How to Record A Lecture: 7 Tips to Enhance the Learning Experience

Teacher recording online lesson using smartphone standing on tripod

Since long before professors and students were forced out of classrooms by a global pandemic, academia has been studying the efficacy of “lecture capture,” or recording lectures for students. The recordings can serve as substitutes for in-person teaching. They can be used as references for students who watched live but didn’t take note of every word out of the educator’s mouth. Or as materials assigned to supplement interactive class time (ie, homework).

But those reasons weren’t convincing to most academics—until COVID-19 came along. The pandemic forced the vast majority of educators to adopt various forms of virtual teaching, including recorded lectures. Now the question isn’t whether to record lectures, but how to do it well. Here’s a primer.

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Why record your lectures?

In a 2021 study by Cengage, 73 percent of students said they would prefer at least some fully online courses. Students noted the value of recorded lectures when it came to: making up for a missed class, watching lectures on demand, and improving their retention of the materials to increase their test scores. 

Now, colleges and universities everywhere are investing heavily in supporting hybrid or completely asynchronous learning. For instance, Michigan Technological University outfitted classrooms with high-tech ceiling tiles that support wall-to-wall microphone coverage, and Boston University is opening a dedicated center for digital learning aimed at reimagining how—and where—education happens. 

Some professors have used these recorded lectures as a teaching aid in so-called “flipped classroom” scenarios, in which students complete readings and watch lectures on their own time, and work on interactive problem-solving in the classroom. The pandemic has made that model more widely attractive. 

“I think that now that we're in a new age necessitated by COVID, that pedagogy [of the flipped classroom] is going to become a lot more popular,” says Dr. Dan Frank of The University of California, Santa Barbara Writing Program. 

“The idea pushes against the expectation that you need to demand and control their attention in a lecture. I think teachers should let students process content and lectures at their own time and pace and reserve class time for active work and learning.” He says his students appreciate the ability to work with an interactive, searchable transcript; to take breaks when they need them, and to focus on how they learn best, through visual, text, or audio modes.

Capturing lectures isn’t just beneficial for students; instructors can gauge their students’ engagement by using video analytics to see which students watched when and for how long. They can also elicit feedback directly from students about what’s working and what isn’t.

Recorded content is scalable, so it doesn’t matter the size of the class. And because students watch on their own time, a class can happen in any time zone.

How to record and edit your lecture with Descript

Most professors still record lectures and other content on their own, in classrooms, offices, or home offices. Luckily, good recordings don’t require much more than software, a built-in webcam and microphone, and a good strategy. 

Dr. Frank uses Descript to edit his lectures. “I speed it up to 1.5x and then make my edits and cuts as I work through my recording.” Creating edited versions of his lectures allows him to review the lecture content, search an archive of old lectures, and copy and paste from them as needed—which cuts his workload if he is teaching the same class over again or lecturing on the same topic. 

Recording and editing lectures with Descript is easy. You can record a video of your screen, and edit it together with a voiceover recording and video from your webcam.

To make a screen recording, take the following steps:

  • Click on the “Start screen recording” button on the screen recorder menu or press the “Start/Stop recording” keyboard shortcut. You will be prompted to drag a box outlining the screen area you would like to record.
  • When you are recording, a small recording timer on the right side of the area will allow you to stop the recording, pause, and restart.
  • While Descript is recording, any mouse clicks will be circled so students can follow on the screen.
  • Click the “Stop” icon in the recording dock to complete the recording.
  • After the recording is complete, the “Quick Editor” will prompt you to edit or tidy up your screen recording, and then publish and copy a link and send it to the web.

You can access additional screen recording settings for shortcuts and additional editing settings.

7 Tips for creating recorded lectures

Regardless of how sophisticated your recording setup is, these tips can help you create engaging recorded lectures.

1. Show your face

A disadvantage of asynchronous learning is not having the advantage of the student-instructor personal connection. Showing your speaking face (rather than a static image) helps establish that bond, even if students are watching a pre-recorded lecture. 

2. Write a script

One of the best ways to record a lecture that stays on topic and keeps students engaged is to create a script. Think of your lecture as an educational podcast, and approach writing a script with that in mind.

If a script hampers your conversational teaching style, you might consider a partial script that allows you to depart from it at certain points, or simply a set of bullet points. Dr. Frank gives this tip: “I talk my way through the slides, extemporizing and using the bullet points to guide my talk. Whenever I can I make eye contact with the camera and try to put on a good, strong, engaging show.” If he makes a mistake, he knows it will be easy to catch and edit later on. 

3. Prepare visual material and slides

Along with a strong personal presence, prepared visual materials are key in keeping students engaged. Use slides to emphasize the points in your lecture that are crucial, making sure your lecture and slides aren’t redundant.

4. Speak fluently

Those who taught virtually over platforms like Zoom during Covid, lockdowns are likely somewhat comfortable with talking to a computer screen for an extended period. In virtual teaching situations, a fluent, conversational style is even more important than in a classroom, since professors need to make an extra effort to keep students’ attention. 

5. Optimize audio and video

Professors who have become proficient at recording lectures create a clean and professional on-camera workspace and backdrop and invest in technology that will enhance their recording. (Dr. Frank uses a condenser microphone, a high-quality HD webcam, and uses a ring light to enhance and soften his lighting setup.) Also consider:

  • Avoid backlighting and low lighting. Remember, you’re lighting for video—not for real life—so take cues from cinematography best practices. Sitting in front of a bright light source obscures your face, and low lighting can make video look grainy. Try a three-point lighting setup if you feel ambitious. 
  • Work in a quiet space:  You’re not expected to record in a studio, but keep background noise to a minimum. Traffic noise, loud air conditioners, nearby voices, and even the hum of your laptop fan can interfere with good audio quality.
  • Position the camera correctly: A webcam that sits about eye level makes for the most approachable video. 

6. Remove filler words

You can focus on speaking as clearly as possible but editing through Descript allows you to remove fillers words. Dr. Frank says he doesn’t worry about fillers or mistakes, “because I know it will be easy to catch and delete the flubbed line. I just repeat the line correctly and move on. I also stop and think frequently, knowing all pauses will automatically be removed… I first clear out any ‘Ums’ and ‘Uhs’ and remove all pauses longer than a second.” 

7. Provide captions and a transcript

Many students learn best when they can read text along with or after a recorded lecture. Descript allows you to caption and to publish with a transcript so students who learn best in those modalities can take advantage of both. It also ensures your lectures will be available to students with hearing impairments or other disabilities that restrict their ability to consume video.

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