8 February 2021
By Wendy Bohon, Beth Bartel, and Callan Bentley
As much of the world’s population sheltered in place during the COVID-19 pandemic, scientists and organizations stepped forward to create and share ‘zero-budget’ educational video content directly with students and the public. Using only phones, computer cameras, video conferencing apps and tools readily available to us as geoscience professionals, we created video content covering topics ranging from rock identification and interpretation, to the physics of hazards and geotravel. The usual suite of social media platforms (YouTube, Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, and LinkedIn) enabled free, fast, global distribution of content.
Using the Zoom record feature, Beth Bartel created a geologic travel video blog called “Going Places,” where special guests took viewers on video tours of their favorite geologic locations, explaining the geological and personal significance along the way. Callan Bentley used a digital camera and the PC “Camera” app to record sessions of “Rock du Jour”. In his series, Callan and his son, the “mini-professor,” showed rock samples and outcrops and tell the geologic story behind each one. Wendy Bohon created a series called “Wednesdays with Wendy,” where she modeled hands-on earth science activities that kids could do at home using household items, often with the assistance of her own six-year-old twins. These were live streamed on Facebook using an iPhone camera. All of these products were then uploaded to the creators’ YouTube channels and then disseminated broadly across the various other social media platforms.
This type of video content is now very easy to produce, and the pandemic gave us the excuse to create it. But is it engaging to viewers? YES!
On YouTube, episodes of “Going Places” have between 40-500 views, episodes of “Rock du Jour” garnered 70-275 views and “Wednesdays with Wendy” have received 20-120 views. The Facebook Live videos of “Wednesdays with Wendy” have been watched between 200-1700 times, depending on the episode. We expect these numbers to increase as parents and educators continue to turn to YouTube for earth science content during the pandemic and after.
Through making these videos, what did we learn?
- Plan ahead! Make an outline of what you’re going to talk about and then practice. Have all materials you need already prepared and ready.
- Be aware of your filming space; see how it looks on camera before you start filming and be aware of the lighting and sound quality of the space.
- Small expenditures can yield outsized results. While all of these series were created on a budget using technical equipment already available to the creators, spending a small amount of money can improve the final product. For instance, consider investing in a green or blue screen to improve the background, and explore different types of low-cost editing software to allow for voice overs, splicing and credits. Additionally, good high-speed internet is a must!
- Create several episodes at once. Once you have found a suitable space, prepared your equipment and gotten yourself “camera ready”, it’s a real time saver to do more than one episode. This also allows you to have episodes “in the bank” so that you can post new videos to YouTube on schedule, making your series feel like a TV show.
- Advertise your product widely, including across multiple social media platforms. Each of these platforms has a different audience, so broad dissemination will increase reach.
While the tools we used existed before COVID-19, the pandemic lowered the bar for content production such that we, as well as others, were motivated to create short, simple videos in our area of expertise. Producing these simple videos allowed us to connect with others, share our fascination with this planet, and provide entertainment and learning for others who were shut off from exploring the world during the pandemic. Effective science communication by video can be simple, engaging, and personal.
-Wendy Bohon is Senior Science Communication Specialist with IRIS, Beth Bartel is a graduate student at Michigan Tech University, and Callan Bentley is an Assistant Professor of Geology at Piedmont Virginia Community College