How to use your smart phone for educational video

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At the time of this post creation the world is battle the pandemic of COVID-19. Many U.S. schools have been moved to remote work and this post is my way of sharing my expertise to help.

Creating video in 2020 is easier now more than ever but it can be daunting to know what to use and how to use it. I hope by the end of this post you’ll know how to record an educational video.

Before I jump into explaining how you can record yourself, I wanted to express some especially important stuff that some people tend to struggle with, being on camera. Look you’re in front of 20 to 200 students regularly, there is visual and audible feedback. Recording a video will give you none of that. It will feel lonely and weird but there is something you can do.

Think of one student who you know could use your explanation of the complexity of calculus or the how to conjugate a verb in Spanish.  Better yet, focus your efforts on the one student who is struggling and imagine you’re teaching just them.  I can assure you that by doing that making a video will much easier because it’s not a camera you’re talking to. It’s all your students individually, explaining to them the current information for the week.

Your students will feel more connected to you and they will appreciate the information you provide in that video.

Plan Out Your Video

Before you hit that red button, you need to think about the material you’d like to teach. Ask yourself: do I need to record everything? Or could I make a video or videos of the examples and then adjust my slide to fit accordingly? Could your regular lecture be shared as just audio and then your video to address the common struggles you find in the module. There are lots of combinations you can go with. But to start just pick one section of your material and focus on what is the hardest thing for students to understand that could benefit from you sharing your thoughts.

You then have two options scripting it all out or bullet pointing your thoughts as a sort of script road map. I recommend you script it out because you’ll be less likely to get sidetracked and have a shorter video. Scripting does take a little longer up front but could save you loads of time in the editing.

Doing a script outline with bullet points may feel the most like teaching but it does tend to be longer and could introduce more ums and ahs, as well as getting sidetracked. Not the worst thing you just have to be a little more cautious when filming.

Making the Video

First things first, find yourself a room where you can stand in front of a window that lets in lots of light in. If you don’t have a room like that or are recoding at night use a floor lamp pointing at you and turning off any other lights. The reason you want to turn off the other light is because you want don’t want your phone to try to adjust to both light sources you want your face to be the focus.

Once you’re in front of a window or light source. You’ll then want to create a makeshift tripod. You might want to hold it and that’s fine if you plan do a short video.

To create a tripod, you can place it on your window ledge and then use another object as a weight to stop it from sliding down. You could also stack books and then do prop it up with two objects. Get creative. If you plan to do a lot of videos, I suggest you get a little phone tripod. The key when creating a makeshift tripod or even using a tripod is to set it up so it can be at your eye level so that you’re not looking down at the camera.

If you’re filming alone use your front facing camera. If you have someone who could help you out, I suggest using the main camera because it will be much better than your front facing.

Next, you’ll want to lock the auto focus on you. You do this by touching your face. A circle or a box will show up and that will tell you that the exposure and focus has been set to you. You’re now ready to record.

Tips on Filming Yourself

When recording a video of yourself you need to remember a few things.

  • Don’t look at the screen look at the camera as much as possible. That way you’re looking at the audience.
  • If you mess up it’s okay! Just stop the recording and start from where you messed up.
  • If you decide not to stop that’s okay too but you’d want to give yourself a count-in before you do another take (i.e. “1-2-3 ‘Welcome back guys…’).
  • Really try not to say ums or ahs but don’t let them stop you from your flow. Just get through the first video and take note of how much you did it and then try to do better next time.
  • Anytime you change topics trying a different location.
  • Don’t Over think the ending just pick a saying like “If you have questions just email me.” Or “Don’t forget assignment X is due”

Final Pointers

Before I close this out and move on to the postproduction phase I want to address a bad habit. If your using video to teach remotely, you need to understand that 40-minute face-to-face class does not mean you need to do a 40-minute video lecture.

You don’t have control of the class. There is a great saying in content creation that goes “If it’s not good. It’s Off”. Researchers have found that 7 minutes is the ideal time for a video. I like to say give or take 2 minutes depending on the material. If you do notice that most of your videos go over. Try to break them up into smaller chunks. Your students will appreciate you for it.

A lecture in a video will be shorter. You don’t have back and forth. Plus don’t feel obligated to teach all the material in one video. Break it up, you might be surprised to find that you can teach some content better because of it.


iPhones and some android phones have fixed storage. Before you begin recording, you’ll need to make sure you have enough space for your video. Delete local videos that have been backed up to the cloud. If you don’t have that enabled just plug your phone into your computer and transfer them. I’m not going to show you how to do that in this post, but it’s worth knowing how to do it.

If you have a phone that takes a memory card. Just be sure you have enough.

Well, that’s it!

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