Video is a powerful medium in education. It can inspire, explain, and provoke emotion and action. Most of all, video provides a means of visual storytelling, and in the world of education, storytelling is an incredible mechanism for sharing best practices so that others can learn from them.
Last year, EdSurge and Digital Promise launched the first ever Digital Innovation in Learning Awards (or DILAs), encouraging educators, administrators and organizations to share their practices and products with the world through the power of video media. The winning entries had several elements in common, and we're highlighting them here so aspiring storytellers can continually learn from each other's successes.
So, how do you become an expert digital storyteller? Here are five tips for conveying a powerful narrative in a three-minute video that looks and sounds good. And by the way, educators--these tips are equally useful for those classroom digital storytelling lessons!
1. Plan: What's the story? How will you make it?
Before you start the camera rolling, ask yourself: What is the story you want to tell? Fine-tune your message so you can state it in one sentence. Then, consider how your audio and visual content helps support that one message. If you’re applying for the DILAs, you’re not required to tell us in the video that you’re applying for a certain award (this way you can use the video for a different purpose later), but make sure your core message communicates the aspects of your practice or program that embody the award description.
Watch how Lightsail, one of the winners of the Mindful Data Award in 2014, clearly states the core message up front to target the award:
Next consider: What will you need to produce this story? Try using a mindmapping tool like Coggle or Popplet to brainstorm all the items you will want to mention, people you should feature and actions you want to show. Turn that brainstorm into a storyboard and shot list to help you organize what video shots you need and when. Gather your equipment. These days, phones and tablets are great options if you don’t have a good DSLR camera. Then, spend a few minutes searching for apps and tools to help you maximize your camera and audio, and make editing easy. Even if you don’t have iMovie, lots of tools are available for video editing, even right in YouTube!
2. Let actions tell your story.
We want to see your story come alive! Rather than relying on testimonials (which are mostly shots of people speaking), try layering narration on action shots. If you have some video footage of a particularly amazing interaction or process, let it speak for itself!
When you’re making your shot list, remember that three photo or video shots can communicate a story better than one. A wide shot provides context and location to establish where the scene is happening (a classroom, a community park, a robotics show, etc). A medium shot communicates the action: Are people building, dancing, debating, coding? Finally, a close-up captures detail (fingers making something, or words being typed on a screen) and emotion (eyes and facial expressions might show excitement for learning or deep concentration).
In 2014, Michael Hernandez won the Creative Director Award--so we know we can learn from his cinematography skills. Watch how he drives home the message in his narration by showing action shots from a variety of perspectives.
3. Find your light and be still.
Find good, natural light when you film. The best light usually takes occurs when it’s cloudy, under a tree, under a shaded overhang, or by a window with a white shade pulled down. Avoid situations where the main light source is behind the subject, like filming someone in front of a window. If you have access to professional equipment for creating good light, like a softbox, take advantage of it.
Also, remember that most of us are not James Cameron--keep your camera still unless you really are filming an action movie. (More guidance on filming action shots is, unfortunately, outside our expertise). Use a tripod if possible, or if not, brace yourself or your camera against a desk, wall or chair.
4. Be creative to get good audio.
Sound and audio can be tricky, we know. External microphones like lavalier mics help you capture sound from close by even if the video camera is further away. Don’t have an external mic? We bet you do…on your phone, tablet, or laptop! Try using one device for video and another for audio. Remember to ask your video subjects to clap once when you begin recording on both devices. This way, you can sync the audio and video when you're editing by aligning the visual clap with the sound spike it creates.
For recording pure audio, like for narration, open spaces outside or in a big room will produce distracting reverberations. Experiment with recording in closets, cars, or even under blankets.
5. Use music to set the tone.
Consider how music can help you tell your story — do you want to inspire people, create a sense of urgency, or simply communicate positivity or playfulness? Music frames the tone of your story from the first moment, and also can help tie the whole story together, particularl if you combine narration and action shots.
When you choose music, remember that you need tracks that are licensed for "free use," and attribute the track to the artist accordingly. You can’t use One Direction (#sorrynotsorry), but never fear, there are plenty of available databases. Try the Free Music Archive or Incompetech. Or coax your students into making an original (and appropriate) unique track!
Watch how administrator Donna Teuber, winner of the 2015 Power to the People DILA, uses music to set a tone and create a unified story in her video submission.
We know, of course, that most DILAs applicants are not trained videographers. We’re not expecting Oscar-worthy cinematography and production. We just want you tell your story well--so that it can inspire others. The better we can see you, hear you, and grasp your core message, the more we care about and learn from your work.
Lights, camera, action!
Major thanks to the companies who help make the DILAs possible!