Friday, June 23, 2006

Bird Brains

My campus is now talking openly about planning for Avian Flu. Today’s New York Times has a piece about the first confirmed human to human transmission of the disease. That gave me the woolies. So I’m paying attention to the issue now. One of the issues they’re asking on campus is whether classes can continue via distance learning – the instructor teaches from home and the students may very well be at their home, living with their parents, till the crisis is over. Let’s assume that Internet service is not interrupted. (If Internet access is lost during the pandemic, all bets are off.)

This type of thinking might very well encourage a lot of instructors who otherwise wouldn’t consider this sort of thing to start thinking about podcasting or vidcasting, or perhaps taking audio and video clips and embedding in Web site that might include text based materials or other type of content that instructors might display during class.

Since I’ve played with this sort of thing myself quite a bit I’m going to list a few issues that were relevant for me and I’m guessing are broadly of concern for this sort of thing. I’d like to know what the best practice is to address each of these issues.

1. No ex post editing --- I believe one can do quite a bit with multimedia and for those with the time and inclination to edit the content in a manner to the way a film maker builds a movie, more power too them. But to me, that is just too time consuming. I want a “good enough for government work” solution that is available pretty much as soon as I’m done recording it.

2. Getting rid of hiss and background noise --- I think this is a biggie and from some of the recordings I’m seeing this is a problem that many others are having. My sense of at least a partial solution is that in the sound control panel on the computer, the input volume is probably set too high and hence the microphone picks up a lot of the background noise. Better to have that input level set lower. Then the recording device will pay more attention to the voice input and less to other sources of sound. But beyond this are their other like tricks? If so, it would be good to share them.

3. Recording and encoding at the same time --- My campus has a site license to RealProducer Plus as part of a deal on the Helix server. The software enables my webcam input to be recorded directly and output into their .rv format. I know there is a lot of discussion about using non-proprietary formats, with mpeg 4, seemingly the new standard. However, I don’t know of a way to convert to make video in mpeg 4 format without producing it first in some other format. In this otherwise delightful presentation by Leigh Blackall, he does describe the process as first a capture with CamStudio and then a conversion afterwards. Indeed, I believe this is pretty much true of any screen capture video. So the question is can one do the same idea by pointing a camcorder at the computer screen with the camera connected via usb and then used as input for a recording/converting application like RealProducer.

4. Looking into the camera - If the camera is mounted at the top of the computer screen, there is an enormous temptation to look at the rest of the screen and then, at least for me, to have my eyes dart back and forth between the two. This, unfortunately, looks somewhat unnerving for the viewer. So it is better to look into the camera. I’m getting a little better at that as I practice, but I find I have to make a conscious effort of doing that, in which case I lose my training of though on the topic I’m covering. Straight voice recording might be better, just for this reason.

5. Compelling materials to show – If it is just the presenter, with no guest with whom to have a dialog and no students to do Q&A, then straight presentation can get pretty dry. One needs something to spice that up and get the audience interested. Perhaps showcasing Web sites can work and providing links so the students can try on their own after stopping the presentation. But whatever it is, there needs to be an opportunity for the students to do so something interactive and relevant to break up the presentation and keep their attention.

Even with the knowledge of the best practice on these points, there is the next question of whether most instructors can readily learn to do this (meaning how much implicit knowledge is really required to make this work). Does anyone have a thought on that one?


Burks said...

Lanny - Hi! You mentioned "getting rid of hiss and background noise". I use the FREE Audacity software to record audio for podcasts - it is great for creating mp3 files. One of the features of Audacity is called "Noise Removal". Simply make a recording. Then go to the Effect menu and select "Noise Removal". It will prompt you to select a short section of audio that is just background noise, and then you can remove the noise from the entire recording. It works very well for me, and it is really something I need to use, since there is quite a bit of ambient noise in my office.

-- Burks

Lanny Arvan said...

Burks - thanks. I agree that Audacity is a great tool and for audio only content what you suggest is really a worthwhile approach. But for talking head video or screencasting, I'm not aware of an equivalent regarding Noise Removal and so I was wondering aobut hings that would block the noise up front.