August 2013
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FROM THE TRENCHES: AN INTERVIEW WITH JENNIFER LEBEDEV, Part 2
Jayme Adelson-Goldstein, MWIS Newsletter Editor

In Part 2 of this month’s From the Trenches, Jennifer Lebedev of JenniferESL outlines her video-making process, talks about blogging, and shares her thoughts about the future of ESOL materials writing.

MWIS: In your 2013 interview for TESOL’s Electronic Village you said a 10-minute video takes about 20 hours to create. Could you break down that process for us?

JL: My videos tend to be lengthy because I choose to be thorough in my explanations. I’ve experimented with shorter videos in certain playlists, but in general I’d say 10 minutes is the average length of a video.

Planning might start on paper when I initially get inspired. Then I move to PowerPoint slides to help me organize my ideas, much like we’d use index cards for a research paper. As the details start to fall into place, I double check my information and continue to revise my slides. I admit there have been a number of grammar questions that have sent me to colleagues. (Stacy Hagen, I thank you for always being willing to help each time I turn to you!)

Then comes formatting. I check for consistency in fonts, colors, spacing, etc. I don’t have a design team or an editor. I do the best I can. By this point, I may have spent a few hours on the lesson. It takes a matter of days, usually not in the same week, to gather all my thoughts and build my text slides. I need to step away and then come back to view the content with fresh eyes.

Filming is both easy and hard when you’re a one-person show. It’s convenient because I get to do things the way I think they should be done. But it’s also challenging because I need to be my own director and my own cameraman. I generally don’t work with a script, and I have no teleprompt. I prefer to take and retake until my explanation flows logically and naturally. Then as I’m talking, I may realize that I want to make additional edits to my slides. My way of making a video lesson is not always a straight-arrow process. I try to plan and then execute, but I also take advantage of the freedom I have to make changes as I go along. That said, filming doesn’t take place on a strict schedule. I also have to work around airplanes flying over my house and other environmental noises. Sometimes I can work fast and get a clip recorded in one or two tries, but other days I feel tongue-tied and the number of bloopers add up. Recording for a 10-minute video can take an hour or more.

Doing the voiceover work for the text slides can take another hour, with multiple takes, and working around environmental noises.

Editing takes up the most time, especially because the majority of my viewers want captions, which take a lot of effort to type and proofread. I also like to animate the slides with callouts. Add in transitions, music, and volume adjustments and the minutes go by even faster. Technical problems can arise, and that slows down production. My least favorite part of making videos is dealing with tech problems because solutions aren’t always easily found.

Given all my other projects, you can understand why I sometimes only produce one video a month. Each time I finish a video, I feel it’s cause for a little celebration.

MWIS: Let’s talk about your blog. How did it come to be and how it has evolved?

JL: Pearson took a chance on me, and I’m lucky. It was their idea for me to try blogging. I hadn’t considered doing that back in 2008. They observed my efforts on YouTube and the response my work was getting. The suggestion to blog came from the marketing team. I also received guidance from them in setting up my categories and finding my niche. If I had begun on my own, I would have been more tentative. Instead, I was encouraged to jump in and post three times a week, focusing on teaching tips. I managed to keep that pace for a few years. That discipline paid off because a sizable collection of ideas was created in a relatively short period of time.

My source of inspiration is usually something in my own teaching experience or a question asked by a YouTube viewer. On occasion, I also write a post in response to a request from another teacher. Most often it is a new teacher reaching out to me for ideas on how to explain a topic or how to practice a certain language item. As other demands increased in my work schedule, I decreased my blogging to once a week, but I also learned how to develop my blog and my YouTube channel in a way in which they complement each other.

In terms of challenges, I know I need to work on being more concise. I love to write! The tech side of blogging hasn’t been nearly as demanding as running my YouTube channel or website. I’ve experimented with audio and polls on my blog, but I think offering PDF handouts for classroom activities was one of the better decisions I made.

MWIS: What role do comments from video viewers and blog readers play in your work?

JL: Comments are important. Sometimes when a certain request becomes frequent, I know I need to act on it. For example, a number of EFL teachers asked me for language support last year, and so I decided to post a small collection of videos with models of classroom language on my website. Other times, I know a request is beyond the scope of my work, so I’m happy to refer people to colleagues.

Sometimes the demands of my work weigh heavily on me, and when I feel discouraged about meeting everyone’s expectations, I usually come across a particularly moving comment from a viewer telling me how important my videos are to them. I feel renewed with confidence and determination. I want to try again. I want to create again.

One example comes to mind. Beginners had been clamoring for lessons starting with hello and A, B, C. I knew in 2012 it was time to meet their request. I used a rather different approach to teaching this group. I decided to work on camera with a friend and ELL. Our lessons are not planned out in detail. I know what language points I wish to cover, but there’s no script. It’s all real and natural. Not everyone likes this approach. They want me to teach to the camera as I usually do. However, for each negative comment, there have been dozens more telling me the love the approach. One viewer is having his elderly Russian mother learn along with my student. Another native Spanish-speaker felt inspired by my student and was encouraged to try to learn in light of my friend’s willingness to go on camera, mistakes and all. Newer teachers have appreciated seeing how I deal with corrections and offer prompts.

I tell people that the beauty of YouTube is that viewers can be exposed to a variety of teaching styles and accents. It’s a healthy experience to learn from more than one source and through more than one approach.

MWIS: What do you see as the future of ESOL materials writing and development?

JL: The future is already here. We are beginning to see and participate in the transition to richer media formats. Materials writers need to learn to create digital content and blend it with traditional text. We need to learn to work with templates for interactive exercises.

We also need to be willing to interact online with those using our materials. Social media is creating an audience that expects accessibility to others. Today authors can have a face and a voice through the Internet. I think in the future authors will need to have a face and a voice.

Teachers as a whole are becoming more tech savvy, so we will likely see even greater degrees of customization in the online components of textbook series. Teachers will seek more opportunities to be content creators themselves.

The future may see the decline of titles authored by a single person and a rise of content created by different people with different areas of expertise. Many writers have ideas, but don’t know all the options technology can currently offer. Sometimes writers get inspired just by playing around with a new digital quiz format or new video editing software. New technology can challenge us to re-imagine the presentation of our content.

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Curious about the future of interactive authoring? Take a look at this article about Inkling or visit the Inkling Habitat website.

Writing for the Educational Market features resources for freelance writing in the education market.

Mark Your Calendar
2013
Sept: T&AA Webinar: Pushing Your Writing, Raising Your Profile 17/9/13; 4-5 ET
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2014
Feb: MWIS Newsletter
March: TESOL 2014, Portland (26-29 March)