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Online Teaching: Making Talking Head Videos

Warning: Talking Head Videos are not the same thing as Talking Heads Videos. Neither David Byrne, nor Tina Weymouth, nor Chris Frantz, nor Jerry Harrison was involved in the creation of this essay or the videos therein described.

This semester, I’m teaching a course online through Global Online Academy (aka GOA). Teaching online is a different experience, and I plan to reflect regularly on issues I encounter while teaching online.

Many things are similar in teaching online and face-to-face. For example, I tend to break courses up into one- or two-week sections. I’m a bit more casual when working face-to-face; topics may flow over into the next week, or end early, or …. However, I’ve been told that for online teaching, at least for the group of students I have, modules should really follow the same weekly rhythm (or bi-weekly rhythm, for two-week modules).

Anyway, when I start a new topic, I tend to give an introduction, whether I’m teaching face-to-face or online. The folks at GOA tell me that it’s good to make short introductory videos. Let me tell you, I hate making introductory videos. (Okay, I hate making all videos that involve recording myself.)

Why? There are a variety of reasons. First, I don’t particularly like how I look on video. Since I use the camera on my laptop, the angle at which I take video is often odd, and emphasizes my bushy beard even more than normal. In addition, since I now have bifocals, I tend to be looking upward, rather than at the camera, so that I can read what is on screen. (And yes, I generally have notes on the screen.)

Second, it feels like I’m repeating work. I outline whatever I’m going to say, whether it’s in person or on a video. I also write introductory material, for both cases. But for video, I feel like the two have to correspond more. (Arguably, for reasons of accessibility, they should correspond exactly, and what I’ve written should really be captions for the video.) So I either have to read a script, which feels unnatural, or I have to transcribe what I just said, which require extra effort.

Third, I really should be captioning my videos, and not just providing the text separately. I don’t feel bad when it’s just a video of my talking head; it’s not so important that the words synch up, and I expect any hearing impaired person would prefer reading to watching the video anyway.

Fourth, I think my personality comes through differently in writing and in spoken language. When I’m teaching face-to-face, I say things that I wouldn’t write (and write things that I wouldn’t say). If my video and text must correspond, one or the other feels awkward. Of course, I also realize that if I end up teaching a hearing impaired person, I’ll have to do the same thing. So maybe I’m over-emphasizing this issue.

In the end, I’m not sure what the value of a talking head video is. It’s harder to search and navigate than text. Is it really better to hear what I have to say than read what I have to say? The GOA folks say that the videos help reveal my warm and caring personality (or, more generally, whatever personality the faculty have). But, as I note, I think the appropriate parts of my personality are revealed through my writing.

Oh well, I’ll move on to screencasts soon, and the GOA folks also tell me that I have a voice for video (which I think is better than a face for radio).

Version 1.0 released 2016-09-04.

Version 1.0.1 of 2018-05-17.