Revisiting video for distance learning

    Published: 21 May 2020

    Near the beginning of lockdown, we wrote a blog post about easy ways to record sound or video to greet pupils and students.  This was prompted by requests from teachers who were telling us they wanted to be able record short messages to post to platforms such as Google Classroom or Purple Mash, so that posting work was not so text-based, was more engaging and personal and reminded children that their teachers were still their teachers.

    We have since heard how, as the lockdown continues, some children are becoming increasingly disengaged with their learning. Teachers want to create more engaging, fun and captivating recordings in an effort to reinvigorate children’s enthusiasm to receive set work, listen to stories, poems and more.

    In this post, we will provide some tips for teachers about recording effective videos, and we will share some great apps and software for creating fun videos, recordings and voiced animations.

    Greenscreen by DoINK (iOS)

    The green screen ‘chroma key’ effect, where a subject is filmed in front of a green screen so that different backgrounds can be superimposed behind, used to be something that required sophisticated software and a fair degree of know-how. The Green Screen app from DoINK was one of the apps that changed that, and made it very easy for a novice to create simple green screen videos. The app costs £4.99 and is available for iPad and iPhone. All you need is your device, the app and a green sheet, tablecloth or suchlike. You can actually use backgrounds of another colour instead, because the app lets you adjust the colour settings, but green or blue seem to work best.

    Here are two examples of videos you could make:

    • ‘Guess where I am’ videos. Film yourself with a superimposed background image from a famous place or different country. You could stand in front of the Great Pyramids, the Eiffel Tower or even on the Moon.
    • A story or poem. The teacher could read a story, using different backgrounds, which could be chosen to illustrate the mood of the piece. Please be mindful of copyright, however (see below.)


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    The Green Screen app.

    Chatterpix Kids (iOS or Android)

    Chatterpix Kids is a free app that lets you take a digital photograph of an object, give that object an animated mouth and then record your voice so that the animated mouth can speak it back! It is remarkably easy to use, as well, being aimed at children’s use. It’s a great way of recording fun video for those that do not feel comfortable appearing in front of the camera. 

    Here are two examples of videos you could make: Cucumber

    Create fun greetings by making different objects speak. You could choose a piece of fruit, a mini-beast, a toy or anything else.

    Give life to a drawing or painting. If you are artistic, you could draw a face and make it read a story, a poem or set work for children to do at home.

    Chatterpix Kids app for iPad.

    The Android app.

    Windows Camera and Microsoft Photos (Windows 10)

    These tools are available as free apps from the Microsoft Store. The camera is just a simple way of using your webcam to take photos or video. Once you have captured some video, the Microsoft Photos app enables editing and special effects. It is the 3D Effects Library that is perhaps the most powerful feature of this app, and can give your standard ‘talking head’ a bit of a wow factor. You could share the screen with a dinosaur, add an explosion, include 3D text or wear a funny, animated hat. It’s very powerful but at the same time, simple to use. 

    Here are two examples of videos you could make: Screenshot

    Read a story, poem or set work using special effects to enhance the video and make it more entertaining.

    Create videos out of individual images, with backing music or pre-recorded narration.

    The Windows Camera app.

    The Microsoft Photos app.

    Five top tips for great presenting

    Given that we have been in varying degrees of lockdown for two months now, it’s likely that many teachers are a dab hand at creating videos to share with their class. However, we thought it would be worth exploring a few top tips for great presenting to help over the next few months. These have been compiled by one of our colleagues, ex-BBC director and our content marketing manager, Anne Buckland:

    Tip 1 – Speak to the camera as if it’s a trusted friend. A key tip for presenting is to imagine a good friend’s face where the lens is. It can really help to create a more relaxed atmosphere for both you and your audience. We know that it can be a slight transition to make when teachers are used to having a class in front of them to gauge, but this trick can make the presenting to a camera a little easier.

    Tip 2 – Use more energy than you think is necessary. The camera can take a lot of energy, and it’s worth upping your energy when presenting to ensure that you come across well. It may feel a little unnatural at first, but it will be worth it in the long run.

    Tip 3 – Ensure the focus is in the right place. The camera will automatically focus on the centre of the screen (if you’re using auto focus), and so make sure that your face is in the centre when speaking. If your face is off to the left or to the right, then the camera will focus on what’s over your shoulder, and you may seem a little blurred.

    Tip 4 – Be mindful of your background. More to the point, think carefully if you have any bright light sources behind you. Just as the camera will auto focus on the centre of the screen, a camera will also adapt the exposure for the most dominant light source.  This means, that if you have a lamp behind you, or a bright window, your face is more likely to be in shadow. Try to ensure that any light source is in front of you when recording, and not behind you.

    Tip 5 – Think about your background sound. We realise it may not always be possible, but try to ensure that you’ve thought about background noises when recording. It can be really helpful with this to get a cheap plug in mic for your phone or camera, to ensure that the recording prioritises your voice, against any noises that may be around you. If you are in a place where the background noise suddenly increases, it’s worth pausing the recording until it’s subsided, as your class will be able to hear you better if you’re not battling the sound of something else.

    A note about copyright

    One popular type of video that teachers have wanted to share is the reading of stories and poems. It should be noted that unless the story or poem is in the public domain, there may be copyright implications around sharing videos of this type. It may be necessary to get permission from the copyright holder (usually the publisher) before recording and sharing such content. The way the recording is shared may also have an impact on what is and is not permitted (e.g. whether it is shared on a public or private platform.) Some publishers are granting special permission for recorded real-alouds, under certain conditions, and you can find a list of publisher permission details. The authority on copyright for schools and other sectors is the CLA.

    If you are using images in your video, for example as a background for a green-screen project, copyright is also an important consideration. It should be accepted that unless it is clear that an image is in the public domain and/or is labelled as cleared for re-use, then copyright would prevent it being used in your video (unless you took the photograph yourself, of course, in which case you are the copyright holder.)

    Therefore, it is a good idea to source pictures from a site that is dedicated to sharing images that are cleared for re-use, as opposed to just searching for images online using a standard image search. Websites such as Pixabay or Unsplash can be useful for staff use, for these purposes. Always check the image is free for use without attribution.

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