Invitations to Learn and Play through Video: Practical Tips for Museum Professionals

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by Kim Koin, Chicago Children’s Museum

Chicago Children’s Museum (CCM) closed its doors to the public in March 2020 to help stop the spread of COVID-19. Like many learning spaces, CCM needed to switch from in-person to online interactions to continue connecting with our community during the pandemic. Museum educators soon began making videos at home, building upon our best practices for interacting with guests at the museum. Here are some tips gained by staff that we hope other museum professionals can use and adapt for your online programming!

Setting up a shot to film on the floor, complete with a stack of books. A selfie stick angles the phone camera down, and a book is placed on top to keep it steady!

Prep: Give yourself LOTS of time to figure things out beforehand. Museum professionals already know the importance of planning your workshops and activities. This is especially important when there’s a digital component to your programming. For a five-minute video, consider that you’ll need to create a concept, gather and test materials and processes, write a script, set up the camera, and do numerous dry runs.  

  • Choose your filming space: At the museum, our learning spaces included exhibits, studios, and labs. With the transition to digital experiences, our homes have become the environments for learning. Try to use a well-lit, sunny space, such as a room with a big window. No windows? Turn on all the lights and bring in a lamp, if you can. Have the light source in front of you, not behind. The camera should be between you and the light source.
  • Assess how your space looks on camera: Check your space—both foreground and background. Is it distracting? Interesting? Can people see laundry on the floor?  

“Camera” & audio set up:  Filming was new for many of us at the museum. We spent time experimenting with our smart phones, thinking about framing, background noise, and prototyping.

Framing the shot: In this photo, many of the items on the table are going to be obscured by the captions. All the materials should be moved up a few inches.
  • Steady your camera: Place your cameras on a stable surface—a stack of books or a laundry hamper can work. It’s very hard to hold the camera steady by hand.   
  • Use the right video settings: Make sure your phone is on “video mode,” not “camera mode.” It’s a different ratio!
  • Frame your shot: You want your viewers to be able to see what you are doing. If you are sitting at a table, place the camera above you and tilt it slightly down so your table is in view. Also, try not to have any important materials at the bottom of your shot so you can add captions at the bottom of the screen in post-production. 
  • Reduce background noise: It’s amazing what the mic can pick up! Make sure any televisions, radios, and even fans are off.  
  • Enhance sound absorption: If possible, record in a space that has sound absorption elements like carpet and curtains. The sound quality will be better than recording in a space with all hard surfaces—which can create an echo.
  • Do a test run: Take a short video (not just a photo) of your setup. Watch it twice, first to focus on your framing, and then to focus on sound. When you start and end your video, pause for a few seconds while the camera is rolling. This gives time to cut and paste a transition.
  • Edit out mistakes: If you trip over your words, no need to do the whole video again! Just stay still, pause for 5 seconds, and begin your sentence again. Through video editing, you can cut out the “extra,” previous line.
  • Look at the camera when you are talking: Pretend you are talking to a guest or friend. Keep your eyes on the lens to maintain a happy connection. You can also place script notes behind the camera at the same height. This way, you can still look in the direction of the camera when you are looking at notes.
  • Talk louder than normal: Pretend someone is the in the back of the room and is hard of hearing. 

Action: Before we began creating content at home, we museum educators were used to being in front of a crowd—but not a camera! We had to learn how to do a few things differently. However, our core facilitation style stayed consistent.

Though there can be some shyness to overcome, try to focus on the way you would facilitate without a camera in front of you. What’s your teaching style? How do you like to engage your students and audience? Use the same tone, sense of humor, playfulness and “voice” that characterizes you when you are facilitating in-person at the museum. By being yourself, your virtual facilitation will be most natural and engaging.

Last tip: Take a deep breath and smile—you’re doing great!

Kim Koin is Director of Art & Tinkering Lab Studios at Chicago Children’s Museum.