Our project began when the University of North Carolina system called for initiatives that further the development of online offerings. In response, the UNC School of Nursing (SON) applied for and received an E-Learning and Online Initiative grant to enhance an established online course. Grant recipients are expected to innovate, improve the quality of, or expand the reach of online programs at UNC.

Editor’s Note: Parts of this article may not format well on smartphones and smaller mobile devices. We recommend viewing on larger screens.

Because SON did not have technical or multimedia talent in house, they elected to partner with ITS Teaching and Learning Interactive (TLI). (Editor’s Note: ITS is Information Technology Services, an administrative organization within the University of North Carolina, providing strategic services in support of the university and its academic departments and students. TLI is a division within ITS.) TLI collaborates with University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill faculty to create dynamic multimedia products, such as reusable learning objects, interactive content modules, and larger course redesigns.

SON and TLI planned to use grant funds to enhance an existing online course with videos delivered via a customized course site. (See Sidebar for details.) TLI would lead the project, and set the instructional and technology standards and guidelines. SON’s designated subject matter expert (SME) would head up content development efforts.

Planned deliverables

At the first meeting, the SME (also the course instructor and the grant Principal Investigator [PI]) made her goal clear: to convert a text-only online course to a robust, discussion-based online course incorporating custom video scenarios. (See Figure 1.)

Figure 1 The user interface for Clinical Teaching in Nursing, a video-supported blended learning product

Although the SME knew she wanted some kind of multimedia, TLI moved forward with their proven process to determine additional instructional and media needs. TLI also had to ensure that the SME goals addressed student needs and were attainable with available budgets and timeline, and that proposed solutions were technically possible. After completing the instructional media needs assessment, key information came to light for the TLI team:

  • The target audience comprises distance education students enrolled in the UNC School of Nursing. These students are training to be nursing school instructors.
  • The course provides information on and examples of instructional methods that students will use with their own students.
  • The course was taught previously online via Blackboard (an online learning management system).
  • The course typically has one instructor with 10 to 20 students.
  • Instructional resources include a syllabus, reading assignments, and a textbook.
  • The current course did not engage students, and it was difficult to teach soft skills via reading assignments.

Ultimately, the SME and TLI agreed to combine video scenarios with reading, writing, and discussion assignments to create a blended learning solution for online students. They envisioned the videos as a means of providing the online students with accurate examples of teaching in action, and to generate class discussion. Project deliverables for TLI were:

  • Project Management oversight
  • Original instructional content documents and video scenario scripts (and revisions)
  • Up to eight video clips, with each clip up to 3’ 30” in length
  • Video pre-production, production, and post-production services
  • Customized course shell for the Web site
  • Navigation tools for video playback (pause, skip forward, skip backward, and play)
  • Original graphic art production for the graphical interface of the Web site
  • Project documentation and archives
  • Site migration plan

Content and format challenges

An ongoing challenge of video production in an academic setting (beyond the usual budget restrictions) is bringing people from vastly different fields to a common understanding. SMEs have spent a lifetime immersed in their fields and are renowned experts; that, however, does not mean they understand basic elements of video production, such as timecode and frame rates. Project time is often spent just helping to educate the faculty about the realities and possibilities of media and video. Suggestions of “just pull something from Google and change it” are not legal, professional, or instructionally effective. But in today’s Internet-ubiquitous world, such requests are common. TLI strives to enhance SMEs’ knowledge of media production so they can make instructionally and technically sound choices.

Other content-related challenges for this project included:

  • The content of clips did not clearly align with weekly lesson objectives.
  • The SME felt strongly that instead of hiring professional acting talent, we should use actual nursing students and faculty.
  • The SME wanted to capture the teaching moments in “real time” as they happened, with our crew going to classes and taping the action as it unfolded.

Regarding the second challenge, the SME felt that using students rather than actors would result in more realistic videos and would save money. The risks to the content and overall quality associated with using amateurs centered on their lack of experience in front of the camera and their full schedules. On the other hand, they did know the content, and were familiar with the processes to be taught, such as working with a mannequin in the OB (Obstetrics) learning lab.

The third point exposed the project to more serious risks. TLI Project Management outlined the risks of shooting video without planned locations, students, or content:

  • Students might not contribute in class if they were unconfortable on camera.
  • The class being taped might not have any outstanding “teachable” moments.
  • The content captured on tape might have nothing to do with the course or project objectives.

To begin addressing the challenges, the TLI team gave the SME targeted questions, with the goal of gathering specific information needed to begin the video production process:

  • Will actual medical procedures be shown in the videos? If so, we will need to determine how to get patient permission to videotape/record.
  • Will students be shown in the video? If so, we need to secure permission to videotape/record.
  • If we are not conducting actual procedures, will the actors hired need some training to show the skills being discussed? Who will provide that training? Where?
  • Can you create an initial listing of the specific situations or concepts?

TLI wrote multiple iterations of video scripts, which the SME reviewed. The scripts included actors’ lines, situations for the camera to capture and instructions for doing so, and structure for the action of each scene.

Even though they included accurate medical information, the SME felt the written script approach was too limited. The TLI team, on the other hand, was cautious about spending time and money to conduct video shoots that might result in nothing but unusable footage.

The compromise between TLI and the SME was to create a “road map” that listed specific content areas with key teaching points for each, a set number of students and teachers to demonstrate each area, and learning objectives for each area. The road map provided the balance between structure and fluidity needed by the project stakeholders.

Logistical and legal challenges

The other set of issues related to the logistics and legality of the filming itself. The SME wanted to film in the School’s renovated human simulation learning labs and classrooms, as well as in the UNC Hospital with real patients, instructors, and students.

Logistical challenges arose from these requests, including:

  • Scheduling shoots in school facilities around existing class and training schedules
  • Securing additional light, camera, and sound equipment to supplement existing equipment
  • Finding additional crew members to supplement the TLI base team
  • Finding students, teaching assistants, and faculty willing to participate in videos for free
  • Aligning student, teaching assistant, and faculty availability with location availability

Legally, standard written release forms had to be signed by students and teachers to grant TLI permission to film them. Those who did not sign the release forms were carefully excluded from all shots and recordings.

While filming in classrooms and learning labs only required a standard scouting visit to determine where to set up equipment, lighting needs, and so on, filming in a working hospital with actual patients was a legal challenge. First, there were HIPAA requirements to protect patient privacy. (Editor’s Note: HIPAA, the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act, is a U.S. law intended, among other things, to protect patient privacy.) Then there were the logistical issues of lugging carts of video equipment into areas of high traffic, delicate medical equipment that could not be disturbed, radio signals interfering with wireless microphone feeds, and small hospital rooms in which video equipment would have to fit around beds and medical support equipment.

We worked directly with the hospital administration to pinpoint where we would shoot (specific floors, halls, room numbers) and with nursing faculty to identify current patient cases and potential learning scenarios. We ultimately decided to have students play the role of patients to avoid the HIPAA concerns and still capture “real-life” teaching moments.


Over a short six months, SON and TLI achieved their goal, creating educational media that enhanced student interaction with content. The original budget reflected converting a text-only course into a Flash animation course. But after talks with the SME, and close review of the course content, all project stakeholders agreed to use the available funds for video production, Sakai (an open source learning management system) site set up, and DVD creation.

The grant award was $81,450, and the complete project came in under budget, at $53,176. Expenses included:

  • TLI labor hours (Project Manager, Producer, Director/Cameraman, Sound Engineer, Boom Operator/Grip, Instructional Designer, Graphic Designer, and video post-production)
  • Food for cast and crew on shoot days
  • One contractor (Director and Lighting)
  • Video equipment rentals (lights, light stands, cart, monitors, microphones, boom)
  • DVD disks/supplies, HD tape supplies, and batteries

Adapting the animation development process for video

The TLI production team uses a proven process to create instructional multimedia for University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill faculty and campus. That process grew from multimedia management best practices and hands-on experience developing Flash animation products. But a course redesign project using Flash is not the same as video production integrated into a blended solution. For this project, TLI adapted its animation development process for video production.

Consider some of the differences between Flash and video production, compared in Table 1.


Table 1 Flash production compared to video production.



You define your screen size when you start work on the file

16x9 screen definition (with High Definition) is predetermined.

Sound is an added layer in timeline.

Sound is captured on tape on location.

Style guide determines the color palette, font type and usage, layouts, and templates for the animation.

Director and Producer determine the atmosphere and screen composition by choosing lighting, set design, and camera angles.

All on-screen elements and their movements must be programmed.

Elements on screen are captured on tape on location via actors and their actions.


A key difference between animation and video is that with animation, you can add and remove elements from your screen as you develop the file. For video, you must plan what you want to show before you shoot, and you cannot make changes after the fact. If you don’t like a graphic in your animation you modify it or take it out. If you don’t like an actor in your video, your options are limited to editing script dialogue on set, or cutting out sections of linear footage later. Also, video has additional requirements, including scouting for and securing a location for the shoot, designing costumes, obtaining props, ensuring that actors know their lines and understand their motivation.


Three days of video shoots yielded 14 video clips of 2 to 10 minutes each. Video scenarios are used to demonstrate specific teaching techniques within a class interaction (that is, provide an opportunity for the instructor to take advantage of a case within the clinical setting and use this case to teach a specific skill or process) or common teaching situations instructors must face and manage. In addition, they provide a means for distance education students to see and hear the instructor interacting with the students and patients. As opposed to the text-only instructional content, the video provides students an opportunity to observe body language, tonal inflections, and true student interactions.

The completed clips were used in various ways, as illustrated in Figure 2:

  • An online course published in Sakai, which houses the clips, additional course content, and communication tools
  • An open Website (url) with access to students of any School of Nursing (https://www.unc.edu/tlim/son/ctin/)
  • A DVD used for presentations and grant proposals
  • Stills used in class discussions, presentations and proposals


Figure 2 Completed video clips could be used in three ways

Students, instructors, and administration praised the final product for its wide application and its potential for repurposing for multiple fields.

Lessons learned and recommendations

Because this project was our first as a team to involve significant video footage, we learned many valuable lessons along the way. They ranged from how to best work with SMEs on video projects; how to deal with HIPAA, FERPA, and other legal restrictions; and what skills, software, and equipment are required for video production. (Editor’s Note: FERPA is the Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act, a U.S. law that protects the privacy of student education records.)

Based on lessons learned, here are recommendations to other teams working on similar project assignments.

  • Work with your subject matter expert to find the best way to meet the instructional goals. The TLI team wanted written scripts, while the SME pushed hard for documentary style. The compromise, to list scene learning points and goals but not write any actors’ lines, pulled the best from both worlds to capture real students in action but with material relevant to the course.
  • Create a contact sheet with the phone numbers and e-mail addresses of everyone involved in the shoot. This includes crewmembers, actors, and SMEs. If you are in a restricted area (like a hospital floor), you need multiple ways to reach your crew if someone misses the call time.
  • Obtain written permission before filming in a secure area. Don’t just show up with a camera and expect to shoot what you want. You could get stopped, and, more seriously, you could end up with legal problems.
  • Get written permission from everyone appearing in the footage. In our case, a release form provides the University with legal rights to use the footage for educational purposes.
  • When working with non-professional actors, meet with them in person before the shoot to explain the process and their responsibilities. Then have someone on set to work with them. We met our student actors on the set, and spent much time reviewing the project, the video set up, and their roles. Also, a few students did not realize they would have speaking roles, and we had to prepare them for that level of participation.
  • Try and have the SME on hand at the shoots to confirm that the action captured is what is needed, and that it will work in the context of the class. For our project, the PI and online class instructor was not the traditional classroom instructor; we had to coordinate SME schedules, and, in some cases, did not have a subject expert on set to provide content input.
  • Keep monitors out of view of the students actors; being able to see the shot can distract or intimidate them. Having the monitors was an added expense for us, but it also enabled us to synch the lighting and color settings from different cameras. Additionally, with the monitors, the camera operators could see the other shot and avoid duplicating camera angles during a scene. Though the monitors helped the crew, they were also distracting for the student actors, as they wanted to see how they looked rather than staying “in character.”
  • On the set, clearly define roles. Determine the person responsible for each piece of equipment, and who does what during a shoot.
  • Bring copies of everything to have on hand at the shoot. You need immediate access to contact information, scripts, permission forms, and every other document relevant to production. You may not have Internet access depending on where you are, and you need to be able to answer questions quickly and accurately.
  • Shoot more footage than you need to increase your chance of getting the right shot, especially if you are working without scripts. Capture as much as you can while everything is in place, because you won’t get a second chance (most likely) to shoot again.
  • When possible, plan to use your media in multiple ways across multiple platforms. One of the strengths of this project was the versatility of the footage, and how it was delivered.


What started as a simple text-replacement project grew into a library of video clips packaged in myriad ways and used for various purposes. To complete the project successfully, TLI had to make some compromises (for instance, using non-professional actors), stray from our established process, and learn from our mistakes.



The grant was used to create three separate instructional resources: (1) custom video, (2) custom DVD, and (3) course site. Over the course of the grant period, the Principal Investigator (PI) approved each resource through a Statement of Work. Each Statement of Work included a description of the work and services provided, timeline, and associated costs. Table 1 lists the work and services provided for each instructional resource created through the support and funding of the GA grant.


Table 1 Work and services created through the grant


  • Project Management services
  • Location scouting visits (SON Learning Lab and UNC Hospital)
  • Video review disks, video streaming tests
  • Instructional design consultation and content reviews
  • Custom interface designs and revisions
  • Course supplement site set up
  • SON staff and faculty coordination and scheduling for video shoots
  • Video production equipment and contractor management
  • Site programming
  • SON Information Technology consultation and coordination
  • Audio production, and post production
  • Client reviews, consultations, meetings, and communications
  • Video production
  • QA cycles and associated revisions
  • Coordination of production files and project working-file data storage
  • Content research
  • Site migration
  • Video post-production


  • Project Management services
  • Video post-production and editing
  • Graphic assets and DVD menu
  • QA cycles and associated revisions
  • Coordination of production files and project working-file data storage
  • Client reviews, consultations, meetings, and communications



  • Project management services
  • Instructional design consultation and content reviews
  • Site programming
  • SON Information Technology consultation and coordination
  • Client reviews, consultations, meetings, and communications
  • QA cycles and associated revisions
  • Coordination with University Registrar
  • Coordination of production files and project working-file data storage