Featuring Examples from Westminster Woods and Warner Park Nature Center
By Emilie Lygren
Note: Huge thanks to Rachel Anderson and her colleagues at the Warner Park Nature Center, and Rebekah Jones and her colleagues at Westminster Woods, for creating the videos featured below and for sharing ideas and expertise in the interview at the end of this blog!
As COVID-19 continues to shape our lives, many outdoor science and environmental education organizations have shifted towards a variety of distance learning initiatives to engage their learners and stakeholders, from synchronous Zoom classes to online videos featuring organisms and interesting features from their sites. It can be challenging to imagine how to replicate the excitement of exploring the outdoors in-person with a group of students, but we can, in fact, use what we know about learning and teaching to create dynamic, engaging experiences. In this blog, we’ll focus specifically on ideas for creating learner and nature-centered videos by highlighting a couple examples and sharing tips and ideas about making videos.
(Looking for more on distance learning? Check out our blog here for some general suggestions about facilitating outdoor science and environmental education distance learning experiences, and our thoughts on how to integrate each BEETLES design principle in this context. ).
What can learner and nature-centered instruction look like in a video?
Two of our BEETLES partners, Westminster Woods in Occidental, California and Warner Park Nature Center in Nashville, Tennessee developed videos of BEETLES student activities they’ve shared with their audiences. (Note: If you would like to adapt a BEETLES activity to create a video, please reach out to firstname.lastname@example.org so we can arrange the appropriate permissions). These videos offer some great examples of how we can apply what we know about outdoor science, and how we can apply what we know about teaching and learning, to the screen. We invite you to pause here and watch one or more of the videos below, keeping the following questions in mind as you do:
- How is the video nature-centered?
- How is it student-centered?
- Where are there opportunities for student engagement?
- Westminster Woods: I Notice, I Wonder, It Reminds Me Of
- Warner Park Nature Center: Discovery Swap
- Westminster Woods: Interview an Organism (Scroll down on this page to see worksheet and supporting materials for Interview an Organism)
Highlighting Key Approaches
These videos model a range of features that make them learner and nature-centered. A few key aspects we wanted to highlight:
First, the videos all include longer sequences of close-up footage of organisms, which the viewer is invited to pause, rewind, and observe. The videos also include many opportunities for student engagement through a range of different modalities like guided observation and journaling. When making a video, including scaffolding and staying true to the instructions from BEETLES activities can ensure the experience is learner-centered. Offering specific guidance for student observations interspersed with long, close-up footage of organisms and phenomena can replicate some of the teaching and learning that might happen in an in-person outdoor learning experience. However, in a video setting there aren’t opportunities for instructor-student interactions. In all 3 videos, instructors extensively model engaging in observation and conversation and following the instructions. This supports student participation in an asynchronous learning experience. So does including text or visual aids to describe and reinforce the instructions.
We hope these videos from Westminster Woods and Warner Park Nature Center offer some useful examples of taking what we know about how people learn and applying it to a video setting. Below, we offer more specific details on the process of creating these videos.
Program Leader Interview: Suggestions and Tips for Creating Videos
Creating instructional videos takes planning. To provide insight into the planning process, we had a conversation with Rebekah from Westminster Woods and Rachel from Warner Park Nature Center, who produced the videos we shared above. They both offer tips for making and editing videos, and ideas about engaging audiences with video content.
BEETLES: What informed your decisions about how to structure your videos? How did you consider making the videos accessible and engaging for students?
Rachel: There were some key things we wanted to think about when making this video. First, we wanted to keep it to 15 minutes. Limiting the amount of time was important for us, so it would be reasonable for students to watch online. And we also wanted to keep it engaging, while following the Learning Cycle and offering enough support for students to participate asynchronously.
Rebekah: We made sure to focus on the Learning Cycle, and made sure to include exploration especially. It could be easy to lean toward teacher-centered lecture when making videos, and our goal was really to give students something to actively do, ideally off-screen when possible. We also included worksheets and other materials in addition to the videos. We were thinking about how different kids would have access to different things, and thinking about how we could make these resources accessible. So we’ve tried with every activity to make a worksheet to go with a video. The student could use the worksheet as a way to remind themselves of important points, or to structure a drawing or notes. If there are students who can’t access the internet, or are having slow internet, you could go with the worksheet and it will give similar information. We’ve also tried to think about how many kids might not have access to a printer, so we tried to design the worksheets in a way where you can look at them to remind yourself of what to do, even if you can’t print it out.
BEETLES: How did you lean on your relationships with schools, families, or other stakeholders to create engagement with your videos?
Rebekah: We stayed in communication before and during the creation process. Our organization received a PPP loan, which gave us about 7 weeks for project work. One of our major projects was creating distance learning resources. Near the beginning of creating our distance learning resources, I talked with some teachers I know about what they thought would be helpful for us to create. This gave us some great ideas for what we could focus on. Our logistics coordinator also communicated with the teachers who usually come to our program. To share the activities, we posted the videos on our website and YouTube, and some are highlighted on our Facebook page. We also shared them in emails to teachers, and we are hoping the videos create some interest in our distance learning curriculum and “Virtual Field Trips,” which we will charge for (but some of the activities will always be free). Throughout the process, we have gathered more feedback through Google Forms surveys once activities were posted on our website. A lot of people who use the videos have given us feedback once we put the videos up, and that has been super helpful.
Rachel: Our situation is a little bit different. Our program is actually a part of a group of public schools, so we went directly to the science curriculum coordinators and asked, “Is this something that would be useful for you? What topics and grades would you want us to focus on first? And how are you going to disseminate this and get this out to teachers?” They said, “Yes, we need 3rd, 4th, 5th, and 6th grade, and we will be sure to get those out to teachers and it would be available to all teachers to use if they wanted to use it.”
This conversation also helped us hone in on the choice of doing videos. When we asked about doing synchronous experiences with them, there were some liability issues where our staff couldn’t be on Zooms with students, so we then had the goal of creating videos that students could engage with on their own, that would set up something for teachers to follow up on in a synchronous learning experience. So in our video version of Discovery Swap, the students get to see our pond habitat, then observe and sketch an organism before using a key to identify the organism and find out more information, just like in the activity write-up. Then, the teacher picks it up during their Zoom meeting and students participate in the Cool Organism Convention synchronously, and have the opportunity to share their discoveries with one another and reflect.
We also created a half page and a half teacher resource guide that goes with the Discovery Swap video, so the teacher understands what the activity is. The teacher resource guide also includes connections to science standards, and discussion questions to guide the rest of the activity when they have their Zoom meeting with students afterward.
BEETLES: What’s going well? What’s something that isn’t ideal, or something you would shift if you were to make more videos?
Rebekah: Something that worked really well was to engage the skills of all of our staff. My co-workers are really awesome. Each member of our team has unique talents and skills, like acting, writing, drawing, video filming and editing. It was really fun to discover those skills. We asked different individuals for help when needed and would invite them to share ideas and choose what they would like to work on.
One big challenge is our financial situation. We didn’t have any budget to buy equipment, so we were able to make do with our phones and what we had. Near the end of the school year, we got a PPP loan, which meant we could be paid to work for 7 or 8 weeks. We were able to do a lot in that time, but now we can’t make any more videos unless someone wants to pay us, because our staff are furloughed.
Rachel: It is time consuming, but so fun to create the videos! I would recommend not trying to do it all yourself. If there are people who are familiar with filming and editing videos it’s great to work with them if possible– that’s something we will change in the future.
BEETLES: What was your process like for planning and developing these videos? What are some suggestions or tips for those who’d like to create their own videos?
Rachel: One of the main things was, prepare and have a script. Even though Discovery Swap is already beautifully written up and everything is really there, going ahead and having a script that shows where you’re going to film this, where you’re going to film that, and how are you going to interact, was really important for us. Otherwise we realized we had to spend a lot of time editing things. A script helped us have a nice long shoot that doesn’t take as long to edit afterwards.
And sound is a really big issue. Using a microphone, understanding how it works and how to set it up close to your face, is super important. We would recommend to practice, practice, practice and test, test, test before actually filming the video.
Rebekah & Westminster Woods staff: Like Rachel said, having a script, and make it a dense script. You want your video to be concise, and starting with a good script is a way to do that. When I’m going to do an activity, I condense it to, these are the basic steps of the activity, and then make a script and plan for filming it.
Also– providing choices. We recognized that people are going to have different resources, access to different things in the outdoors, and it’s good to provide a lot of choices so that whatever lesson you provide can fit with the different resources people have access to.
One more tip is that it’s important to present information in multiple ways. Say it, show it physically, and show it with text. This supports all students in participating and learning successfully. Universal Design for Learning has a bunch of great ideas about this.
And, be open to how online lessons can be different from in-person outdoor education experiences. Lean into and be grateful for the unique possibilities of this format– like being able to feature up-close footage of organisms that might be hard to see in person, or including instructions to pause, rewind, and observe.
BEETLES: What do you think the role of videos will be in the field of outdoor science and environmental education moving forward? When and if it is possible to go back to in-person programming, do you still anticipate creating videos? Why or why not?
Rebekah: Moving forward into the immediate future, in the current school year, videos can be used to provide outdoor science and environmental education when students can’t attend in-person programming. This fall, we’ve started working with one school and doing “virtual field trips,” which include short Zoom sessions with naturalists and students and also time for students to use our online curriculum activities to explore nature around wherever they are. So far, this is going very well. The students enjoy it, and the teachers say it is an important and meaningful part of their distance learning curriculum.
When we go back to in-person programming, I envision our videos being used by teachers before and after in-person field trips. This could help create anticipation for field trips and help students connect what they learn here to their home communities. I think our videos could also be an extra opportunity to learn– for anyone, including adults. In the past, I’ve talked with members of visiting weekend retreat groups who were interested in the local ecosystem and especially our endangered coho salmon. We’ve made a series of coho salmon videos which are currently only available for use by teachers who pay for access, but when we are back doing in-person programming, I hope we’ll be able to make all our videos free.
Rachel: Moving forward, realizing now that we can create engaging videos (on our own and with limited budgets no less), I feel that videos will take a greater role in outdoor science education. We can reach a much larger audience and these videos can provide an excellent learning experience to supplement on-your-own field trips to our parks. Even when in-person programming begins, I anticipate we will continue to create videos for every grade level (K-high school) and will provide these resources for teachers and groups that we are unable to accommodate with naturalist-led field trips.
BEETLES: Thanks so much, Rachel and Rebekah, for sharing your time and expertise with us.
Below, we’ve got some tips from the Westminster Woods about their process for developing, planning, filming, and editing learner and nature-centered videos.
Westminster Woods Staff Summary of Process for Developing Videos
- Communicate with your audience about what they want and what would be helpful to them. (For us, we sent a survey out to teachers, and I talked with multiple teachers whom I know personally.
- If it is based on someone else’s activity, get permission to make it into a video.
- Write out a clear set of steps for doing an activity.
- Turn that into a video script.
- Find presenters to facilitate the activity on video, and ask them to learn their lines.
- Edit the video.
- Create a handout or worksheet that echoes what is in the video [a great place to repeat those clear steps for doing the activity].
- Post the video and handout. (Ours are posted on our website, YouTube, and highlighted in Facebook posts.)
- Gather and review feedback from users.
Westminster Woods Instructor Ruth Shirley’s Tips for Video Filming and Editing
1. Make a dense script. Keep the talking fairly short, editing the script so that you convey the information succinctly. Students will be more likely to watch a video that is shorter and more entertaining rather than someone talking a lot. This starts with a good script, including plans for locations of filming, props, and what presenters will physically be doing throughout the video.
2. Learn lines before filming. Presenters should learn their lines before filming. (This makes both filming and editing easier and less time consuming).
3. Take short clips. Shorter clips are much easier to download, move, and edit than longer clips.
4. Do multiple takes. Record the same thing two or three times. You’ll be thankful when you review the footage later and realize they stumbled over that one line, or you can hear a car driving past in one clip, for example.
5. B-Roll. Keep the viewer’s attention with b-roll. Break up and supplement the main footage with videos or pictures that will enrich the viewer’s experience.
6. Use a tripod. Even a cheap tripod is better at holding the camera still than your arms. This is an easy way to improve the quality of your video.
7. Smartphones take good video. I’ve found that the sound quality was better on an iPhone video than on our GoPro, so I often used the iPhone to shoot videos that included a lot of talking. But do be sure to get a mount so the tripod can hold your iPhone! Also, if your video includes audio narration, use a Voice Memo app on the smartphone to capture audio with good sound quality.
8. When editing, add text on the screen for key words or phrases. Just like when you’re teaching in person, including visuals supports student participation and comprehension. Add in text of key words and to reinforce instructions given by the presenter.