Friday, August 26
    • The Course Life Cycle: Managing Your Course (9am – 12noon)

You can register for these sessions online at: