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A new approach to filming lecture videos – featuring Amit Jain

Good ideas have a way of seeming brilliant and obvious at the same time. How can we marry the convenience and access of online learning with the electricity of engaging with students in person?

Professor and Chair of Computer Science Amit Jain is trying a new way, and the results have everyone smiling.

Amit Jain
Amit Jain

The Problem Before? The Normal Electricity Of Person-To-Person Interaction Was Missing From His Videos.

Amit has been a slow convert to online learning because he thought online students didn’t get the same quality of experience that in-person students did. “The biggest issue is when I lecture in person, I have an audience of between 30 and 40 students, and that gives me and the students a tremendous amount of energy,” Amit explained.

Amit knew this energy made for a better educational experience for the students.

“Students ask a lot of really good questions, and I’m a lot more fluid and joking and all that kind of stuff. Right? I’m inspired. I need to get a point across,” said Amit. “When I can see from their faces that they’re not understanding, I will come up with analogies on the spot that I could never have prepared before. Those analogies and metaphors are what students remember. I just met a student yesterday after three years of graduating, and she was still talking about those metaphors and analogies.” 

His New Approach: A Small, Intimate Group

Now, when Amit is preparing to record a lecture for an online audience, he asks a couple of current students in the Boise area if they’d like to come to campus and help him film. They come and sit in a classroom with Amit, and he records the lecture.

At first Amit filmed with four students, but later found that even two students are enough to get him excited about teaching. 

Using current and not former students is key. Current students don’t know the material yet, and that can be a good thing. “I tried using former students but they were listening to what they had already learned, so they didn’t respond authentically,” Amit explained. “That comes across in the video.” Filming in this way obviously means the lecture videos are not ready before the course is launched, but the benefits outweigh the drawbacks, Amit says. This approach is suitable for replacing or updating videos during the semester and also for creating videos for future cours offerings.

Even though he is in front of the classroom instead of sitting at his desk, Amit likes to record in Zoom because the interface is familiar. Moreover, Zoom records and renders video in high definition, so his writing on the whiteboard is clear to those watching later from home. The recording is stored in Panopto indefinitely so Amit doesn’t have to worry about losing access to it.

Overall, with himself and two students, the end product is like a video podcast with a small, intimate group of people engaged in a warm, funny and dynamic conversation.Via personal comments and teaching evaluations, students have indicated that they like this kind of video better than anything else he has tried.

Why Not Just Film A Normal Face-To-Face Class?

You might wonder why Amit didn’t just film his face-to-face classes if he wanted to capture the dynamic back-and-forth present in them. He did try, but issues came up right away.

First, when online students watch their instructor lecture to others, they can feel more like a fly on the wall than a participant in their own class. Secondly, being filmed can interrupt the flow of a face-to-face class. Students, knowing they are being filmed, may be less willing to speak, and more nervous about making mistakes. Plus, there are logistical issues. If a student wants to speak, they need to be given a mic for it to be captured for the online audience. Getting a mic to the person ready to speak takes time and interrupts the flow. Amit tried repeating student questions himself, but it just wasn’t as good, partly because the students in the room knew it was done for the online students; everyone in the room could hear the questions just fine.

Also, what do you do if someone flubs their question or answer? People want to get it right when they are being filmed, but it’s awkward in a large group to reset and speak the same thing again (for both instructors and students). With Amit’s new approach, the small group makes it easy for anyone in the room to stop and reformulate their thoughts or rephrase their comments without feeling awkward.

Other Approaches Were Functional But Flat

Some people, like certain YouTubers, excel at capturing an audience when talking to a camera in an empty room, but Amit isn’t one of them. “At least for me and most people, if you don’t have an audience, you’re not going to be inspired.”

You can also try not appearing on camera at all–just talking over PowerPoint slides or while writing under a document camera–but again, you tend to get a functional but flat result. Said Amit, “When you are just talking by yourself, the recording may be professional, and the sound quality may be good. Everything may be good, but there may be no soul.” 

The other thing is that when Amit was just talking to the camera, a 20-minute recording could take several hours to get right. “I wasn’t getting any live feedback from students,” he said.

Amit even finds that his new approach saves him time. He had to do a lot of takes when speaking into a camera with no students present. Filming with two students present, Amit said he got “really good content and interaction in about an hour and fifteen minutes.”

Best Of Both Worlds

Amit said he really thinks his new approach gives online students the best of both worlds. First, they get the benefits of recorded lectures, like being able to control the pace, play something back when they don’t understand it, and read along to captions. On top of that, they see an engaged, energized instructor and students who are asking questions to check and clarify unclear parts of the lecture.


The following resources can help you in creating videos for your online course.

For additional help recording videos for an online course, consider contacting eCampus Center and request a consultation. Feel free to email Amit at ajain@boisestate if you have questions about his approach.

Article Credit

Thanks to Professor Amit Jain and Greg Snow, the eCampus instructional design consultant who worked with Amit on the design of his online course.