Creating Your Own Course Materials
By Stacey M Johnson, Assistant Director for Educational Technology, Vanderbilt University Center for Teaching
Instructors typically create materials for their courses such as lectures, handouts, and supplementary readings and materials. In an online course, you may choose to expand or improve these instructor-created resources so they comprise a larger portion of the course content. Additionally, as you develop and teach your course for the first time in an online format, you may find that you are thinking so much about how to get the needed materials available to students, that you don’t have time to make those materials as thorough or as professional-looking as you might like. That is a normal part of online teaching. The first iteration of a course helps us see where the gaps are, where we have room for improvement. Every time you teach this same course again, you can make small changes that add up to a lot over time.
So, with that in mind, consider which of the following approaches to creating your own videos will be most feasible for the course you are developing now, and which might be projects to work on for the next version of your course.
There are quite a few ways instructors can create video for their students. The list below details several with varying levels of investment and quality.
- Recording a live video conference for later viewing
If you plan to lecture or lead a conversation as part of your synchronous class meeting, recording that using the built-in recording capability on Zoom or another tool can be a low-investment way to make that content available to students in your course moving forward.
How To: If you are at Vanderbilt and use Zoom, you can follow these instructions for recording a class meeting. Once Zoom sends you the link to the video and online transcript, you can post the link in your Brightspace course so students can review it.
Caution: Anything that you record when you are on a live video conference with your students would fall under the category of FERPA-protected information since student identities and contributions will be evident to the later viewers. That means that you can share this video with students in the same class within your Brightspace course, but should not share a live video conference recording with future students or publicly. Also consider that video conferencing requires a lot of internet bandwidth. If your wifi can’t keep up with the requirements of live interactive video, you may need to choose a lower bandwidth teaching tool.
- Pre-recording a screencast, whiteboard video, or webcam video for later asynchronous viewing
There are many tools available on the web for recording videos using the equipment you already have at home or in your office. Here is a run down of some popular screencasting tools available on the web. Vanderbilt has campus licenses for Kaltura, which has a built-in screencasting tool, and Zoom. Zoom allows you to open up a Zoom meeting in which you are alone with no guests and use the Zoom whiteboard, screen sharing, webcam, and other useful features to record an engaging lecture video for your students to watch later.
How To: The Vanderbilt Brightspace team has guides available for using Kaltura. To use Zoom to pre-record lectures, we recommend looking up tutorials online such as this through YouTube video that walks viewers through the process.
Caution: If you are using video to deliver content, keep accessibility in mind. If you use slides or a whiteboard, audibly describe what is happening on the screen. Also, enable the built-in captions feature for your videos in Kaltura or record your Zoom videos to the cloud so you can generate an editable transcript.
- Use a studio space on campus
If you are at Vanderbilt, you will want to take advantage of the One Button Studio at the CFT. The One Button Studio is a simplified studio environment just for faculty that can be used without any previous video production experience. The studio is equipped with a combination of special hardware and software that allows users to simply plug a flash drive into a USB port and push a button to start recording. All of the lighting, audio, and video equipment is already in place so no set-up is required.
How To: The CFT’s Digital Media Specialist, Carly Byer, manages the studio. You can schedule an orientation session to learn more about the room or book recording time through My Calendly. You are also welcome to contact Carly directly at 615-343-0217 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
Caution: This video studio will not allow you to create a screencast or do whiteboard work. This is a studio that films you next to your slide deck. The quality is high, but it has one specific purpose.
Other Kinds of Course Resources
Video can be a highly useful tool, but it is not the only way to present your course materials to students. In fact, if you choose to create videos and need to edit something during the course or before you teach the course again, with video that typically means recording a whole new video. However, all of the strategies in this section are editable which means more flexible content and a more responsive course.
The list below details several ways to create instructional materials for students with varying levels of investment and quality.
- Audio recording
In contrast with a video lecture, audio lectures don’t take up much bandwidth and don’t require any special background or lighting to do well. That is useful for those of us creating lectures from home, possibly late at night after the kids go to sleep, or in spaces we don’t want to display. If you audio record your lectures, you can then provide slides separately so students can follow along. You might even consider creating a listening guide worksheet that students fill in with important information as they listen. This will give them something to do as they listen and help them focus on the most important pieces of information. Plus, with so many courses going online, students may appreciate the option of printing the worksheet out and filling it out by hand, a nice change from so many screens.
Caution: If you are providing accompanying slides or a handout to go with the audio lecture, consider labeling them well so you can say in your audio lecture, “I’m on slide 4.” or “Look at page 2 of the handout.” as you give your lecture. Students will be able to follow along.
- Multimedia webpages
One dynamic way of presenting course content is to assemble all of your resources in a multimedia webpage. That is how we created the readings in this online CDR. When you create a multimedia webpage, you can combine text, images, audio, video, links, and other resources all together in one coherent page that guides students down a learning path. Breaking up large blocks of text with images, video, and audio also helps hold your readers’ attention.
How To: You can use a website or blogging tool like WordPress to create your course content, which is how we built this site. Your LMS, which at Vanderbilt is Brightspace, has a webpage tool already built into the Content area. In a module, click on “Upload/Create”, then choose “Create a File”. That will open up a text box that you can use to assemble your multimedia content into a single page.
Caution: Keep accessibility in mind at every step. If you have video, include closed captions. If you have images, include alt text for screen readers. Learn more about accessibility in Brightspace here.
- Interactive Texts
To ensure that your students stay engaged in the course content, consider creating interactive texts that have formative assessment checkpoints built-in. Students read a section, then stop to answer a comprehension, analysis, or reflection question before moving on. Vanderbilt has a site license for TopHat, which has interactive text features. But there are other tools you can use as well.
- Jesse Blocher wrote this blog post about using TopHat to create interactive readings.
- Actively Learn is a web-based tool that allows you to add formative checkpoints into a text.
- Vanderbilt also has a video quiz tool through Kaltura Media that will allow you to add questions into a video.
Decide how you will create videos for your course. Set aside some time to become familiar with the tools. This may mean scheduling time in the One Button Studio, attending a Brightspace workshop, or perusing the on-demand guides on the Brightspace support site.
Create a plan for other kinds of materials to create for your online course. What resources and support will you need? How much time will you invest in materials development?
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