I sometimes get asked what software and hardware I use to make the statistics videos. I use,
- A Mac,
- A Wacom tablet,
- Sketchbook express (it’s free) to draw,
- Camtasia (not free) to record the screen,
- A mix of Matlab, R and Mathematica for numerical examples.
Tips for making good content
If of interest, I have also written down a few tips I’ve learned whilst making videos. These fall under the headings of syllabus planning, video planning, recording, editing, improving content and uploading. There’s also a section at the end about my general approach to making videos.
- Plan your syllabus in detail; even down to the specific individual videos that you want to produce. This will change as you start to produce videos, but it is a good starting point.
- Make a video describing your syllabus. I think this is a really important part of a good lecture course, and serves a few purposes: the obvious one is that it tells people what content you intend to cover; the second point is that it can actually serve as a really simple, and jargon-free introduction to the topic you are lecturing. This latter point in particular can attract many students to your course. I sometimes think it also helps to clarify in your own head, in simple terms, what it is that you will exactly be covering.
- Plan to make ‘What is XXXXX?’ videos. This is a very good way of attracting viewership to your lecture series, and is a common term put into Google.
- Think of topic ideas and then check for their importance on Google Keyword Tool or Google Trends. This is a way of gauging the traffic likely to come from covering a certain topic, as well as suggesting new topics/videos that may be worth your time making. It is important to make videos that are aligned with the most highly-searched keywords. For example, for synonyms, either choose the term with the most highly searched history, or, better, make both.
- Plan example videos. There will be a number of videos where you introduce theoretical concepts to the student. However, where a lot of content perhaps falls foul is that there are not sufficient examples of using those theoretical constructs. A good way to plan these is to look for canonical examples across different texts, and lecture series. Are there examples of problems that come up time and time again?
- Plan v. short progress videos where you will inform the student of where they are in the course.
- Don’t be afraid to change your syllabus! Add more material covering further topics, add material providing better examples and intuition behind the theory.
Know exactly the topic you want to cover in your video.
- Research your topic in detail. As well as helping you to consolidate the concepts in your own head, this will also open you up to other ways of explaining the theory; some of which may be useful.
- Think of a number of different ways to explain a given concept before deciding on one. This sounds simple, but I believe, is the most important step in producing good, accessible, content. Whenever you have an idea as to how to explain the concept, always be thinking, ‘Could I have explained this in a way that someone at high school could understand?’
- Minimise the use of complex ‘scary-looking’ mathematical tools. If you can explain your concept without the use of matrices, for example, do it! You can of course use complex tools, but be aware that this will be reducing your audience.
- Whenever maths is used, explain it in detail. This is especially true if you are using tools and concepts which people struggle with. In my experience, linear algebra for example, is an intimidating subject for a number of people. Taking the time to explain the idea in detail to your audience is worthwhile, even if it seems ‘obvious’ to you.
- Use diagrams and graphs rather than words and equations. Wherever possible use these tools preferentially since people gain a better intuitive understanding of the theory via these tools.
- First tell your audience what is going to be covered, at the end, tell them what you have covered. This is really important as otherwise the audience (apart from your description at the bottom of the video) won’t know what it is they are going to get from your video.
- Do not, unless it is unavoidable, tell the audience what you will cover next in the course. The reason for this is that you may want to add videos in the future between previously-contiguous parts. If you
- Always start with something (ideally visually-appealing) on the screen. If people only see a black screen and just hear you talking, they drop off.
- Plan on paper, practising the speaking as well. This allows you to see whether you are over-promising in terms of paper space, and also whether the lesson ‘flows’ as easily as you thought it would. After this stage, for example, it may become apparent that the content would be better covered in two videos rather than just a single one.
- Always check by doing a short recording that your screen recorder is set to record both visual and audio (if needs be). This would have saved me hours if I’d always done this.
Close your windows.
Turn off your phone or place it away from where you will be doing the recording.
- Do not be afraid to, if you say something wrong or mumbled, just stop and have a few moments. You can always edit it out at the end.
- Avoid visual jumps. If you write something then decide that you want to say your speech part again, then just undo the drawing. It is visually distracting if lines etc. just appear on your screen.
- Try to use the same colour for the same things. If you use different colours for similar equations, axes on graphs etc. it makes it visually distracting.
- Avoid use of red and green together as this can make content unreadable for colour blind people (about 8% of men and c. 1% of women). I often fall into this trap.
Write large enough.
- Before you start editing, save your work! Importantly, save your work as a file name with a number (corresponding to the order in which this video corresponds in your playlist), followed by a keyword-filled file name.
- Before you start editing, save your drawing canvas. This is helpful if you need to go back in the future and redo the video. It saves you having to start again from scratch.
- Before you start cutting up the material, make any adjustments to the cropping and canvas size.
- Do not edit too tightly. It is natural to have pauses in what you are saying. If it is just one continuous voice, this is not appealing for a viewer.
Re-watch your edit points to make sure that edits do not leave the material nonsensical.
- Adjust the volume of the audio if needs be, don’t use fancy audio/visual tricks unless necessary. The important thing is to make the content sufficiently loud. However, do ensure that the ‘loudness’ is consistent across all the videos.
A key way to make sure that you are improving in your ability to explain content is (as painful as it is) to re-watch your videos. When you do so, here are some things that I’ve found useful for me,
- Are there any conversational idiosyncrasies which you can avoid? For me this was saying, ‘errm’ and ‘like’ a lot. It’s painful at first to watch your own material, but it helps you to eliminate any annoying turns of phrase.
- Is the English you are using going to be understood widely? Avoid colloquial English, as well as the use of overly complex words. Where a simple word can explain a point, use that preferentially.
- Are you speaking slowly enough? It’s common when you feel the pressure of being recorded to start talking quickly.
- Watch your material on a range of computers. Is the colour you are using easily readable? Can you always hear what you are saying?
- Get friends and family to watch your material. Some of my family have given me very constructive comments, ranging from, ‘don’t use that colour – I can’t read it’, to ‘speak louder, I can’t hear that’. It can be hard to hear these things, but ultimately they will help you to make better content.
An additional source of criticism are comments by people on your videos themselves. These range from less constructive (all real examples),
- “My girlfriend cheated on me and now I can’t concentrate. Was I not good enough? Maybe I ought to fight the other guy to prove myself. Even if I don’t plan to get back with her. Maybe it is the only way”
- “You are such a looser pussy”
- “kill yo self muh niggum”
- “This is boring.” Can be useful if the content isn’t engaging but not if it’s referring to a video about heteroscedasticity.
- “ASHUME” – helps me to avoid talking like a weirdo.
- “This sort of sampling holds (at least in part) because of the Law of Large Numbers, yeah?” – provides ideas of other content to make based on links to other material.
- “Please increase the volume of this video and resubmit it!”
- “Drop the frequent use of “sort of.””
- “Does endogeneity happen in linear regressions only?”
- “Sorry professor but I can’t read chicken shit. Use a better of displaying your calculations.”
Before uploading, create a playlist, with an appropriate keyword-filled description.
Before you upload make sure your content is named with a keyword name.
- Create a description, which is has some of the keywords you are aiming to rank for. However, do not overdo this – the most important thing about a description is that it should detail your video clearly and concisely.
Add the video into a playlist.
- If you have time, or a spare 20 mins – manually add captions to your video. Google does trawl through captions and use this to help rank your video appropriately. The automatic voice detection they currently use is not particularly good, so you really need to do it manually. On another note, this also is really helpful to people for which English isn’t their first language, or they are deaf.
- Add your captions to the bottom of your description. Again, something which Google trawls through for ranking.
My general approach and timescales for making a video
- Brainstorm for ideas that will help me to convey the theoretical concepts (this often involves doing internet searches to look through existing material) ~ 10 to 20 minutes.
- Code any software demonstrations. I increasingly think this is invaluable for making good mathsy content since it a) allows you to give the user material which they can play with themselves b) shows them how theory translates into practice and c) let’s you check your own knowledge. This is nowadays the majority of the time I spend making videos and can take anywhere from 15 minutes to 3 hours.
- On a blank sheet of paper do a run through the material; speaking at the same time ~ 10 minutes (sometimes I repeat this process to get the material exactly as I would like it).
- Using the sheet of paper with the drawings on it for reference, I then record the video itself. ~ 10 minutes
- Edit. ~ 10 minutes