Tuesday, September 06, 2005

Quickie videos made and distributed by Instructors

There has been some use of the MediaSite hardware/software suite to record Organic Chemistry lectures delivered here. A few weeks I was talking with Stan Smith, the spearhead behind this effort before a presentation that we were doing jointly for the LAS Teaching Academy. He described a problem that I think is quite real with academic usage of video technology, namely that viewers’ expectations are formed by what they watch on TV, DVD players, going to the movies, etc. while those making academic videos usually operate on a slim budget and there is a requirement to get the content out fast. So a key idea is to bring viewer expectations into line with the production value that is actually put into the video. Given that, one wants to know if there are pedagogically effective ways to use video and, if so, how.

Stan and his group film the live class session including the students’ questions. That is their method for addressing the issue above. In this and the next several posts, I’m going to suggest things to try and then provide demonstrations. Ultimately, the questions will be, do these work teaching-wise? Would this be something to do to enable a blended learning (reduced seat time) approach? Will instructors take this up willingly?

Today’s offering is available for download at the link below and requires a current version of Realplayer to view.
Tablet PC Movie with Voice
Note that this is not being streamed. The file itself is a bit more than one megabyte in size and lasts a little more than two minutes.

I made this first with an inexpensive piece of screen capture software called BB Flashback Express. That captured the pen strokes. I had it on maximal file size for giving the smoothest motion of the pen. If I could talk and write with the digital pen at the same time I would have done that and saved myself a step. But I thought that for this trial, at least, I’d just record the pen. So afterward I ran the screen capture software again, this time it capture my prior movie and this second time I put in the voice narration. If you listen to it, you can tell I had some idea of what I was going to say, but I didn’t rehearse. There are some little stumbles in what I’m saying but in the main, I believe it makes sense. I also probably talked too loud so there is more hiss in this than is desirable. The question you need to ask is whether it is listenable.

At this juncture, I had the screen capture export the video into an AVI file (the stand movie format for Windows) so I could convert and compress it. I’m not putting up that AVI file. It is almost 40 Megabytes in size and not worth the trouble of downloading.

Then I ran the AVI file through the free version of RealProducer. It probably takes 10 or 15 minutes to understand how to use that software, with the biggest issue from my perspective understanding where the output file will be and how to name that file (if different from the input file). The actual encoding took about 6 minutes. Then I had to upload to the server and figure out the url. Those last steps would be easier if I put it into a CMS in my class site.

Does this movie have value over the flat document that I could produce with the tablet (say as a jpeg?) I’m not sure for this particular example it does, but if I were doing diagrams or equations, then I think there is big value in seeing those constructed rather than having just the finished product. For this example, I opted for content that most readers of the blog could understand rather than doing something entirely opaque content-wise. But it is with that sort of content that I can see delivering this type of movie.

Also, I tried hard to deliver a nugget, not a full lecture. I can see the student tolerating the nugget and finding that useful for doing other work that is assigned. I can’ see the student staring at the computer for 45 minutes or an hour watching this sort of thing. Better to read a book than do that. My sense is that these nuggets are more useful if they are done in response to some student work or student queries offered in a suggestions box than if they are initial presentation of content.


Jean-Claude Bradley said...

I just wanted to comment on your concern with the length of your screencasts. I have been providing full length (hour long) screencasts (and podcasts) of all my organic chemistry lectures CHEM241 and CHEM243 for several terms and the length is not a problem. Although students may not sit and stare for an hour, they do appreciate being able to access any portion of the class at will using the control bar in the Flash screencast.
You mentioned an organic chemistry class that also has been screencast and I would be very interesting in looking at that. Could you provide the link?
I am also providing tutorials for others interested in creating similar screencasts and will be posting them here
I look forward to following your progress on your blog.

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