Video and Audio

The Fundamentals of Video and Audio for Teaching Online

We’ve developed this page to help you think through what you need -- and how you can best set it up -- to teach clearly and effectively. The better your students can see and hear you, the easier it is for them to connect and engage with the material in your course. Simple, achievable visual and audio configurations will enhance your pedagogy and media production.

Whether you are presenting via Zoom, creating materials in advance for students to engage with before class, or developing visual and audio materials throughout the semester, this page will help you:

These recommended practices build on the Best Practices page of this site, and apply to both synchronous and asynchronous teaching. They come from multi-media learning experts with thousands of hours of experience developing instructional media. In addition, there is a rich vein of academic scholarship that speaks to the ways in which well-crafted and thoughtfully prepared video and audio materials can have a meaningful impact on students' learning experiences

Some General Advice

Focus on engaging with your students

  • Spend the time to make sure your teaching space is set up to match your teaching style. It will improve your and your students’ experience. It is not necessary to invest in high-budget production, or spend any money at all, to achieve this. An informal setting can create a personal feel, and help students feel connected to you.
  • Take advantage of the ways that audio and visual technologies enhance learners’ experience in your course. Bring a sense of enthusiasm into your voice when you are presenting, use compelling audio and visual examples to deepen learners’ understanding of key terms and concepts, and make full use of collaborative technologies whenever possible. (See Best Practices for helpful remote teaching guidance and tools.) 
  • Use closed captioning and auto-generated transcripts, not only to ensure fully equitable instruction for everyone, but because learners with different styles benefit from a combination of written, spoken, and visual material. Harvard's Digital Accessibility Services offers recommendations on captioning.

Prepare your audio and visual teaching in advance

  • Use scripting, planning, and prototyping materials for colleagues to review. They'll help you focus and help your students learn better.
  • Stick to your learning objectives. It is tempting to add a lot of information to videos, voiceovers, and slides. Be sure to use media to support your learning goals, not distract from them. You can lighten your students’ cognitive load by keeping your materials focused, relevant, and engaging.

Optimize Your A/V Practices

The advice here applies to creating both synchronous and asynchronous materials. You can also visit Prepare Your Content in Advance for more suggestions.

Configure Your Teaching Space

Your teaching space should allow you to teach in your own style and to feel comfortable, prepared, and able to fully engage with your students. You don’t need to spend a fortune -- or any money at all -- to make that possible. Below, we have included a few key things to think about as you get yourself set up for teaching this year.

  • Lighting
  • Backgrounds and locations
  • Sitting vs. standing; showing up on camera
  • Recorded audio quality
  • Your home network

Lighting

  • Diagram of a home computer lighting arrangementMake sure your face is well lit, to help your students feel like they are present with you, whether you are teaching synchronously or asynchronously.
  • Light yourself from the front: consider a desk lamp moved behind and above your computer. Position it to have the light come from above and off slightly to one side of your face at a ~30-45 degree angle.
  • Avoid backlight and overhead lighting, as these can cast unflattering shadows.
  • Don't sit or stand with a window behind you, as the camera's light balance will be thrown off and your face mostly obscured.

Background and locations

  • Avoid busy backgrounds. Students may be tempted to spend more time examining what’s going on behind you than focusing on the material, and many cameras (especially those built into computers) have a hard time remaining focused on your face if there are a lot of things competing for autofocus.
  • Protect your own digital privacy: avoid having photos or objects that would allow someone to find you or your loved ones and potentially compromise your security online.
  • Avoid backgrounds showing copyright-protected artwork, images, or objects. Should you envision a future use for your content, this may prevent you from doing so.

Sitting vs. standing; showing up on camera

Some instructors will want to stand, some will want to sit. The choice is ultimately yours, although it may be the case that standing can help increase a sense of energy and dynamism. We suggest continuing whichever format you typically used in your face-to-face classes. In either scenario, we recommend the following:

  • Place yourself in the center of the frame. Your head should be equally far from the left and right, and in the upper third of the frame.Drawings of people's heads and shoulders
  • Position your camera at or slightly above eye level: when you look at the screen you will be making ‘eye contact’ with your audience. This will help with creating and maintaining a connection with your students.
  • Set the screen and camera perpendicular to the ground: use books, a small sturdy box, or a stand to prop up your laptop or tablet.
  • Establish a steady foundation for yourself and your camera: sit in a chair that doesn’t spin, and make sure your computer and camera are not on a wobbly surface.
  • Put your script where you can see it: there is no perfect way to manage reading from a script while recording yourself on camera. While we have provided a few options, there are compromises with each. Practice it a few ways to figure out what is most comfortable for you.Diagram of woman looking at her laptop computer's camera
    • If you are using a desktop computer, have your scripts positioned at eye level and just to the side of your camera so you can refer to them as you deliver your lines.
    • If you are using a second device for a camera, such as an iPhone, you can use your desktop or laptop as a teleprompter. Position it just below the device, and reference your notes, slides, or script as you move through your presentation.

Recorded audio quality

  • Prioritize making sure you can be heard: clear audio will help your students follow along. Conversely, muffled or garbled audio will make it hard for your students to understand what you are saying. Beautiful images won’t matter if the audio isn’t clear.
  • Consider a USB mic for recording asynchronous content. For synchronous experiences, your onboard mic and speakers are usually sufficient, but we recommend investing in a USB mic for asynchronous production. USB mics are available at a wide range of price points, from relatively inexpensive to professional-grade (see Tools and Equipment below). The choice should be driven by your own preferences and the guidance and suggestions of your department’s or school’s HUIT team.
  • Use a quiet space: find a location where you will be free as possible from aural distractions - people talking, pets barking, fans whirring, trucks beeping, etc. - as these can affect sound quality.

Your home network

Your network connection matters. The following tips may help prevent technical problems that would derail synchronous class time, distract the learners, and impede learning.

  • Use at least 20Mbps bandwidth whenever possible: Zoom requires a minimum bandwidth of 600 kbps (up/down) and recommends 1.5Mbps, but we generally find more - 20 Mbps - is better. To check the speed of your network, we suggest running Speedtest to check your upload/download speeds. If you’re not getting the speed you need, consider plugging into a wired connection. See also HUIT's recommendations on how to test your internet speed.
  • Keep your software up to date and your computer’s battery charged.
  • If your computer is slow or running out of storage, get your computer evaluated by your department’s or school’s HUIT team.

Prepare Your Content in Advance

By scripting, storyboarding, and practicing your content ahead of time, you can alleviate some of the complexities of online teaching and draw on the right set of tools and technologies to help with your learning objectives. The tips below are designed for those who plan to pre-record asynchronous content, but the principles apply to synchronous material as well.

Scripting

Writing a script before capturing your audio and video will enable you to be clear and direct about what you are trying to communicate and what you want the learner to focus on. Scripting helps you choose your best words, devise your most cogent explanation, and thereby create a clear, crisp video.

  • Keep the tone conversational and your sentences short. A 2-minute video, for example, has an average of 360 words.
  • Select the images you plan to use first, then write your script. This will help you organize the structure of your script.
  • Minimize extraneous ideas, words, images, and sounds.
  • Add cues, verbal emphases, and highlights to direct the student’s attention to important information.

Storyboarding or class flow planning

To help you focus the design of your materials, start by storyboarding to help you plan the flow of information you intend to cover. Just as a detailed class flow plan can help you stay organized during synchronous teaching, a storyboard will help you organize the visual sequence you want to occur on screen when you’re creating pre-recorded materials. A storyboard sketches out how a video, sequence of graphics, or interactive experience will unfold, shot by shot. You do not need to be an artist or designer to create an effective storyboard. You can use paper and pen, slides, or even pre-built templates available online.

Drawing of a sample storyboard

As part of this planning, take the time to practice moving between your content and the tools you are using. For example, you may want to make notes on your slides or lecture materials about when you want to be speaking directly to the camera, when you want to share your screen and for what, when you want to put students into breakout rooms (and for how long), and when you will be asking other individuals (co-instructors, TFs, or student presenters) to share their screens. You might even want to put in reminders to yourself about muting and unmuting students if it will make your lecture go more smoothly at certain points.

Practicing and prototyping

If you have a complex class flow, practice! Make sure you can segue seamlessly from one idea to the next.

Moving from an idea to a concrete result takes time and often several iterations. If your materials include multiple visuals or elements in addition to voiceover, create a small sample, or prototype, and show a colleague or peer. By doing so, you will learn where your material needs more clarity. As a low-fidelity representation of your intended design, your sample is a useful way to get feedback on areas of your design and clarity of the information you aim to convey. For example:

  • A 1- to 2-minute sample of a script or draft of a video with placeholder images.
  • A storyboard or set of slides illustrating the sequence of information.
  • Drafts of polls or instructions for collaborative work.

Additional tips on preparing your content in advance

  • Always keep accessibility in mind: across the full range of tools and content you are using, it is very important that any materials you create are perceivable for people with color blindness; descriptions or screen reader capability is provided for those who have limited vision; and closed-captions or transcripts are provided for those who may not be able to hear well. (See the Accessibility tips elsewhere on this site, as well as the recommendations on captioning from Harvard's Digital Accessibility Services.) 
  • Increase engagement through variety: consider using a diverse set of teaching tools including collaborative projects, whiteboard or blackboarding, audio or video materials you or others create, and face-to-face interactions. These will help keep your students’ attention piqued and the course material engaging.
  • Always come back to your learning objectives: make sure that any tools or technologies you’re using are in the service of the specific concepts, terms, or skills you have identified as priorities for the lesson.

Tools and Equipment

Much of what you need to accomplish can be done through Zoom and an additional webcam – see Home Setup for details. However, if you are feeling more adventurous, here are some additional recommendations for production and post production tools we recommend. 

Tool

Advantages

Drawbacks

Screen Recording and Editing

Panopto

  • Limited editing functionality.

Premiere Pro

 

Keynote

  • Only available on Macs.

PowerPoint

  • Your face never appears on the screen.
  • You are tied to slides. 

Screenflow

  • Another option for screen recording.
  • Allows video and audio capture, editing, highlighting and annotation.
  • See instructions here and here.
  • Not officially supported by HUIT.
  • Only available on Macs.
  • No ability to draw on screen.
  • No ability to insert polls or quizzes.
  • May require additional fees.

Camtasia

  • Provides screen recording and editing functionality integrated into one program.
  • Allows you to capture your slides, annotations, and desktop recording, edit files, and export your files.
  • Allows you to insert quizzes and polls. 
  • Not officially supported by HUIT.
  • May require additional fees.

QuickTime Player

  • Another option for screen recording. The software comes with the Mac OS. 
  • Only available on Macs.
  • Not officially supported by HUIT.
  • No integrated editing functionality.

Video Sharing and Storage

Panopto

  • Limited editing functionality.

Kaltura

 

Tablets and Whiteboarding

Wacom tablet (e.g., Wacom Intuos or Wacom One Creative)

  • Allows you to draw, annotate slides, or create diagrams, such as how to work through non-linear equations, how a process works, etc.
  • Simpler models do not have a screen.
  • You must write or draw while watching your desktop monitor.

iPad (6th generation or above) or iPad Pro with Apple pencil

  • Alternative option for tablet capture.
  • Syncs with your Zoom application when sharing your screen. 
  • More expensive than Wacom.

Miro

  • A collaborative whiteboard software tool for real time ideation, brainstorming, and design. 
  • Not officially supported by HUIT.

Cameras and Microphones

USB Webcam (Logitech, or a similar model)

  • Better picture quality than the standard camera built into a laptop or monitor.
  • Can be positioned and directed separately from your computer screen.
 

USB Microphone (Blue Yeti, or a similar model)

  • Better audio quality than a standard headset or a computer's built-in microphone. 
  • Needs to be positioned carefully to avoid room echo.

Home Setup: Putting It All Together

Now that we have covered the basics, let’s put this together. Take a look below at a common setup you and many of your peers can create, often with tools and equipment you already have. It integrates direct-to-camera with tablet capture or white boarding.

  • Laptop, or desktop with monitor
  • Webcam
  • Tablet, or whiteboarding software
  • Lamplight
  • USB Mic

Note there are a variety of setups you can create depending on your preference, budget, and comfort level with the tools and technology. It is ultimately up to you to decide what will work best depending on your pedagogical goals.

Resources and References