By Lisa Harris, Sarah Dyer, and Helen Walkington
What have introductory videos on Virtual Learning Environments (VLEs) got to do with social justice? Our aim in this blog post is to persuade you of the value of short introductory video as a one mechanism of inclusion. You may worry that an introductory video is, at best, a distraction from the real ‘business’ of the module; at worst, off-putting ‘fluff’ or a ‘vanity project’. However, these videos though are a way of welcoming students and supporting them to establish a sense of belonging. Whilst this is important for all students, we know that students’ initial sense of belonging is likely to be aligned to their educational and family background. We know too that sense of belonging is likely to impact on retention and student experience. We use the blog to suggest some next steps for making inclusive and engaging introductory videos.
An introductory video should welcome your students and help them to feel at ease. A video recreates some of what you probably do as second nature when you walk in to the first lecture or seminar with students. It starts to build a relationship which supports learning, and communicates something about you as a person with expertise and interest in the subject. Online teaching shouldn’t set out to merely mimic in person teaching but this is something important that you need to make sure isn’t lost. The opportunity that an online learning environment affords is that a video can be viewed and re-watched in ways that are meaningful and convenient to each student.
Whatsmore, intentionally welcoming students is particularly powerful for students who don’t bring with them a strong feeling of belonging. While this could be any student, it is likely to be more common for non-traditional students. In a collection about teaching in the context of diversity, Paul Gillary (2015) identified photos and biographies of authors, along with video abstracts, as important tools to support diverse students. By curating a warm welcome (as opposed to a distant and formal institution/departmental introduction) we have the opportunity to demonstrate to our students that we see them all as belonging in our learning community.
Welcoming and connecting with students should be the priority. If you have lots of information that you want to communicate, think where else you can do this. (Clarity of expectations is another fundamental foundation of learning. It shouldn’t be neglected, but it does not belong in the introductory video.) A welcome video can set the tone of interactions in the learning environment.
Possible prompts to choose from:
Why might the student be interested in this module?
How might the module challenge the way a student thinks about things?
What will students learn?
What (big) questions will you address in the module?
How does the module help make sense of current events/pressing contemporary challenges?
What do you find really interesting in the module?
What do you really enjoy in the module?
This guide  provides a useful comparison of the features of the various video creation tools that are now supported by the University of Exeter.
In order to ensure the video is welcoming and inclusive, it’s important to prioritise informality. There’s no need for “studio” quality, in fact that can be quite off-putting and “corporate” as well as expensive and time-consuming to produce (Finn 2020). Within a basic Teams meeting (invite yourself to a call) you can record a short message, upload to Stream and embed in an ELE page. No need for editing – if you want to change something, just re-record and replace. The big advantage of this method is that you can include more than one person and make the introduction into an informal conversation, without the participants needing to be together in person – see this example .
Stream adds captions to the video – they will need some checking and editing but it is easy to do. You can always supplement your introduction with further messages throughout the module, for example as weekly summaries, or explanations of a task, and embed them into your ELE course where you wish.
To be truly inclusive, think about:
- Facilitating asynchronous viewing
- Avoiding jargon and thinking carefully about what prior learning people have.
- Ensuring learners with auditory disabilities can access the video – ie include a transcript (NB this can be done while making the video, but there is a need to speak slowly and clearly to ensure the captions match exactly what was said. Check and edit this before posting).
- Keeping the video short, informal and informative
- The legal requirement for transcripts/captions.
For full details of how to develop accessible and inclusive digital materials, checkout this section of the Enhancement Hub .
 Links to a resource accessible through University of Exeter sign-in.
Finn, M. (2020) Online resources and narrowcasting the curriculum accessed: https://sway.office.com/DEBBnkw6TDdlLska?ref=Link
Gillary, P. (2015) How this publication is made accessible. Teaching in the context of diversity:
Reflections and tips from educators at King’s College London Higher Education Research Network Journal pp. 5-6 accessed: https://www.kcl.ac.uk/study/learningteaching/kli/publications/hern-j/journals/hernjvol9.pdf
The University of Exeter’s Education Incubator scheme. Promoting pedagogic innovation and collaboration with an aim to enhance learning across the University and beyond.