TEACHING AT PITT: Enhancing engagement with introduction videos

Image from Purdue University Innovative Learning through a Creative Commons license.



Was your first full term of remote teaching too … remote? Perhaps more distant, cold or impersonal than you would like?

You’re not alone — fostering connection and engagement is a consistent challenge that we face in a remote-instruction environment.

But one easy-to-implement, evidence-based approach can help: producing a video introduction to you and your course. An introduction video is an opportunity for you to present yourself as a person and to tell your students why you’re excited about the topics that you plan to cover.

And, even if creating an excellent intro video sounds daunting, through the University Center for Teaching and Learning you have free access to a team of veteran producers who can make your video — and you — look, feel and sound your best as you aim for greater engagement next semester.

What does the research say about video introductions, how can the Teaching Center’s Academic Digital Media team help you with the creation of an effective intro, and what are the advantages of working with a professional media team? This article answers those questions and outlines best practices for you to use in crafting your intro.

Well established research supports the idea of producing intro videos.

Randy Garrison’s Community of Inquiry theoretical framework shows that the intersection of three types of presence — social, teaching and cognitive — improves student experiences with online and blended learning. Introduction videos enhance all three categories of presence.

Social presence is how students and teachers project their personal characteristics by giving a sense of themselves as real people. An intro video attaches a face, voice and personality to your digital presence.

Teaching presence includes fostering learning outcomes that are personally meaningful for students. Peter Shea has shown that having a visibly active instructor correlates to students’ sense of connectedness to the material. The result: an increase in students’ perceptions that they are supported and included.

Cognitive presence is the degree to which students and teachers can engage through sustained communication. Your intro video is an opening volley for a robust communication routine that will continue throughout the term. Encouraging students to create their own videos can enhance that sense of dialogue even further.

The Teaching Center’s Academic Digital Media team can help.

With a professional-grade studio and a staff possessing decades of media production experience, the Academic Digital Media team has you in good hands when you go to them to produce your video.

The team will give you valuable coaching about how to project a pleasing and effective image. You can come in for a socially distant recording session in their studio, and afterward they can edit gaffes or slip-ups in a subtle way that won’t distract from your important content and that may even enhance your video’s aesthetic appeal.

Media producers Joe Nolfi and Pat Walsh both stress that today’s media-savvy students have high expectations. According to Nolfi, “employing a professional team results in a markedly better video that can appeal to today’s students. A video that can stand out reaches student interest.”

Walsh adds that “the online component of a course needs to be visual, interesting and able to keep the attention of people living in an ever-expanding digital world.”

Nolfi wants all faculty to know, “We’re here, and we’re able to reduce your workload at the same time that we can improve the quality of the media that you produce.”

Creating your own videos using a DIY approach is an excellent option — and even has some benefits over a professionally produced video in some cases, like showing you in a more relaxed and casual setting or allowing you to stay away from campus during COVID — and so the Academic Digital Media team also is available to help with your own video creation process.

Yet the team emphasizes that the polished look of a professional video, and your use of the best technology and facilities that Pitt has to offer, sends a strong signal to students.

What best practices should you follow for an intro video?

  • Write a script, whether you read directly from it or not, as an essential planning step.

  • Aim for a video between three and five minutes long.

  • Amp up your enthusiasm; video tends to wash out emotion, so a delivery style that feels over-the-top to you might be just what you need.

  • Craft your video with long-term use in mind so that you don’t need to return to the studio every semester. Avoid seasonal references and stick to a level of generality that will cover you for several terms. Introduction videos will still be useful in the post-COVID era.

  • Consider having two videos, one that introduces you and that you can use for all of your courses and one that is specific to each course.

For additional resources on this topic, please consult the references below, consult the Teaching Center website for tips on educational video in general, and visit Academic Digital Media and scroll down to “Media Production Form” to arrange for a consultation.

  • Garrison, D. R., Anderson, T., & Archer, W. (2000). Critical inquiry in a text-based environment: Computer conferencing in higher education. The Internet and Higher Education, 2(2-3), 87-105.

  • Shea, P., Swan, K., Li, C. S., & Pickett, A. (2005). Developing learning community in online asynchronous college courses: The role of teaching presence. Journal of Asynchronous Learning Networks, 9(4), 59-82.

J.D. Wright is a teaching consultant at the University Center for Teaching and Learning.