Communications

Best Practices: Creating Video Course Trailers

These best practice suggestions were developed out of student focus group feedback, and should provide insight into how students decide which courses to take. The example video outline below can help you think through your project, and the estimated time per section is intended to help prioritize your messages. If you would like a consultation to help sketch out your video plan, please contact communications Dean Deborah Hill at dahill@duke.edu. See also the Frequently Asked Questions for faculty preparation.

Once your video has been completed, post it to YouTube (for more about using YouTube, see the Office of Information Technology’s Getting Started instructions). Then, notify Deborah Hill so that she can post it in the appropriate place on the Trinity College of Arts & Sciences website. You may want to post the video to your department/program's Facebook page and/or ask your former students to recommend the course to their friends by sharing the link to the video.

Example Video Outline

The optimal length for a course promotional video is one to two minutes.

Opening screen: 4 seconds

Show the course numbers and name, including all cross listings.

Introduce professor or teaching team: 15-20 seconds

What you need to know: Students want to know who their professor is because they recommend professors to each other all the time. Word of mouth is the primary way courses are referred.

What you need to do: In a couple of sentences describe your experience as a teacher, of this particular course if possible, and reference your positive teaching evaluations and ongoing relationships with former students. Talk about what you love about teaching.

Describe what students will gain from the class: 20-25 seconds

What you need to know: Besides earning credit and curriculum codes, students want to know what they will get out of the course in terms of enabling knowledge, context and skills.

What you need to do: Give students the take-home message about the course. Help them to understand the significance of the body of knowledge you will cover. Explain how this knowledge prepares them for other courses, how it supports different majors or study pathways, or even career options, if that is appropriate. Note that the degree to which an "applied knowledge" message is appropriate greatly depends on the type of course it is. Use your expertise to help provide context for your course.

Describe the “maturity” of the course: 3-5 seconds

What you need to know: Students are concerned about being the first to take a new course. They don’t want to risk a poor grade on a course that is still having the kinks worked out. They feel safer with longstanding courses that have proven track records and consistent recommendations from other students. 

What you need to do: Address this concern through a single sentence, but don’t spend a lot of time on this. If the course is a longstanding one, with good results, say that and move on. If it is a new course, identify why it was developed (such as in response to student demand), and why students might benefit from it.  

Describe the course organization: 25-35 seconds

What you need to know: Students want details about what they will study, and sometimes the standard course descriptions are too generic.

What you need to do: If possible, break the course down into sections and describe in a sentence or two what students will explore. If possible, use images/photos/graphics for each section to make the video more interesting and get away from the constant 'talking head.' For example, if your course has three sections, briefly explain each one and talk about how each section builds on the one before. Try to find the largest, highest resolutions photos/illustrations possible to give the videographers the most flexibility in editing your video.

Review the workload and course grading: 5-10 seconds

What you need to know: Students are concerned about balancing their workload across classes. They want to know how much homework, how much reading, and/or how many research papers, tests and quizzes are required for your course.

What you need to do: Balance the information about workload with the message of how interesting the experience will be. As an example, you might convey that the course will have students explore history through novels and short stories, and media such as films and music. Make note of unusual opportunities such as access to special collections, case studies, field trips or guest speakers. Identify opportunities for students to interact with each other, such as small group discussions, team contests, etc. And finally, describe how students will be graded.

Closing screen shot: 3 seconds

End video with a screen showing curriculum codes the course fulfills, and contact information of the professor for more information.

Example Video:

This video, created by Adjunct Professor Judith Ruderman in collaboration with Duke Media Services, follows the guidelines addressed above quite beautifully.

Frequently Asked Questions

Who can help with video development?

Faculty can create videos to promote videos in any number of ways, but for those who need technical assistance, please contact Tom Wilson () or Greg Hobbs () in studio operations at Duke Media Services. The office phone is 919-660-1741. They has worked with several TCA&S faculty to create these kinds of course promotional videos. There is a production expense for these projects that is usually less than $300 if you follow the guidelines above.

How can I make sure I come across well in the video?

First, there’s a funny thing about being videotaped. People tend to come across very flat on film when they act as they normally do. So you will need to over-animate just a bit in order to come across well. Be conscious about smiling--with your mouth AND eyes -- and use your voice as a tool to convey your enthusiasm for your class.

Do I have to be prepared to say everything I want to say in one take?

No! In fact, it becomes much less stressful if you think of the videotaping process as a series of “takes.” Write out much of what you want to say in advance. Then, at the studio, review a section and immediately do that section’s videotaping. You can redo that section as many times as it takes for you to feel you have the quality you want. It can help to have a friend or colleague positioned next to the video camera lens so you are “talking” to that person and getting his nonverbal feedback to your words (he can nod, smile, scrunch his eyebrows, etc. to give you “conversational” cues).

Should I use a teleprompter?

Using a teleprompter (reading text on a screen while you are being videotaped) is usually something that takes a lot of practice. Broadcasters train specifically to emote to a black camera lens. Because you are reading instead of speaking spontaneously, your voice inflection can become more formal and less personable, and your facial expression can become flat. Neither of these helps you present a dynamic, engaging impression to your viewer. Instead, review your message points on paper and then speak to a person standing next to the video camera.

What should I wear?

First and foremost, wear clothes that make you feel comfortable. If you are uncomfortable, that will show on camera. Choose clothing that complements your coloring. People often have success choosing a color that closely matches their eye color; that repetition of color creates a pleasing “pulled together” look. Plan to have color near your face so that you don’t look washed out under studio lights. If possible, try to avoid strongly patterned clothing—keep the focus on your face. And, it is a bit nerve wracking being videotaped, so tuck a tissue or two into your pocket and blot your face now and again between takes -- you’ll feel more confident.

Should I use video clips in my video?

Using videos clips can make it hard to stay within the total length of optimally between 1 to 1.5 minutes, and less than 2 minutes. Often the same concepts can be conveyed through the use of photos and illustrations flashed on the screen. You’ll have to make a judgment call. If you strongly feel this is the best way to convey your information, then do so. You will need to provide such video footage to your video editor.