UKEdMag: Lights, Camera, Action in the Classroom by @ICTMagic

First published in the January 2017 edition of UKEdMagazine

There a few more evocative and powerful mediums than video. From the latest Hollywood blockbuster to the shaky mobile captured videos recording of our family holidays, video has a way of moving us and immerse us completely in the experience. Watching video requires few prerequisites and is usually accessible to all pupils regardless of academic or reading ability. The viewer doesn’t necessarily need to understand the language of the audio track to understand the meaning the video is attempting the convey.


This article originally appeared in the January 2017 Edition of UKEdMagazine

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Video have been a mainstay in our classrooms for decades, but long gone are the days of the TV trolley and the habitual ‘talk amongst yourselves’ moments while the teacher displays their inability to get the VHS player to work. From my own childhood I fondly remember Wordy from Look and Read teaching me about magic ‘E’ (See bit.ly/uked17jan10 to experience the joy of 1980s children’s TV). However, the use of video in schools has advanced significantly of the decades – now it is the computer that the teacher can’t get to work!

Video is used in amazing and ingenious ways in our classrooms to augment the learning of our pupils. You can browse many educational videos listed via uked.directory for some superb examples to use with your pupils. But there is much to be gained from making videos yourself, either recorded by the teacher or in collaboration with the pupils. Quick and instant videos are a great way to capture your pupils at work or for giving instructions, but in this article I will suggest ways to improve to technical side of video production to the next level for those of you who want to go beyond a quick ‘snap and shoot’.

What’s The Plan?

Before starting your production itself, it is important to observe how the professionals do it and have a clear idea of how you want it to look and feel. Instructional/educational videos, ‘to camera’ presentations like the news, and drama all look differently to the viewer. Observe how each genre transitions to different scenes, look at the use of camera position, zoom (there is actually very little of this), effects and overlays, sound and lighting. Each is done with purpose and should be considered carefully for best results.

In schools it can be very difficult to find a quiet place to record videos. Consider the location of filming carefully. Because of necessity, most school videos of alien worlds, pirate ships and deep dark forests look just like classrooms. A few well place rolled up jumpers, beanbags and cardboard boxes can create a passable landscape – better than seen on StarTrek at least. Be adventurous and use what is around you. Your school grounds might look like a forest, a few bed sheets sails and wooden pallets can give a sense of a pirate ship, and the Head’s office always has the feel of an alien world.

If locations are a problem you may wish to opt for chroma key effect, often referred to as ‘green screening’, to create a digital backdrop to the video. This has advantages and disadvantages. Adding the background in post production means that you can record the video anywhere and without the need for a real background. The disadvantage is that it can be tricky to get the consistent background colour and shading needed to allow a computer to recognise the background and remove it. Many schools paint a green wall somewhere in their school to use for this, but you need to consider how you can control the lighting and sound in that location, so you need to avoid areas that you can’t curtain off and corridors that are noisy and echo. You also need to keep the green surface clean for best results. If a wall is not suitable you can buy green screening cloth and frame (see bit.ly/uked17jan11), or use a pop-up coloured background (see bit.ly/uked17jan12) which will not require ironing each time you take it out of storage. Check out TouchCast bit.ly/uked17jan13 and Green Screen by Do Ink bit.ly/uked17jan14 for apps to help you to use green screening.

Light

Lighting is important if you want to get the best quality image for your videos, especially if you are recording inside. The ceiling mounted fluorescent strip lighting found in most schools is not ideal for videos as it causes shadows. You may wish to invest in some ‘studio lights’ bit.ly/uked17jan15 to give better light coverage. This is especially important if you are using chroma key effect.

There are a different set of lighting issues if you capturing the video outside. Cameras using automatic setting are designed to adjust the exposure, which means your protagonists may appear too dark, or the sky too light. Change the position or adjust the settings if this is happening. It is mostly an issue when you move the camera while recording, as cameras take a moment to adapt to the new conditions. If you are recording with your camera in a fixed position throughout there shouldn’t be many issues.

Sound

The great @eyebeams once remarked that sound is often the last consideration when recording video. Ambient sounds can really detract from the quality of the final product and getting the sound right while recording is much easier than dealing with it in post production, unless you want to practise your foley artistry skills.

As mentioned before, the most important aspect is to have a suitably quiet place to record in the first place. You can invest in various types of microphones, including wired mics, radio mics and directional floor mics. Each has its pros and cons, but it is more important that your actors and crew use this wisely. Too many videos are ruined by clip on mic rubbing against clothing or heavy footsteps being picked up by a floor mic drowning out dialogue. A little of this is inevitable, but it can be minimised and edited out if the protagonists are aware of the microphones and try not to move too much and speak at the same time. Your actors also need to speak at an appropriate volume. It is tempting to speak too loudly when filming if you are not sure how well the device is picking up your voice. On the other end of the spectrum, you need to ensure that the subjects are not whispering with shyness or reading with their heads down into rustling pieces of paper.

Equipment

In addition to light and microphones, you might actually need a camera as well! For the vast majority of uses a smartphone or tablet camera will be good enough for your needs. You will also need a tripod to avoid shaky hand videos. You can buy tripod mounts for most cameras, smartphones and tablets these days. If you are feeling very adventurous you might consider recording aerial scenes using a drone which can record video.

Shooting Drama Videos

One of the main technical differences of recording drama is that shots are usually quite short. If you watch a professional production you will notice that the camera shot moves every few seconds to focus on a different person, group or objects. The professionals usually do this by having multiple camera which they can switch between in production. To avoid so much editing after filming, it is actually easier to stop and restart the filming and moving your camera. Also, unless you are ‘breaking the 4th wall’ and speaking to the audience, the actors should avoid looking directly at the camera as this changes the interactions between the audience and those on screen.

Shooting ‘To Camera’ Presentations and Instructional/Educational Videos

If the subject is talking to the audience directly, they need to look directly at the camera lens, not the screen or anywhere else. This makes a connection with the audience, just like eye contact does in social situations. Memorise what you are going to say rather than reading, even if this means that the presenter needs to ad lib a little. The body language also needs to be considered. It is good to move a little as you talk, as long as your hands do not come between the present and the camera.

Not everyone can ‘monologue’ to the camera in one continuous take. It this is the case, you can record for as long as you can and get to the end of a sentence, stitch your video clips together in post production and then overlay a relevant image to hide the break.

Instructional/educational videos using whiteboard capturing or a digital canvases, like those created with explaineverything.com, are superb for both teachers and pupils to use, but try taking inspiration from documentaries and mix in some ‘to camera’ sections from a presenter and footage about the thing you are discussing to make it truly exceptional.

Post Production

There are many apps and software to meet a variety of needs and budgets. Windows Movie Maker is a superb editing suit for beginners and it is available for free on Windows devices. iMovie bit.ly/uked17jan16 and Slice bit.ly/uked17jan17 have similar features for iOS devices.
It is tempting to include lots of whizzy effects and transitions when editing your video. Instead, keep it uncluttered and use the opportunity to balance the lighting and improve the sound track by removing sounds which shouldn’t be there.

Lastly, think about where you post your video. Online video or via social media is easily accessible for your audience, but you need to ensure that child protection principles have been adhered to.

See you at the Oscars.


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