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Redundancy Is Good Praxis

I just got done setting up the second online module for my formerly face-to-face classes. When we all were preparing to go online, I knew I had some advantages: I’ve done this before (in fact, I’ve been plundering some of my previous online classes’ resources to help the shift), and I know from experience that less is more. But I also know this: redundancy is good.

Here’s what I mean by redundancy: don’t be afraid to post the same content in more than one way. Take a look at how I’ve got my “lectures” structured here:

Screenshot of a Canvas page

What’s going on here? I’ve got identical content on the same page. The written content is actually my script for the video, and they are completely redundant. This is how I structured content in previous online courses, and if student evaluations are any judge (they aren’t, but they’ll do here), it worked really well. The video is entirely optional, as is the reading; they have to do at least one, but they can choose what will work with their bandwidth, attention span, learning mode, etc. And that’s what matters most here: student choice.

So here’s my method, because it actually doesn’t take very much time to do this, even though it seems like a lot of work:

Write your transcript first. I can’t stress this enough. Writing a script is faster than transcribing a video. It also reduces takes and editing on the video. I shoot most of my lecture videos in one take these days, although I had to do a few false starts when I first started doing this technique, so it’s ok if you can’t do it in one take. Anyway, write your transcript as if you were speaking to a student. After some practice you’ll learn to write in a way that closely approximates how you speak on video. Don’t expect to be great at it at first.

Dress as you would for face to face class. I’m all in favor of synchronous zoom meetings in PJs, don’t get me wrong there. But this is about getting yourself into teacher mode. I only wear makeup when I’m teaching or performing, but I do makeup for my videos. It makes me feel better about being on camera. Likewise, I only wear clothes I’d wear in the classroom when I’m on camera. Again, this is more for me than for the students. This is how I get into my teaching persona and not just feel awkward.

Record video using software you understand. Don’t try using anything complex. This isn’t a professional production. This is more like an old school vlog. Use your webcam or whatever you understand. I just use the default camera app on Windows and my webcam. It’s not great production value, but you aren’t making a professional course shell here; you’re just trying to connect with students.

Use video hosting that you understand, too. I upload my videos to YouTube and make them unlisted. YouTube manages video well and even offers auto-captioning. Uploads are fast and easy. There are other video platforms, and they might even be better for my purposes. But I understand YouTube, so I use YouTube.

Put all available access modes in the same place. This will help your users understand that they have options, rather than thinking that each object is a different requirement. The key here is that students understand they are in control of content delivery. Notice in the image that I have a note on videos; I’m copying that statement above EVERY VIDEO that I post. Every. Single. One.

Apply redundancy anywhere you can. You know your content better than your students, so you should be responsible for thinking of multiple access modes.

Why redundancy? Students have different abilities. For instance, I know I would be annoyed if I had to watch videos for everything; to me, reading feels more active, quicker, and I can understand every word (where my hearing loss makes video hit or miss). But for, say, my partner, video is preferred; he can’t focus well on blocks of text, and prefers to be taught through the measured pace of a video, where he can look at what he’s doing while listening to instructions. Both of these learning modes are valid and good learning modes. It really doesn’t take very much time to provide both.

But a word of caution: keep videos short! Anything over 10 minutes is going to be a burden, not a support. Currently my goal is to not produce a lecture video over 5 minutes. That’s about 700 words, for reference. It’s reasonable. I’m doing ok on this goal. You can to.

In sum, it takes a little more effort, but not very much, to offer more than one mode of delivery for content in an online course. What are some modes that you like to offer to your students?

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