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How to Use Your Smartphone to Enhance Student Experience

By Benjamin Hartman, Video Production Specialist

"The best camera is the one you have with you." Unknown, but often repeated...

At this point in history, you could say: the best video recorder is the one you have with you, the best audio recorder is the one you have with you, or the best computer is the one you have with you.

The camera, video and audio recorder we have with us most of the time is in our phones – and even if you have one that's a few years old, it's still a capable multi-tool.

That smartphones are capable and ubiquitous is perhaps obvious, so why bother pointing out the obvious? With the investment of a relatively small amount of time and little to no money, you can leverage these tools toward the creation of multimedia elements that will help you engage with your students and create a connection that can improve their experience in your course

Take pictures, lots of them.

If you lack confidence as a photographer, the only way to get better is by taking pictures. As you gain confidence, try to create images that describe your world, your perspective, and/or the areas of your expertise. Use these photos to help communicate these elements to your students through Canvas.

Ask yourself what you want to be in the frame, and leave it there for a while.

Video, like photography, can communicate a great deal in a short amount of time if a viewer can understand what they're seeing. When a video image is unclear – that is, if it is shaky, out of focus, or not sufficiently bright – it runs the risk of not being understandable. 

Resist the urge to record your video handheld and instead use a smartphone tripod holder and tripod. They don't have to be expensive or heavy duty – the tripod adapter can cost as little as $8, and the tripod around $20. 

To keep your video recording app from constantly adjusting focus and brightness (exposure), select what you want to be in focus (or to fix your exposure to) and engage the AE lock on an iPhone, or AF/AE lock on an Android phone.

If you're shooting indoors and it's not bright enough to see what you're focusing on, either move the subject to a position near a light source or move a light source to the subject. If you are the subject, find a desk lamp or floor lamp and place it directly behind your camera lens.

To help you appear your best, position the lens until it's level with your eyes, then raise it up a touch and angle it slightly down. The same basic idea applies to a webcam. Also, unless your video is intended for vertically displayed social media, record your video oriented horizontally. 

Try to make your audio as clear as your image.

Most listeners don't give good audio a second thought; it's an expectation. If your audio quality is poor, the ideas you're trying to convey will become obscured.

To obtain optimal audio recording quality with a smartphone (or any audio recording device), position your smartphone's microphone as close as you can to the sound you'd like to record. If you can't listen to what you're recording while you're recording, take the time to listen back to a short clip to make sure the microphone isn't too close to the sound source. If what you want to be the focus sounds loud and clear, you're on the right track. If it sounds distorted, too loud, or unclear, position the microphone farther away from the sound source. For more detail, explore this article from Popular Science.

If you can afford to buy a microphone that connects to your phone (allowing you to improve on the microphone that’s in there already, but is tiny and easy to obscure), and an adapter that allows you to listen to what you’re recording as you record it, you'll be that much better off. The equipment you choose depends on the device you have, so some research beforehand is a good idea. This article is a little dated but still a good place to start. 

After you've recorded your image, video or audio... 

The ability to combine these media elements is easier and yields better results than you might have imagined, and it can be done directly on your device. Make graphics, simple motion graphics, and videos. Edit photos. Record and edit audio. Publish podcasts... the list goes on. If you can set aside a little time to get familiar with one of these apps, you’ll be able to create something you’re happy with in short order.   

Some of the following smartphone apps are free or freemium apps available for both iOS and Android. If you'd like to edit on your laptop or desktop, there are also some web-based apps that will help and still others that you can download to your computer - both free. All of these programs will yield compelling results that you can put to use to create materials that help you engage and connect with your students online. 

Explore these free or "freemium" apps:

  • Adobe Mobile Apps (iOS & Android): Specifically, see Rush (free version is limited), Comp, Spark Post, Spark Video, Draw, Photoshop Express. If you have an Adobe Creative Cloud subscription, Adobe Rush will come at no cost. 
  • WeVideo: A cloud based video editing platform with a built in stock video, music, and audio effects library. It requires a subscription but this can be provided by the Miami University Libraries.
  • Voice Memos (iOS): Simple, no frills audio recording.
  • Easy Voice Recorder (Android): Simple no frills audio recording for Android.
  • Parrot (Android): An alternative, simple audio recording app for Android. 
  • Garageband (MacOS/iOS): Audio editing and music creation software.
  • SoundCloud: Record a podcast and Publish it to Canvas, see here and here for more detail. 
  • Hoonuit online Mobile Moviemaking 101: A 3 hour course on the smartphone video creation process, accessible when logged in via MyMiami.