The answer is obvious but difficult: we've just got to go ahead and post them.
In fact, I'll explain in this article why the rule of thumb we need to aim for is never re-recording our asynchronous instructional videos even though this certainly means we'll be publishing work that is beneath our best sometimes. Why? Because we simply don't have time to publish perfect, asynchronous instructional videos. Our goal, as I'll explain, needs to be sustainable improvement over the long-term — not perfectionism.
But first, a story about that time when I made a bunch of instructional videos that ended up annoying me
Recently, I opened a video mini-course for teachers on how to stay motivated during uncertain times. (You can sign up here, it's all free.) Little did I know that when I opened this thing up for sign-ups, I was about four hours from being buried in an avalanche of classroom- and school-related work for my job as a teacher. (So weird that an avalanche like that would hit in mid-August, right? Who could have predicted?)
So there I am — I've got half a thousand earnest folks waiting for some asynchronous instructional videos, and they're all super smart and dedicated and experiencing varying degrees of stress and overwhelm, and I've got one afternoon and one morning in my newly packed worked schedule to get these videos filmed, captioned, and published.
But I do what we do: I get the videos filmed, submit them for captioning, and build out the “Dig Deeper” links beneath each video in the mini-course. Then during the eleventh hour, I started reviewing the videos that I filmed, and I realized, “Oh my goodness — these things have problems.”
In some videos, I hear myself rambling; in others, I clearly misspeak; in one, there's a silly editing mistake at the end. Now in hindsight when I look at the videos as a set, I disagree with how I've organized the content and see obvious pathways for making things clearer and more coherent.
In other words, all the bad feelings you get when you're under a deadline and you're uncertain about your work.
So I did what many overwhelmed educators do in circumstances like these: I procrastinated! I stewed in the imperfection. And the quality of my life for a few days was a few micro-clicks worse because of it.
In distance learning, the perfection instinct is an even trickier trap than normal
The beauty of the in-person teaching experience is that, ready or not, class starts when class starts. As Doug Fisher (co-author on the Distance Learning Playbook) recently made clear to me during a workshop he was leading, in-person instructional models are rooted in time in a way that distance learning is not. Some of the learning happens synchronously, sure — but some of it is asynchronous, too.
These asynchronous pieces open the door for us to fall into the trap I did in preparing the mini-course on teacher motivation — we can start to pretend that there's a way to be perfect. That, in fact, perfection is required because students will be playing our instructional videos over and over again, and they'll fixate on our mistakes, and they'll find us un-credible, and they'll show their parents and guardians, and our bosses will dock us on our evals, and and and and and —
It's a lot. A lot of pressure — and that's problematic for our performance because there is a point when too much is too much.
So what do we do? I don't have all the answers, but a clear first step is that we need to agree that reshooting asynchronous instructional videos can't become our norm.
Simple rule: When recording asynchronous instructional videos for our students, we don't reshoot
Years ago, Donald Sull and Kathleen Eisenhardt provided a fundamental insight for my work and my life: you can often solve complexity through the use of simple rules. Their book of the same title travels widely and digs deep, but here's the idea: when things get complicated, many of us wallow in over-thinking. During moments of clarity, we can create simple, thoughtful rules that make us more decisive and less overwhelmed when things get intense.
In an ideal world, you and I would produce perfect asynchronous instructional videos on the long “a” sound in reading, or trigonometric functions in math, or the tragic hero figure in literature… this ol' place we're teaching ain't exactly ideal, is it? As I say to my children when bedtime arrives and they've got more stuff to do, “Time is time, my love.” It just is. We're constrained by it. When we embrace the constraints, life gets better and breakthroughs are coming; when we don't, it doesn't and they don't.
I published the annoying videos
So, I published those videos that bothered me — and sure enough, not everyone found them bothersome, and some said they really helped. Here are some truths I walked away with and will carry with me into the school year:
- Sometimes you're feeling, sometimes you're not. In this way, getting in front of the camera is kind of like getting in front of students in a classroom. Some days the words flow like a warm breeze on a cool night; other days, no.
- Sometimes your hair or your shirt or your tie or your background is going to be messed up. Keep an index card where you write down things like this that annoy you in your videos; check this notecard before you start filming your next asynchronous video. If you're like me, you'll lose the notecard eventually — but that's all right. You're learning.
- No fancy editing. I do a little audio tweaking and intro/outro stuff on my videos for teachers, but never for my videos for students. This isn't because I don't love my students; it's because I love having a life, and I'd go crazy if my student videos needed that level of polish. Remember: the more of an editing workflow you have per video, the harder it is to re-record later on and the longer each video takes. Aim at efficiency.
- A lot of times, it's just in our heads — but just to be sure, use a trusted colleague once in a while to provide critical feedback. The nice thing with asynchronous video pieces is that we don't need to coordinate schedules to have a colleague come in and watch us teach. We can just send them a video we made recently and say, “Hey, would you mind giving me a glow and a grow here?”
- We can verbalize our feelings about not being perfect on video for students and our passion for getting better every day. As Jefferey Frieden pointed out on Twitter recently, this can even build our credibility. (Credibility, after all, is not about perfection.)
The awkwardness shows our humanity, and students appreciate it. Paradoxically, it will increase our credibility, not decrease it.— Jeffery E. Frieden (@SurthrivEDU) August 26, 2020
What other truths help you when filming asynchronous instructional videos?
Thank you to Doug Fisher, co-author of The Distance Learning Playbook and The Distance Learning Playbook for Parents. Doug inspired this post when he said at least five times during a recent PD that he refused to include re-recorded teacher videos for his books on distance learning because re-recording isn't a sustainable practice right now. Best to him in his work.