Want to Create a Great Instructional Video? Start with Great Audio

As an Instructional Designer, part of my job is to help our faculty learn how to construct various components of a Blended or Online course. Typically, this means they need to learn how to create their own instructional videos using a screen-recording program like Camtasia. We offer several bits of advice when starting this process for the first time, such as ‘the instructor should appear in the video’ and ‘limit your recording to 10-15 minutes’, but one of the most important pieces of advice that we give is to use equipment that will ensure a high-quality video. This includes high-quality audio, because there is nothing that will ruin a video faster than poor audio.

We’ve all come across these videos – there are probably tens of thousands of them on YouTube. They’re the ones where you hit the Play button and the video starts but you don’t hear anything. So you turn up the volume on the video, then the volume on your computer, then maybe on your speakers too (if you have external speakers), and now you can hear what the person is saying but there’s also a lot of white noise, which is distracting. Of course later on, after you’ve forgotten that you cranked your volume all the way up, you’ll scare the daylights out of everyone in a 20 foot radius when you go to play something else that was recorded properly and it comes blasting out of your speakers. It happens to the best of us.

What can you do to ensure that you’re recording high-quality audio?

Find a quiet area to make your recording

In a higher education setting, this is sometimes easier said than done. Your typical faculty office has a lot of background noise: loud air-handling systems, ringing telephones, conversations in the hall, students knocking on doors, computer chimes from incoming emails, etc. Find a place in your building or somewhere on campus where these noises and disruptions don’t exist. These sounds will distract your students when they watch your video just like they distract you.

Use a USB or Bluetooth headset

Marc’s Logitech H540 USB headset

The microphones built into most computers record low-quality audio and pick up a lot of background noise. The microphones on headsets can help to reduce a lot of the background noise, plus the arm keeps the microphone at a constant distance from your mouth, which allows you to maintain a consistent volume level throughout the entire recording.

You can find a good headset for around $30-$40 from companies like Logitech, Sennheiser, and Koss.

Take advantage of a recording booth

Many universities have recording booths dedicated for tasks like these with all of the equipment you need. They’re usually found in a library, media center, or teaching and learning center, and were probably setup by staff with AV and technical expertise. WCU has a recording booth in the Office of Distance Education available for faculty use.

Can You Tell The Difference Between A Blended and A Flipped Course?

After having a recent discussion with a colleague they began talking about how they were teaching a blended course but still met with their students 3 times a week for their face-to-face discussion for 50 minutes. I asked what types of technology or online tools they were using in their blended course and they said “I use the LMS to upload video lectures, link out to websites for them to read journal articles, or sometimes post assignments for them to complete when they come to class the next time and then we discuss those activities they’ve completed.” I started to think to myself, that sounds more like a flipped course.

It was at that moment when I realized how often the two terms, Blended and Flipped, are used and how they are frequently used in lieu of one another. And while the two terms do have a lot in common, there are also some vital differences that set them apart.

Blended Learning

Let’s take a look at these two types of eLearning approaches.

A Blended Course.

A blended Course is a pedagogical model which involves both the online and face to face instruction. Both which are used alongside of one another to provide an ample and effective learning experience for the student. A blended course implies that the face to face time will be reduced and some of the weekly meetings will be replaced with online content/activities.

A Flipped Course.

A flipped course is a pedagogical model in which the typical lecture and homework activities are reversed. Like a blended course, both online and face to face instruction are used alongside one another. Although, in a flipped course, meetings will not be reduced but the face to face time will be restructured. Activities such as listening to lectures or readings that would typically happen in the face to face session will be delivered in an online format that will to allow more time to discuss the activities done prior to coming to class.



A Surprising Benefit of Creating Your Own Video Captions

Creating captions can be is a tedious process.  It seems like every time I create captions for a video, I find myself wondering, “is this really worth it?”  I know captioned videos provide many positive benefits to student learning which are more than worth the investment of time into the captioning process, so I was pleasantly surprised to discover another, more personal benefit to captioning my own videos.  Captioning can help you improve your public speaking.

Typing a word or phrase into your video caption track for the 7th time in the last 30 seconds makes it easy to identify those words and phrases that you say a little too often.    Trying to line up captions to the audio also increases your awareness of the use of filler sounds like “um” and “ah” between thoughts.  As the cartoon G.I. Joe used to say, “knowing is half the battle.”  I found that once I identified those repeating words and overused filler sounds, the next time I was speaking I could focus on eliminating them.  When you find yourself dreading the creation of video captions, remind yourself of all the great benefits your students will reap from having them as an instructional resource and then think about how the captioning process is going to help you improve your speaking abilities.

If you want to learn more about how to create your own captions in Camtasia, I recommend you watch the webinar my colleague, Marc Drumm recorded in the Fall of 2015 on Captioning Your Course Videos.

3 Essential Tips for Online Learning Success

“Student” by CollegeDegrees360 is licensed under CC BY-SA 2.0

So, you’ve taken the plunge and signed up for your first online course. Or maybe it isn’t your first online course but you feel like you have some room for improvement as an online student. As a current online graduate student with nearly a decade of experience working with online faculty and students, I’ve learned a thing or two about what it takes to be a successful online student. Below are my top 3 tips.

1. Communicate

Saying “communication is important” is really broad, so let’s break it down into who you should be communicating with, how, and why.


Your Instructor:

  • Read your syllabus so that you know the best way to get in contact with your instructor and then use that information whenever you need to. If they’ve provided a discussion area for the class to ask questions, use it! I know so many online students who hesitate to contact their instructor because they don’t want to bother them or because they feel like they should be able to figure things out on their own. These are the same students who wouldn’t hesitate to raise their hand or stay after class to ask a question in a traditional face to face course. If you don’t say anything, your instructor will assume that everything is fine- they can’t see the confused look on your face, so speak up!

Your Classmates: 

  • Discussion boards, wikis, and blogs are just some of the ways that you’ll likely interact with your online classmates. Make an effort to engage with your classmates in class, but also exchange emails or start groups to connect through social media.

Your Resources

  • Know who to contact when you need help. You know you can reach out to your professors and your classmates but did you know that many institutions offer online tutoring? For example WCU students have access to online tutoring through Smarthinking. Do you have a disability that could affect your participation in class? Make sure it’s documented with your institution’s Office of Services for Students with Disabilities so that your professor can make the appropriate accommodations. Know who your advisor is. Know how to use the library services available to you. And know who to call for technical support!


In all communication with the institution, your instructor, and other students use proper spelling, grammar, and mind your netiquette.


An online class can be isolating if you let it. Make an effort to reach out. Get to know your instructor, your classmates, and your resources. You’ll be a better student, have a more enriching learning experience, and feel more connected to your academic community.

2. Be Honest with Yourself

Be honest about your strengths and weaknesses as a student because they’re going to be amplified in an online environment. Are you motivated but disorganized? A great communicator but have poor time-management skills? Take stock and focus your efforts on strengthening your weaknesses. Almost all institutions have student support services dedicated to helping you succeed, like the Academic Success Workshops offered through the WCU Learning Assistance & Resource Center.

3. Sharpen those tech skills!

Make sure you have the basics down:

  • You’ll need a computer AND an internet connection- or at least access to both on a regular basis. Most online courses are not (yet!) designed to be taken on your phone or tablet. The excuse that you didn’t have access to a computer or internet to take your test/hand in your assignment/contribute to your group project won’t go over well with anyone. Other recommended hardware includes a webcam and a headset/microphone combo for online meetings and presentations.
  • Software and Applications. If you’re a student at WCU, you have free access to Microsoft Office 365 as well as other useful software downloads. Also be sure to have at least 2 browsers installed on your computer. Most new PCs come with Microsoft Edge and Macs come with Safari, but we also recommend installing Chrome and/or Firefox.
  • Know the basics. Make sure you know how to edit, save, and attach files.
  • Be open to trying new technology tools in your online course- it’s part of the learning experience!


What tips would you add to this list? Tell us in the comments!