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From Papers to Pixels: The Power of Explainer Videos in Academia

Updated: 2 days ago

Picture this, you have groundbreaking academic research, the kind that could change the world. But how do you get people outside the ivory tower to pay attention? In a world inundated with information, the challenge lies not only in producing novel research, but also in effectively communicating these findings to people so they have a real impact. Leading universities and scholars are using video to amplify their messages and reach far larger audiences than they could any other way. Traditional academic publications remain vital for scholarly discourse, but video is fast becoming the educational resource of first resort, especially for younger generations.

At Wienot Films, we’ve been honored to help universities and academics develop creative ways to use video to connect with audiences. For over a decade, we've collaborated with leading institutions such as Stanford University, The University of Pennsylvania, The University of Texas at Austin, and Exeter University in the UK, helping them translate complex ideas into concise, easy-to understand stories. Below are some of the the creative ways these organizations and individuals are using video to share their messages.


Animated Explainer Videos to Educate and Share Research

If concise, clear explanations are the goal, look no further than animated explainer videos. Animation offers the most flexibility for conveying visual ideas because it’s not limited by what's tangible in real life. It’s also almost always more concise and engaging than a talking head. Because it marries clear narration with complementary visuals, it packs clear explanatory power in a short period of time. Stanford and Exeter use animated videos to explain topics related to AI, Twitter, and money laundering.

Educational Explainer Videos

Vertical Social Media Video Layouts

One of the ways Stanford makes its content more accessible to social media audiences is to produce videos in vertical layouts too. Vertical layouts are better for sharing on sites like TikTok, Instagram, and YouTube Shorts. Shorter snippets can also be pulled from a full video to help maximize reach, delivering content to audiences in bit-sized nuggets.

Research and Book Explainer Videos

Individual academics are also producing explainer videos to showcase their research. Professors Findley, Nielson, and Sharman used animated video to introduce the groundbreaking research found in their book, Global Shell Games, which exposes the world of anonymous shell companies and how they can be used to facilitate terrorist financing, corruption, and illegal arms trades. In under two minutes, their animated video explains their overall research approach, key findings from their work, and acts as a catchy promo for their book. Speaking about the video's impact, Professor Michael Findley commented:

"The explainer video has been extremely helpful. I have been told by individuals in academia, industry, and the policy community that they found it integral to their own understanding as well as their ability to discuss our research with others. The video was a key entrée into the groups we needed to reach." ~Professor Michael Findley, University of Texas at Austin

Technology Explainer Videos

Professors are also using animated explainer videos to showcase new technological capabilities they're developing. Professor In Song Kim of MIT commissioned an explainer video to introduce LobbyView to the world. LobbyView is a comprehensive database and algorithm that allows users to analyze the one-million-plus lobbying reports in its system. It's an invaluable tool for academics, journalists, and concerned citizens seeking to understand and increase transparency in the American political process. Commenting on the process, Professor Kim explained the video's value.

"Many academics struggle to explain their scientific findings to people outside of ivory towers. Wienot identifies the best means to characterize your research project and produces a high-quality output that is accessible to audiences with diverse backgrounds." ~Professor In Song Kim, MIT


Live-Action Plus Animation to Share Class Takeaways

Universities are also using video to share bite-sized nuggets of learning and wisdom with the general public, while giving prospective students a taste of their professors’ personalities. Class Takeaways from Stanford’s Graduate School of Business uses a mixture of talking head live-action video, often recorded on Zoom, with simple whiteboard animation to deliver a format that’s much more engaging than simply listening to someone talk. The animation complements the professors’ teaching content, helping to make their messages more memorable, clear, and fun. The videos cover a wide range of topics from humor in business to communication to investing.

With multiple videos topping over 50,000 views, there’s clearly an ongoing demand for quality educational content. They’re a great reminder that it’s not always necessary to produce the most polished animation, especially if the content is useful. By capturing ideas taught by their professors and augmenting them with engaging visuals, Stanford is reaching a massive audience, the equivalent to them filling their football stadium 10 times. The series even won a Case Award. We couldn't agree more with the judges comment!

"We were impressed with the production qualities of the videos in the Class Takeaways series. Utilising Zoom for video recording and enhancing the pieces in post-production brought the videos to life and resulted in an incredible increase in YouTube views. The videos do not feel like they were created remotely and they were also produced in a way that made them accessible, fun, and digestible. The series had good internal buy-in and produced impressive outcomes with positive return on investment. Similar projects could be undertaken by others working to a range of budgets." ~Case Award Judges


Explainer Videos to Inform Students, Answer Questions, and Save Time

Academic programs are often overwhelmed with student questions about campus policies, program expectations, and a host of other topics. Using video to inform students and answer common questions can be an efficient and powerful way to communicate and help university staff allocate their limited time more wisely. Stanford KHS recently used video to help educate their incoming scholars about how the program funding works. The video is only for an internal audience, however, so we can't share the video itself, but below are some frames from the video to give you a taste of it. In addition to creating a video that was clear and concise, we also made sure it felt diverse and inclusive, so that all incoming students felt welcomed.


Is Your Academic Institution Ready to Produce an Explainer Video?

Wienot Films has worked with some of the most respected names in academia and now we're ready to help you unleash the power of animated explainer videos to help your academic organization. Let's turn your ideas into blockbuster hits that change the world. Contact us today to get started. Together we can bring learning to life, one frame at a time!


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