“The mediocre teacher tells.  The good teacher explains.  The superior teacher demonstrates.  The great teacher inspires.”

– William A. Ward

I know that it is blasphemy to talk about education like it is a business, but there are a lot of parallels that I find useful.  I particularly like this quote from Go-Giver author Bob Burg:

“All things being equal, people do business with, and refer business to people they know, like, and trust.”

The education equivalent of this quote would be: “All things being equal, students learn from, and tell their friends about, teachers that they know, like, and trust.”

Do Your Online Students Know, Like, and Trust You?


How do your online students get to know you?  Do they develop a connection with you?  Do they see you as more than a name at the bottom of an email?



How do your online students learn to like you?  Do they feel like you are helpful?  Supportive?  Approachable?



How do your online students learn to trust you?  Do they trust that you can help them succeed?  Do they trust that you want them to succeed?

My students know me, like me, and trust me for lots of reasons.  But I can say, without a doubt, that the way that I use video is what sets me apart from the average online teacher.

Why Should You Make Videos for Your Online Courses?

To say that I am super busy is an understatement.  I teach 10-15 course sections a semester.  I commute 10 hours a week.  I love spending time with my family more than words can describe.  And, I am a worthless lump of a human when I don’t get 6 hours of sleep or more.

I don’t have time to waste.  Yet, I make time every single week to create videos for my online students.  Why?  Because they are the most powerful teaching tool that I have ever used.  Nothing else even comes close.

I will expand on these points in future posts, but my teaching videos have:

  • Transformed my relationship with my online students
  • Improved my course completion rates
  • Increased overall student satisfaction
  • Helped me land online teaching jobs at multiple schools

Nobody believes in the power of video as a teaching tool more than I do, but I completely understand if you don’t want to make 900 videos (and counting) like I have.

So, how do you decide when it is worth your time to make a video for your online students?

When Should You Make Videos for Your Online Courses?

The simplest answer is to make a video any time it will H.E.L.P (Humanize, Engage, Learn, Problems):

  • Help Humanize your online course
  • Help Engage your online student
  • Help your students Learn difficult concepts
  • Help deal with Problems that arise

1.  Use Video to Help HUMANIZE Your Online Courses:

A lot of online teachers are worried that AI teaching robots will take over our jobs in the future.  I am much more concerned with the number of online teachers that act like teaching robots right now!

The first thing that I want my students to learn about me is that I am a real person that really cares about them.

Humanizing your only course means that you are willing to go the extra mile to help your online students see that:

  • You care about them
  • You want to let them into your world
  • You want to build a relationship with them
  • You are someone that can be trusted
  • You are excited to be a part of their team

These are the best ways that I have found to use video to bridge the divide between you and your online students:

Welcome Students to the Course:

A course overview video is a great way to let your students see that you care about the subject and care about their success.  You should also use this video to walk the students through the course.  Your students will know that they are in good hands right out of the gate:

Here is my most recent course overview video (made using Camtasia by TechSmith):

There is nothing fancy about this video at all, but students love them.  Here are two messages that I received from students as a result of this video:

“Good morning! You have no Idea how wonderful and encouraging it was to receive your email this morning–I’ve been a nervous wreck! Now, I cannot wait for class to start–I’m convinced I’ll learn lots and have some fun along the way! Thanks for being a great instructor, already!”

“I absolutely loved watching your video! I’ve taken several online classes and haven’t seen a teacher actually make a video with them explaining everything. I’m so excited to start your class! :)”

This video may be the most important ten minutes I spend in this course all semester.

Get Personal With a Video Bio:

I am assuming that you have a written bio somewhere that your students can read.  Recording a video that shares the same information will go a long way towards humanizing your online course.

It is fine to share some of your academic interests, but I do think this video will be more impactful if you are willing to share some of your personal interests as well.  You have to decide how far you want to let the students into your world, but you at least need to let them see the shoreline. 

I have found that students respond the most when I talk about my family.  My family is the most epic thing in my life.  I talk about them in my onsite classes.  It only seems right to share that part of me with my online students as well.

Students feel like they get to know my entire family, but Oliver has always been the star of the show.  He has made an appearance in my videos since students could hear him crying from his nursery.

Here is some footage that I took when I interviewed Oliver earlier this year.  I have used little snippets from this video in several of the emails that I send out to my students.  He loves it, and they love it too!

Check out Part 1 of my 3-part student engagement series for more ways to get personal with your students.

2.  Use Video to Help ENGAGE Your Online Students:

Is True Engagement Even Possible in Online Courses?

This is the number one concern that I hear from instructors that don’t believe in the power of online education.  They are terrified that they will lose out on the relational part of teaching that they enjoy.  They can’t imagine how they could teach with a computer screen between them and their students.   The truth is that you just have to be more intentional about cultivating relationships with your online students.  You have to find ways to make sure they know that you see them and that you notice them.


Instructor presence can drive student success in the online classroom.  Creating videos may not directly improve learning, but it does improve engagement, connection, and the relationship that the students have with you.  This makes students more likely to show up ready and willing to learn.

How are you going to add the personal touch to your online course?  

Motivate Them Every Monday Morning:

If I could only make one video for my students, it would be the weekly intro video.  It is a must in the modern online classroom.  In five minutes, you can show students why last weeks content mattered,  minimize confusion about the week ahead, and remind them that you are with them every step of the way.  

Use Video as a Feedback Tool:

Quality feedback is critical in the online classroom.  I find that the students enjoy video feedback, and it takes me less time than written feedback.  I am all about finding win-win scenarios whenever possible.

Check out this impressive example of how to use Snagit to connect with your online students in a powerful way:

Snagit is also my favorite tool to reach out to students with a quick video if they are falling behind in the course, have a negative experience in class, or get “caught” doing something awesome.

Just imagine how powerful it would be if every online teacher on the planet used these tools to develop a genuine connection with one more student this week?

Check out this infographic on Pinterest for more information about why video is a powerful engagement tool:

3.  Use Video to Help Your Students LEARN Difficult Concepts:

I never planned on making videos for my students.  I definitely never planned on making hundreds of them.  At the time when I made my first video, I didn’t have a smartphone, and I had only used my iPad to watch Netflix.  If I can do it, anyone can do it.

My first video showed students pictures of my colon.  It doesn’t get more personal than that.  I was missing a week of onsite classes after having my gallbladder removed.  My students were trying to learn the digestive system on their own while I was sitting at home twiddling my thumbs.  I decided to give video a try.

I downloaded the ShowMe app, uploaded some textbook images (and images from my colonoscopy), and made a handful of short videos to make up for their missed lecture time.  I would share that first video here, but there are copyright protected images (and you don’t need to see inside my body).

The response from the students was overwhelmingly positive.  They asked me to keep making the videos, so I made three videos for each chapter until the end of the course.  And I have never stopped.

I don’t think that content videos are magic.  I can’t even prove that they help my students learn.  But I know that they keep my students engaged and interested.  This certainly can’t hurt.

Here is the best advice I can give after making content videos for years:

  1. Start slow: If you make one video a week, you will have a library of 104 videos in two years.  Slow and steady wins the race.
  2. Start by being a curator rather than a creator: Focus on creating humanizing and engagement/connection videos first.  You can find great content videos on YouTube.  You can’t find videos of you being you anywhere else.
  3. Choose the best place to start:
  • Cover content that you love to teach. Your passion and enthusiasm will rub off on your students
  • Build content around the topics where students are usually getting stuck
  • Cover content that isn’t covered well in other resources. Tell stories.  Use analogies.  Give examples that they won’t find in their textbook
  1. Start and finish strong:  Videos that introduce topics and unit review videos go over especially well.

The beauty of building a content library over time is that “past you” gets to focus on content while “present you” gets to focus on building relationships and connecting with your students.  And “future you” is probably busy flying a car or something :).

4.  Use Video to Help Deal With PROBLEMS that Arise:

Have students ever taken something you wrote out of context?  Have you ever regretted an email the moment you sent it?  Does your tough love feel a little light on the love?

Here is a good example.  Sometimes I tell a student, “You can do better.”  Do they think I am putting them down for shoddy work?  Or can they tell that I believe that they are capable of great things?  Video removes all doubt by letting them see (and hear) the emotions that are hard to relay in written form.

I like to make a video any time a written message could be taken the wrong way.  I write when things are black and white.  I make videos when there is nuance or shades of gray.

Here are some of my favorite examples:

Syllabus Overview Video:

I am often forced to use a syllabus template that looks more like a life insurance policy than an invitation to learn.  This is NOT the first experience that I want my students to have in my online courses.

I need my students to know that my classes are demanding, but I never want them to feel like I am unfair or inflexible.  I use this video to soften the edges of the syllabus and make sure they know that I am a partner to rely on rather than an obstacle to overcome.

Videos about Sensitive Subjects:

Do you have a strict late work policy?  Do you not offer extra credit?  Have you ever told your students why?

Students automatically assume that you are cruel or uncaring if they don’t get their way.  A three-minute video that explains your position on topics like these can turn a tough situation into a teachable moment.

Trust is hard to earn and easy to shatter.  Don’t let a lack of nonverbal communication be an issue when the solution is one webcam away.

Bonus:  Get Your Online Students in on the Act:

Here are some examples of ways that you could have your online students incorporate video to H.E.L.P themselves:

(I do not require students to make any videos, but I let them know that they are a welcome addition to the course)

  • Have students create a short video as part of the Week 1 personal introduction discussion post
  • Use a tool like Flipgrid to create video responses to discussion posts
  • Allow students to submit videos as part of virtual lab assignments
  • Have your students do a video with their thoughts about the course to share with future students

Here is a short tutorial video about how students can use Flipgrid from Michelle Pacansky-Brock on the Online Network of Educators YouTube channel:

It also appears that Flipgrid is focusing on making it so your videos can be as inclusive and accessible as possible.

Final Thoughts:

I only have one parting thought.  STOP focusing on what could go wrong when you start making videos for your students!  Instead, ask yourself, “What’s the BEST that could happen?”

Check out this post if you need more proof that you SHOULD start making videos, and check out this post if you need more proof that you CAN start making videos.

I want to hear from you.  Feel free to:

  • Leave a comment below.  I will personally reply to each one
  • Tag me @GrowGrayMatter on Twitter or LinkedIn to move the discussion to my favorite social media channels
  • Send me a message through the contact form on the bottom of the About page

Crush it!

Dr. O


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