Amateur Video On Your School Website

If a picture is worth a thousand words, then a video must be worth a million. Motion picture and audio better simulate “being there” than a long article or photo gallery. Video may capture the subtle cues of emotional expression and the energy of the moment that help a viewer understand the intangible values of your organization. Now, it is possible to capture video with a small, portable device and transfer it to the web with just a few clicks.

Why isn’t online video more popular on independent school websites? One reason may be the apprehension of some about posting “home videos” on your school website or social network site. Given all the care that we put into our print publications, we may wish to hold videos to the same standard. That would be nice, but It takes many hours (and/or dollars) to create professional-quality video. Perhaps we should hold video to a different standard than written articles. Could a new standard for school website video include amateur content?

Authenticity

In the new web, content has trumped style. YouTube, Facebook, Wikipedia, and Twitter have demonstrated the greater value to users of authentic content over quality of presentation. YouTube is the fourth most popular site on the web. The President of the United States addresses the nation via YouTube. Cellphone reports of political unrest and natural disasters run on major network news broadcasts. At times like these, the value of amateur video is the authenticity of the content, not its production quality.

We may apply the same test to school events, even though they may not convey the same impact as mass demonstrations and natural disasters. Take the following video. I shot this at our annual homecoming event, a varsity soccer game attended by alumni and long-time faculty. It may well capture essential aspects of our school better than highly polished writing in a glossy magazine, especially if you studied with these teachers 20 years ago.

Choose to film school events that naturally capture the special qualities of your institution.

Edit as much as time allows

While you may not have the time or expertise to create professional-quality video, you can still produce video of reasonable quality. Depending on how you learn best, you may benefit from attending a beginner’s training for iMovie or Adobe Elements Premiere. Consider using a tripod to stabilize the picture and an external microphone to capture good audio. Develop a basic sense of composition, and timing. Learn to add just enough transition effects that your clips smoothly link together. Cut at least 90% of your original footage, keeping just the very best scenes.

Track your success

Following the progress of your new videos is essential to inform your own publishing choices and convince others that the experiment is working. Social media websites track the number of views of each of your content items. This allows you to track the number of video playbacks, one potential measure of success.

blip stats

If you use Google Analytics on your school website, check out the “time on page” measure. Larger values suggest that more viewers actually watched the video all the way through.

time on page

Determining perceived quality is more difficult. Comments may provide some clue. If hundreds of people view a video and only one person complains about video quality, then you’re probably on the right track.

comments

Start on your social media sites

You may not want to post your first video experiments to your public-facing websites. Facebook and YouTube are chock full of amateur video, so people will expect to see work of lower production quality there. The community pages on your school website may be another good place to start. Yet don’t stop there. Collect data on these first experiments in order to make an informed decision about whether to extend the experiment to the public-facing pages on your main school website.

On perfection

A founding faculty member at a well-regarded school recently retired. In his farewell remarks, he cautioned the community to resist perfectionism.

We are all under the illusion that we can and should be perfect all the time. If we don’t do “excellent” work everyday, then we don’t “measure up” to [our] standards. An awful lot of us impose these unrealistic expectations on our selves, and it’s not healthy. […] Our school culture unduly puts pressures on us to look perfect in the eyes of everyone else. Stop!

4 comments

  1. Jac de Haan says:

    As a middle school, our reluctance to prominently display video has to do with privacy and likeness permissions. We do have accounts with YouTube and other services so students can view work, but keep the keywords vague so that we aren’t searchable. Thoughtful article, thanks.

  2. Richard says:

    Jac, our school has the ability to post the image of any student online. As a rule, we do not associate names with images online. We have extended this rule from photos to video, but it allows us to post videos freely. This is similar to the way the press operates — the local paper can publish your image, and you don’t really have the right to stop them.

    Richard

  3. Lorrie Jackson says:

    Great post on amateur video. I read an article on video recently that argued that effective video on your web site must either be amateur and short or highly professional and well-produced. Half-way professional or done inhouse is seen as half-hearted by the user, great news for schools. We’ve used videos of students inviting other students to our Open House, among other things. Again, thanks for the thoughts.

  4. Richard says:

    Thanks, Lorrie. It’s good to hear validation of our approach. I don’t think anyone will mistake our efforts for half-way professional!