Campus Technology has an article in a recent issue about Purdue using actors instead of instructors to present video content. At first I had a knee jerk “The Apcolypse is here” reaction, but the article raised some interesting points worth considering in general.
Captioning and Scripting
One feature not discussed in the article is that video captioning could be much simpler in this model. That’s because all actors read from a script prepared by the instructor (and instructional designer). It’s also unlikely that an actor will deviate much from the script because that person won’t have the expertise to do so.
That’s good news for captioners because it means that a ready made transcript is available and can be quickly attached to a video file. In contrast, most instructors using video want to “wing it” like they do in face to face lecture (and I am quite guilty there myself). Unfortunately, this means that captioners must
Another nice feature of scripting is that you can preplan examples in advance. In the “wing it” model, instructors can make a mistake then have to do a retake. It’s happened. The “wing it” model means that instructors, even experienced instructors, can make strange grammatical errors (e.g. replacing “apathetic” with “apathetical”). Finally, scripting allows the team to split the lecture into smaller components of 7 min max. That’s about as long as students can focus on a video online.
At Purdue, their surveys found that students generally preferred watching the actor even knowing that that person was not the instructor. At first I thought about “inauthenticity”, but even PBS often uses actors to provide narration for documentaries. A typical example is Benjamin Bratt providing narration for the show Latino Americans. A commenter also points out that actor Morgan Freeman hosts and narrates the science series Through the Wormhole. It’s a proven practice.
I think one has to be careful how content is presented, but so long as students don’t think of the presenter as the instructor, I do see that there are some potential benefits.
Using a voice actor to narrate images on the screen could be particularly effective as it would move lecture videos away from relying on a talking head. One could then insert the actual instructor for a few key points. I would also like to see the instructor make a personal introduction on video (although not all instructors want to be taped).
Alternatively, we could begin to invest in training instructors how to speak on camera and/or to use a written script. I could see some cultural resistance to this idea, but if it were accepted, I suspect that even face to face lectures and instruction could improve as well. Aren’t educators complaining that faculty in higher education have little to no formal communication training as instructors?
It could save money in the long run as professional actors (i.e. one in a union) is a pricey investment. In fact, Purdue creates video in Dallas even though they are in Indiana. They need to make sure they have studio space available once an actor is found. Imagine the costs of updating that course.