Using iMovie and a whiteboard to create RSA Animate-style videos to demonstrate understanding


For some time now the Royal Society for the encouragement of the Arts (RSA) have been posting RSA Animate videos. These videos are done in a definitive style showing a human creating some elaborate art “live” on a whiteboard that illustrates a talk. Here’s one of my favorites:

Demonstrating Understanding through Story

RSA-Animate style videos are a good way for students to show their understanding of a topic. They require the students to think about the topic and place it in a context and then communicate this as a narrative. Developing the story is a challenge for students and really exposes their level of understanding. You can’t fake a good story. It’s worth spending a good amount of time in the planning process as students may need quite a lot of time and support to develop a good story that represents their understanding of the topic. 
Additionally, by thinking of how to visually communicate their story, students develop symbolic representations of the information. This can aid in their own retention and recall of the information and help build strong neuronal connections to the content. 

The Process

Assignment brief
Students need to be given the outline of what’s expected in the assignment. Show them an example of the style and break down elements that they can identify i.e. story, visuals, pacing. Be explicit about the elements you expect to be included in their video. A recent example from GCSE Coordinated Science spelled out that students were to explain the concept of electrostatics and explain an application of it. Giving parameters on length is also important, in the Co-Sci case it was maximum of two minutes.
Research and planning
Next, students research and plan that story. This could take the form of an outline that details the arc of their story including a hook, middle and ending. Once they know what they want to say, they will develop a sketch that symbolically represents their story. Before they begin, it’s a good idea to check-in with students to see that they’ve got both their story and sketch solid. 
Visual story recording
The basic set-up is to have a surface to draw on with a fixed-position camera set-up to capture the entire surface the size of the finished sketch. There are a couple different options for recording the visual story. 
  • drawing on an A3 paper or mini whiteboard using a phone or iPad shooting downward
  • drawing on chart paper or a whiteboard using a phone, iPad or laptop camera shooting forward

The important things to keep in mind are:

  1. make sure the camera captures the entire sketch
  2. make sure the camera is stationary (don’t hand hold it)
  3. don’t block your drawing with your body
  4. pay attention to lighting to avoid shadows

Since you’ll be recording the audio story later, it’s not important to pay attention to the room noise, you’ll be muting the clip anyway during the editing process.

Editing and voice-over
The most efficient process for editing involves starting with the visual story and splitting it into segments. Next, crop each segment to draw the focus to that part of the story and adjust the speed so that a slider appears on the clip. You’ll fine tune the speed of each clip to match the voice over later. Then record the voice over for each segment. 
*Instructions for iMovie version 10.0.x update to this version before going ahead.
  1. Create a new event and import the recording of your sketching into this event
  2. Create a new movie project in this event and name it appropriately
  3. From the events window, select the entire clip and drag it into the editing window. 
  4. Use the adjustment tools to mute the entire clip.
  5. Use your mouse to skim over the clip and press “cmd B” when you’d like to split the clip. Delete segments you don’t want. You’ll want to split the clip into segments that show a particular idea or concept. 
  6. Use the adjustment tools to crop the video. Choose “crop to fill” and then move and size the frame so that it focuses in of the relevant part of the frame for each segment.
  7. Use the speed adjustment and select “fast” to speed up the action in the clip. You don’t have to worry about the exact speed right now because you’ll adjust the slider later on to match the length of the voice-over. 
  8. Record your narrative by doing a voice over. Press the “V” key to see the voice over tools. Press the mic icon to begin recording narration over the segments.
  9. As you finish each segment of narration, go back and adjust the speed of the clip(s) for that segment so that the drawing matches and augments the story. 
  10. Share the finished video.

Screencast of the editing process…

    and my finished example:

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