Wednesday, September 28, 2011

Recording a Prezi with Camtasia

Prezi is a zooming presentation editor - kind of like PowerPoint on steroids. It's gaining popularity among K-12 educators because kids think the zooming aspect is cool and teachers want any help they can get engaging them. This summer I went to a conference at which a presenter used a Prezi and I actually found it pretty cool too.

Prezi is best used for concepts that aren't linear or by people who don't think very linearly but I think once you start to think differently, it can be used effectively in a lot of different situations. I'm very linear so it took a while!  It is harder to use than PowerPoint because it requires you to set up a path for each frame, so it knows where to go in what order and it's kind of a new way of thinking. I wouldn't say it's hard to use, but it takes a little getting used to. There are templates to work from when you're learning.  

When I created e-learning I often had the problem of how to find an engaging way to list off facts related to one big concept, or numerous parts of one thing. The typical solution would be one slide with a title and bulleted list, but that was clearly not acceptable. I found this quote in an article on the ad:tech blog that spoke to my specific issue: "There are certainly plenty of times when nonlinear might work better for a preso. Imagine trying to talk about eight aspects of something. In a slide format, you’d probably have a list of eight things, and then tick them off one by one, returning over and over again to the same slide, maybe with a highlight box around the one you are going to move on to discuss. With Prezi, you could arrange all that in a circle. Drift from place to place by zooming in and out, so that the viewer gets the sense of the totality as much as the eight distinct ideas."

I learned about Prezi at the end of the spring 2011 semester because a student wanted to make a Prezi for the English 110 redesign project and then record it with voice over. She contacted BITS for some training. We determined it was not possible to record voice over right in Prezi, but the Prezi could be recorded with Camtasia. The project ended up taking longer than she expected so she is just finishing up the Camtasia aspect this week. Here is her Prezi.

In my opinion, one of the most challenging and frustrating aspects of Camtasia is making sure the correct recording and publishing dimensions are used so the final project is a reasonable size. The Camtasia presets have gotten better, but I recall re-doing many screencasts because they turned out really weird.

The documentation students I used to supervise create how-to videos by sizing their browser window to 800x600 and then record an 800x600 frame and then publish custom recording dimensions as 800x600. It's pretty straight forward. They used to record full screen and then publish in 640x480, but it was hard to actually see what was going on unless they zoomed in.

We tried to do the same thing with the Prezi but the problem is that Prezis either open in the weird window on the website (see image to the right) or in full screen, so we couldn't really size it to 800x600. It is probably possible but we couldn't figure it out in a reasonable amount of time, so she recorded full screen.

When she came back to add narration to it (because our practice is first to record the video - or "record the clicks" as we call it), we ran into a snag. Normally when we open the .camrec (raw, unedited Camtasia file), it is 800x600, so when Camtasia prompts for the size when it opens the project, we choose 800x600 but that cut off some of her video when we played it :/  First we worried that she had the recording area in the wrong spot and maybe didn't realize that although she could see the whole Prezi, it wasn't recording it. That is a common error when not recording full screen because the edges of the recording area aren't really obvious when recording.

I was really surprised it cut the video off rather than adding black bars to the extra space.  Isn't that weird? Anyway, we went back to the .camrec file and reopened it using the "recording dimensions" option (it was something weird like 1080x870) and published it as 800x600 just to make sure it was going to be alright and, thankfully, it was!

Another snag we ran into is that when she recorded the clicks, she accidentally recorded audio. Normally we turn off the audio when recording. So we had to figure out how to remove it and couldn't, but at least figured out how to silence it and she recorded in another track.

This whole experience was excellent for me because we are starting a Camtasia pilot with faculty and I know these types of things will come up!  I need to make some screencasts to refamiliarize myself with the ins and outs of Camtasia since it's been a while since I used it regularly.  When I used it a lot, I did things the same all the time and didn't venture out a lot, so I'm excited to have the opportunity now.

Tuesday, September 13, 2011

Blog Set Up and Training

In past posts, I mentioned blog assignments. Well, September rolled around and it was finally time to make it happen.

I met with the faculty to set up the blogs before school started. They wanted the students to be in groups of approximately five students/authors per blog and for the blogs to be private to the students and professors. First, the students were grouped using the D2L groups tool. Then the faculty set up the blogs on Google Blogger.  Since they wanted the blogs to be private, here's what we did under the Settings tab:
  1. Basic: We chose No for "Add your blog to our listings" and "Let search engines find your blog."
  2. Permissions: This is where the students were invited as authors. This means they can post but can't change settings or the look of the blog. 
    1. Who can comment - we chose users with Google accounts, just so they were identifiable since they will already have a Google account. 
    2. Turned off word verification, which means commenters will not have to decipher the funky words to verify they are human. 
    3. Comment notification email - I just pointed out that the default is for the blog creator to get emails whenever someone comments, which may get annoying, so here is where they can remove their email address. 

One thing I really wish I would have known during these meetings was how to easily get the emails for the group members in copyable and pasteable form. We made this more difficult than it needed to be.  There is a place under manage groups in D2L where you can email each group.

I learn about 20 new things every day!

Then we did in-class training for the students, simply on how to post to the blog and comment. I figured this would be super easy. It's when you are confident that things can go awry! The first group was in a distance education room with an ITV to view students in a different town, so the professors told the students to bring a laptop to practice on since we couldn't go to a computer lab. This was interesting because they had all sorts of different browsers. Some students were unable to publish their post - when they clicked "Publish Post" nothing happened. Thankfully Danielle was there and she figured out that Internet Explorer 9 was the problem. When these students switched to the new interface of Blogger, they were able to post. 

A few days later I did training for another professor who was able to reserve a computer lab. I didn't ask Danielle to come because I figured it would be pretty simple. I was wrong. The teaching station wouldn't project, so I couldn't show them what I was talking about. Thankfully it's not that hard so I could walk around and explain it. The additional problem was that they were using Internet Explorer 8. Well, at least it wasn't 9, but it still had issues and about half the students were unable to comment. When they viewed the blog, it was like they weren't signed in but then they could go back to the dashboard and they were signed in. Weird. So, I hate to admit such ignorance but I didn't know where/if there were other browsers on the computers! I had to end up telling them that I was 99% confident that it would work on Firefox or Chrome. Great success! Just kidding.

The next day (today) I did the training again for the other section. The teaching station was working and turns out the problem was something technical I didn't understand - the main thing I was concerned about is that it was not my fault. I also found out from Greg that all the computers had both Chrome and Firefox under Start - All Programs - Internet (really intuitive, right?).  Sometimes I think I should use a Windows machine more but I'm not sure if I would have known this because I would have just made a shortcut. But I know now. Training today went great and only took about 15 minutes, mostly because one student was having issues with his invitation and it had to be resent a few times. What a learning experience!

So, from the professors' perspective, I know that they had to resend a lot of invitations for some reason or another. I hope it wasn't too much work. It is interesting how the two groups are approaching it differently:
  • One is having students post a certain number of times through the semester as "blog leaders"  and then others comment, with extra credit options if they post additional times as leaders (I'm sure there is a limit but I don't remember the details). Their rationale is that this is more of what a blog is like, which makes sense to me.
  • The other is requiring the students to post a certain number of times (connecting news to the course content) and write a reflection paper on what they learned from others' posts a few times during the semester. Comments are not required (they can comment if they want).
I can't wait to see how it goes for them all!

    Tuesday, September 6, 2011

    Films on Demand

    Last week I met with Robin Miller from the McIntyre Library who showed me Films on Demand which is an educational video database provided through the library. I was very impressed with what it has to offer.

    First, you may be wondering how to access it. One time I tried to find it and couldn't.  The easiest way is to go to the library's homepage ( and click on the "Books and Media" tab in the middle of the page.  Films on demand is listed below the search area. In the image below, a red arrow is pointing at it.

    When I worked with CETL on the hybrid course development workshops in June, I didn't know that Films on Demand existed, which is sort of a tragedy.  The special collections tab shows some of the external sites that I was suggesting to participants. You can also search by Subject. 

    Robin said an advantage of Films on Demand is that it has older videos, such as historical news footage that could be informative for either history or journalism. Many times sites such as PBS only have recent shows or clips on the website.

    I asked about how stable the videos are - for instance, do the URLs change? How frequently are videos discontinued? Robin said that old videos are taken out due to lack of use, so hopefully if the videos are being viewed by a class, they would remain, especially if the students are viewing them out of class since there would be a higher number of viewers. New videos are being added all the time.

    Disability accessibility is a concern since the only videos that have captions are those that the creator has captioned (i.e., Films on Demand does not offer captioning). So if PBS, for instance, captions all of their videos normally, they would be captioned on Films on Demand, but if they don't, there is no way to caption them easily if they are not already captioned. I'm honestly not sure how captioning would be provided if it was needed. I found that ABC News does caption their videos, but ironically a video on assistive technology for people with disabilities was not captioned. The image in this paragraph shows what the captioning looks like on ABC News and what the notification that captions are available in the top right looks like. The CC is on/of box comes on when the cursor is on the video.

    I also noticed that when I clicked on Films on Demand under Books and Media, a warning came up that said "You are about to leave MetaLib. The site may not comply with accessibility standards." I'm not sure if that is referring to the lack of caption availability or problems with screen reader accessibility, but it is a concern.

    Films on Demand would be well used in hybrid courses, in which students watch videos on their own time outside of or in lieu of class and then meet in class to apply or discuss the information.

    So how do you share Films on Demand in D2L?  

    There is a specific way this must be done.  You cannot create a Quicklink - you must Create New File:
    When you are in the text box that opens after choosing "Create New File," you can add a Quicklink (image on left) and then choose URL. In order for it to work, you must choose Open in: New Window (see image below)

    Make sure you use the link provided below the video where it says "Title URL," rather than the link in the URL area of your browser (see below).

    The "proxy" part is important because that is how it funnels the request for the video through the server.  I'm pretty techy, but not techy enough to fully understand proxy servers.  What I do know, is that it will prompt the viewer to login to the library's services with their UWEC username and password if they are off campus to verify that they are a UWEC student or staff person. On campus, it should work fine.

    Warning: this paragraph gets pretty techy.  It is even possible to embed videos in PowerPoint or in the html pages (news or 'create new file') in D2L. There is embed code under the video (it says "embed this video").  However, the proxy part of the URL (  needs to be added to the embed code right before the URL of the video (which will begin with It looks funky because you have two http://'s in the same URL, but remember that the first one is for the proxy (hopefully I am making sense here!).  Note: In order to embed videos in PowerPoint, you need to create a Films on Demand account. 

    So, what a great resource! If you have questions, I'd recommend talking to someone at the library such as Robin.  I think each department has a library representative.  I can help with putting the videos in D2L or in PowerPoint.  I will continue to think about and do research into the accessibility issue.