I’ve been working in the world of higher education for the past seven years as a video media technologist. While video technologies have been advancing at amazing rates, one thing hasn’t changed: You still have to look into that emotionless lens when speaking to a camera audience. There’s no getting around it, and the first time is always a struggle.
Trying to connect with an audience you can’t see is a skill that is hard to master. Most of us just aren’t cut out for it. As the video producer for Davidson College’s venture into the world of MOOCs, one of the biggest challenges I face is trying to capture on camera the energy that is present in a classroom setting.
As a small liberal arts college, Davidson’s faculty pride themselves in their ability to connect with their students and form close academic relationships. So, how do you take professors who excel in a small classroom environment, remove them from it, place them in a studio in front of a camera, and then ask them to connect with students they cannot see?
After completing our first course, “Medicinal Chemistry: The Molecular Basis of Drug Discovery,” which consists of 60 video elements, I learned that practice really does make perfect. It is important to get the professor in front of the camera early and often, no matter how uncomfortable the situation might seem at first.
The first weeks are likely to be throw-away shoots but during this time, your MOOC team (your media team and the professor) will establish a rhythm. It’s likely your team will have to go back and reshoot some of those first weeks. At the beginning of a shoot, I remind our professors that the product isn’t going to be perfect, but whatever happens, they should just keep moving forward.
When we make mistakes while talking to a camera, we often fixate on them in our minds instead of letting go and moving on with the material. When we fixate, the mistakes start to snowball. My strategy of encouraging professors to press on, no matter how bad it may seem, pushes them forward through the material to the end. This is the goal, to have a complete take. Over time, fixations disappear and they move forward seamlessly, despite stumbling over a word or the occasional awkward pause while they gather their thoughts. I remind them that most mistakes can be fixed in post-production, but if they stop and give up on a take, we’ve gained nothing.
By the time we got to the last third of the shoots on our first MOOC, we typically completed a single take with little to no mistakes to fix in post-production.
Often a professor gets stuck and will struggle with a section–especially after multiple takes. The professor is presenting material that they are passionate about. Keep that passion in focus at all times. It might mean stopping the camera and simply talking to them about their material for several minutes in a conversational way. Ask questions and engage the professor between takes. These between-take interactions often spark their passion and refocus their energy.
Putting oneself on camera is a very personal process. While it is not a two-way form of communication, it is still a very personal form of communication for the individual facing the lens. It requires a lot of trust, and this is a big hurdle that the person behind the camera has to navigate. It ultimately falls on that person’s shoulders to make sure the professor comes across in a manner that is engaging to the virtual student audience. When it all comes together, what you capture will be an authentic experience for the viewer, and that is the ultimate goal.