creating digital courses
For Academics, Thought Leaders, Coaches, Writers & Speakers
My name is Mary Poffenroth and I have been creating original digital courses for university undergraduate biology and environmental science since 2008. Below are my best practices.
In addition to teaching at San Jose State University, I study the intersection of fear, creativity, and innovation. I take research out of academia and into growth driven organizations to cultivate a more empowering corporate culture.
Through live workshops and immersive events, I give individuals and organizations the tools they need to reshape their relationship with creativity and non-clinical fear leading to increased strategic decision making, innovation, and deeper cross discipline collaboration.
Screencasts are recordings of your desktop and can include your face or not. They are great for creating tutorials and decrease confusion for digital students. I use them constantly, as either a weekly update and to explain how to do X and where to find it. My GoTo favorites are QuickTime and ScreenFlow that are showcased here. All tutorials here will be shown on a Mac, but software is also available for PC.
For additional screencasting options check out the resources I have collected HERE
Looking for a really simple way to go from slide deck to screencast video?
A note on Audio
Use a good microphone! People can forgive poor video, they can't forgive poor audio. I use Blue Yeti USB Mic or you can get the Pro version - a hard line into your computer via a USB microphone is best. Personally, I never use the mic on earbuds to record because it produces poor audio and it is easy to get a scratchy sound from hitting your clothing. Depending on your computer, you may be able to get away with decent enough audio with your built-in microphone. I use the built in when I am doing a super quick video update that I know I won't be using in the future. When you are creating evergreen content, definitely use a good microphone with a windscreen. When my audio doesn't come out as well as I had hoped, I use SoundSoap as an easy program to correct the most common audio issues. There are also basic audio correction tools in Camtasia.
QuickTime is really easy, but if you need a QuickTime Tutorial on how to make a screencast with it check out this video first:
A new picture in picture screencast for both MAC & PC is Loom at
My recommendation is Camtasia: Available for PC and Mac HERE I also left the echo and clipping in the final version to give you a feel for the sound without manipulation. If this were a lesson on anything other than production, I would have smoothed out the audio in post, most likely with SoundSoap for this one.
High Resolution Picture in Picture
This is done with a DSLR, QuickTime and Camtasia
Camera Work: Audio & Visual
Digital courses work best when your students can actually see you. If you aren't comfortable on camera yet, don't worry - it gets easier. Having a video of your face, especially your eyes, allows students to more deeply connect to you and the material. You become a "real" person that they can begin to cultivate a relationship with. Here are my best practices to get you creating your own original straight to camera video. These are going to be the basics needed to create your content, not everything under the sun of production.
You don't need to be Hollywood, you just need to be you! (with clear audio & video of course)
Camera Setup & Framing
I use the Cannon T5i, and I love it! But there are a lot of DSLR choices out there with video recording capabilities. No matter what you choose, make sure at minimum it has a fold out LCD screen so you can frame yourself (essential for solo recording), a MIC direct plug in, and ability to record to SD card for at least 12 minutes.
The audio & lighting on this video is terrible - on purpose!
Only the room lights were used and there is no auxiliary mic, just the onboard, to illustrate my point of needing good audio equipment.
Audio for Camera
People can forgive poor video, that can't forgive poor audio. If I don't need to be far away or move a lot, then it is better to be hard lined into the camera, that's when I use PowerDeWise set that is under $30. If I need to move around or be far away, one cost effective wireless LAV system that I personally use is Audio Technica Pro but it doesn't go as far or as clean as the more expensive industry gold standard Sennheiser. Using an onboard mic for camera work is the worst unless you are trying to achieve an on-the-go social media style video.
A Note About Looking Good on Camera
This is not about looking like a movie star, but looking more like the authentic you. Unless you are well versed in camera work, I would recommend not doing any teleprompter or note reading until you are really comfortable just talking on camera. Videos are all about the close up - so you want to avoid having a "dead eye" look, which makes your viewer disengage from you. Do this by being present and literally imagining a loved one you are talking to instead of a camera. You need to be looking dead center into the camera when you are talking directly to your students, otherwise it will feel really weird for the viewer. There are oodles of hosting/acting for camera classes, but this is my 5 second advice.
Glasses: This can be tricky because glasses can cause weird light reflections, but if you wear glasses all the time, I would keep them and just be cautious with the lighting.
Clothing: If you are doing a series, I suggest choosing one really well fitting outfit and using that for the whole series. Wardrobe should be thought about though. You want to choose something that fits close to the body and the heavier the material the better for camera. Of course, you need to choose options that also fit your personality, style, and level of professionalism. Video is a visual communication medium, so give some really deep thought to your attire - it is sending a message, whether or not you want it to. Avoid wild patterns as they can look odd on camera. This is less true in the digital age, but again - personal choice. Play around with test shots before your actual shoot day to see how things look on camera as they inevitable will look different than in person. Especially if you are doing a tight shot (close up), certain things will be over-exaggerated, like necklines.
Jewelry: Stay away from accessories that make noise. Period. The mic will pick it up and it will sound awful to the viewer. Avoid sparkly/glittery items as well since they will over-reflect light.
Makeup? This is really a personal choice for everyone, even men. Lighting will wash out some of your features depending on skin tone. For me, if I don't use eye makeup, my eyes all but disappear on camera. Everyone is different, so play around with options that you are comfortable with and see how they look on camera. If I am doing a weekly announcement video and I want it to feel like a comfy conversation, I will purposely not wear makeup (and I'm lazy), but for everything that will be evergreen I do full hair and makeup.
Digital means you can always just erase!
Getting down a production workflow is essential for efficient content creation, but also really individualized when working by yourself as a solo producer. Part of that is deciding how to use scripts. Personally, I write my scripts out as a general outline and then fill in the details. During production, I usually don't use the scripts at all except to remind myself where I want to go in the video. This is because I, for the life of me, can not memorize scripts! If you can, awesome! Then just make sure to write them in a conversational, relaxed tone - unless you are trying to teach Shakespeare.
For more videos I usually just create a shot list and outline my key points. I only write out a full script for videos I know will last a few years. For this series I only wrote out the video ideas I wanted to shoot, no scripts at all, because I wanted it to feel behind the screen and not overly produced. When doing pre-production, think about your goals for the video: who is the target audience, what mood do you want to convey (cozy, professional, all business, etc.).
I will sometimes use a Teleprompter, but if you are new to teleprompter work - practice, practice, practice before you ever plan on using the final product via teleprompter. Teleprompter reading is an art form and it is real easy to sound like a robot and completely disengage from your audience while using one. The teleprompter app I use, which autoscrolls to your voice, is PromptSmart Pro.
Learning Management Systems
If you are in higher education, your campus most likely already has a LMS, or Learning Management System to house all of your digital course materials. Canvas is my preferred enterprise/campus level platform. If you are a small organization or individual, I would use Teachable - which is what I use for my Fear Forward digital workshops @ https://teachable.com