Wednesday, November 27, 2013

Types of Instructional Videos

Over the time I've been at UWEC, I determined there are four main types of videos that instructors need to create. There are many technologies; the options provided here are what I've found to be most user friendly, reliable, and cost effective.

1. Record yourself speaking: Sometimes the best way to share information is just by talking. Let’s say you want to elaboration on essay instructions like you normally would face-to-face, or you want to give an overview to a module, or you want to tell a story related to the content. You could just record audio, but it’s much more engaging to include video of you as well. Here’s more information on recording a webcam video.

2. Record audio in a PowerPoint: PowerPoint can be a good medium for sharing information with the students. However, particularly for an online course, rethink how you use PowerPoint to avoid the usual bulleted lists and include more images to help students learn more effectively. It is best to add audio elaboration and publish the video into a video format. If done successfully, the end result won’t even look like a PowerPoint! Here are resources:
3. Record your computer screen with audio narration: Maybe you want to show the students how to do something on a website or how to use a software application. For instance, an English professor wanted to make a short video for his students describing the Purdue OWL website that he commonly refers them to so the students can watch it whenever they want and he didn't have to explain it over and over. This is called screencasting and the main program I recommend is CaptureSpace Lite, which is integrated with UWEC's video storage site, Kaltura.

We also have Camtasia for those who want more functionality. You can do all sorts of cool stuff with it; I use it as my general video editing program. Camtasia can be downloaded for free onto UWEC Windows computers via in Internet Explorer or in the software center. Mac users can get it too via the Self Service app (search for it in the spotlight if you can't find it).

4. Record your handwriting with audio narration: If you’re in a discipline like math, economics, or chemistry you are probably used to writing on the board. Handwriting digitization options help you record your handwriting and audio to simulate your ability to write on the board. There are lots of options, but two of the easiest ways are on an iPad or by recording under the document camera in a classroom (yes, the doc cams record! And you can write on paper!). Check out this post for more info.

Stream that video! Don't forget that your final video needs to go somewhere the students can view it. Don't just give students narrated PowerPoint files or mp4s; someone will inevitably have a problem. At UWEC, we have Kaltura, but YouTube is also a good option if you already use it. 

Last updated 4/10/17

Friday, November 15, 2013

Why I'm Such a Big Fan of YouTube

I spend a big part of my job helping people with YouTube which I often recommend for the following reasons:
  • It's not as public as people think - there is an "unlisted" setting so only people with the link can view your video (it won't come up in searches). 
    • Personally I try to make my videos public so I can give back to the world a little bit in case they help someone else, but it's nice to have options. 
  • It's easy! Many programs have a direct export to YouTube function. For instance, on the iPad you can record a video and then click the share button to send it over to YouTube. Camtasia, Screencast-o-matic, and iMovie all have this, among many other programs. 
  • Again: ease of use. To upload a video, login and click the big upload button on the top. It is very user friendly. 
  • The account and videos are controlled by the user. In other words, you don't have to rely on someone else to put your videos here for you. It is also easy to take your videos with you, should you get another job. 
  • Does YouTube ever go down? I have never experienced that. It's super reliable. 
    • Addendum: the night after I wrote this YouTube did go down briefly. Ha! Thanks universe, for putting me in my place. So, nothing is 100% reliable. 
  • There's a built in video editor. You can trim your video, add title slides, change the lighting - all sorts of fantastic stuff. I took some video at a concert that was a bit jumpy and YouTube stabilize it so I didn't make people seasick. 
  • Many people already have a Google account so they just need to figure out their password! If they don't want to use their current or personal Google account, they can just make another one.
  • Accessibility: If you have the text for a video transcribed and you upload it, YouTube does a fantastic job of timing it with the video so you don't have to go through and click to indicate when the captions come up. This is a big advantage for accessibility since it saves a lot of time. 
    • The creators of the math MOOC from LaCrosse, WI put all of their videos on YouTube, let it take a stab at automatic captioning, and just modified what YouTube came up with which saved them time in creating captions. 
    • YouTube's captions vary considerably depending on the speaker's voice and the audio quality. Sometimes they are hilariously wrong, but other times pretty dang close. 
One thing I'm not a huge fan of is how it seems like Google is learning waaayy too much about me, but that's the cost of something free, I suppose. There are other options if you're not a fan of Google. I mostly use my YouTube account for work stuff and then I use Vimeo for non-work videos. There is also a university server for UWEC. 

Wednesday, November 13, 2013

10 Tips for Making a Good Webcam or "Talking Head" Video

For online courses, it's nice to have at least one video of yourself speaking so the students get a feel for who you are. Unless you're making a MOOC, these don't have to be super high quality. In this post, I'll share some tips to help you make, minimally, an "acceptable" video.

Technologically speaking, my favorite ways to record a webcam video (because they're easy) are
  1. On an iPad/phone/other mobile device via the camcorder (camera)
    1. You can ship these videos off to YouTube usually just by choosing it as an option under "Share"
    2. You can also put it on Kaltura, one of UWEC's streaming services, via the browser on your phone (Chrome/Safari/"Internet" on Android).
  2. Using CaptureSpace Lite, the recording tool associated with Kaltura.
  3. If you work at UWEC, the video department can record you (ask me for details). 

Here are some tips on how to create a good webcam video

1. Use a table mic or built-in mic rather than headset. Don't look like a nerd with a headset on - use a table mic or the built-in. On a Mac, the built in is usually pretty good; on Windows, make sure to test it first. If you work at UWEC, we have high quality mics to loan from CETL.

Nerdy                                   Less nerdy
2. Look into the webcam. This may be obvious if you've ever taken a selfie, but make sure you know where your webcam is located and look at least close to it, so it seems like you are making eye contact with the viewer, or at least not like you are awkwardly looking in another direction. You don't have to eerily stare at it the whole time though; in a natural conversation, you'd occasionally avert your eyes and look up or down while thinking, for instance.

This is a screenshot of a webcam video I made showing the size of a "talking head"
 that seems most appropriate. It's an ok video in regards to eye contact, background, and lighting.
Background could be better though. 
3. Make an outline. People learn best from a conversational voice rather than a voice that sounds like it's reading or is overly formal, so avoid reading from a script if at all possible. It's not like you read from a script in a classroom, right? That would be weird. The beauty of recording a video is that if it sucks, you can just try again! An outline is definitely recommended to make sure you hit the main points you need to cover in the video.

4. Position your outline near the recording area. This is a detail, but try not to have shifty eyes while you are recording the video, from looking back and forth from the webcam to your outline or reading across the computer screen. I know one instructor who just wrote some notes on a piece of paper and taped it next to the webcam on her iMac so her eyes only shifted slightly and it worked out well. If that doesn't work for you, it's probably most natural to look down at a piece of paper on a desk than anything else.

5. Position the computer/webcam/iPad for a straight-on shot. You don't want the webcam aiming down at you or the iPad shooting up your nose! (I've seen both.) You may need to prop the iPad or laptop up on a stack of books or something to get a head on shot, like the image of me above. Proper alignment will help avoid a double chin too :)

Using a tripod or otherwise propping the recording device up would improve this situation considerably
6. Act like a normal person. This may seem like a silly thing to say, but a benefit associated with a webcam video is that the students get a little insight into you as a person. They may like you more if they relate to you, and research has found that students perform better for instructors they like (Really! Look it up!)  If you act robotic or overly practiced, that's not normal. Use your hands, smile, reposition yourself a little. It's fine if you misspeak a bit or act goofy if that's how you are. You don't always choose the perfect words in a classroom, so it's fine if you aren't perfect in your video either. I've heard feedback that the students even like it when something happens like a cat meowing in the background. Although that could definitely distract from your instructional message, in an intro video you could go with it and introduce Fluffy (briefly!). This is partly to help you not feel like you need to spend tons of time editing either; know when to leave it alone. Maybe have someone else watch it to see if they notice the things that bother you. I'd rather give the video a try and record it a few times to get a good take than to script it and sound like I am reading or practiced too long.

7. But know where the "too casual" line is. I'm giving you some leeway to be a normal person but still be mostly professional, of course. I'm just saying don't be a robot with no personality. I tend to play with my hair a lot in real life without even realizing it but I focus on avoiding that in a video. Avoid long "ummms" or other distracting behaviors as much as you can.

8. Consider your lighting! Definitely do not record with a window behind you or you will be a shadow. Although I am a fan of low light, it may cause the lip sync to be off when recording (i.e., your lips and voice might not match up), so you may need to turn on all the lights or go somewhere with natural light. Also, if you're recording on a computer, turn down the brightness of the screen to avoid weird lighting or glare if you wear glasses. As in the photo below, avoid having a lamp in one corner if possible.

9. Consider your background. Some people like to have a scholarly bookcase background which can be good, but try to avoid an exceedingly messy office background or something distracting behind you. The stuff in the background of my image above is at the upper limits of what I'd like to see in a background. In hindsight, I should have moved the stuff on the table. There may be some easy things you can do to clean up your background, like shut the door behind you rather than leaving it part way open. But at the same time, a plain wall is pretty boring. Do what you can with where you're at, but think about whether you may need to relocate. I personally would prefer an instructor's office background rather than one of those cheesy backgrounds that professionals use that looks pretty 90's, but I've never found research on backgrounds!

If you have a video camera, laptop, or iPad (ideally with a tripod), take advantage of your ability to be mobile and record in cool places. Make sure the camera is not too far away or you have an external mic so your audio turns out decent though. If you go outside, audio can be problematic due to wind. Do a test first.

Not the best background choice.
Also, try to find someone to take care of the baby if possible
10. Don't over do it. A few webcam videos are nice but don't make too many. Just like standing in front of a room lecturing is not always the best way to convey content, neither is a talking head video. Actually, talking head videos get a bad rap. Make sure they are valuable experiences for the students or they will quit watching and you'll be making them for no reason. Don't always jump to creating a video as you become more comfortable with the technology; text is quicker both to create and read. As with all online digital content, the length of one video should be about 3-10 minutes.


PS: While I was working on this post I googled "introduction webcam" to see if I could find good or bad examples and, wow, did I ever. I'm sorry to pick on this woman because at least she's trying, but here's a good bad example: the background is bad, she's using a sepia tone for some reason, she's clearly reading, and the end is cut off. I thought this was obvious, but don't make a webcam video in a computer lab...

PPS (or is it PSS?): Many times I base my info on research but that is not the case for most of this info. There is no research saying headsets are nerdy or you shouldn't hold a baby while recording a video. However, there IS research that says people learn best from a conversational voice, digital content should be short, and students do better in classes when they like the professor but I don't have the citations handy. Can you tell I'm used to writing scholarly papers lately?! I just want to be clear on that :)

Last update: 4/10/17

Tuesday, November 12, 2013

Using Doodle as a Sign-Up Sheet or Registration Form

There are few things more frustrating than trying to schedule a meeting via email. You all probably know what that's like. I now force people to use a Doodle to indicate their availability in a central location. I've found that most people are familiar with Doodle or they figure it out pretty easily.  Of course, the ideal situation is when everyone keeps their schedule up to date in Outlook, but not everyone uses it and I often have to schedule meetings with people outside of UWEC, so Doodle really helps.

Did you know you can also use Doodle as a sign up sheet? When you are done setting the times and days, there is a settings area that is collapsed by default. Click the arrow to show the settings (see the screenshot below). You can limit it so participants can only choose one option and then limit it so that only one person (or however many you want) can choose each option. A faculty member is going to use Doodle to schedule students to meet with her. I also used it to schedule interviews for student workers.

I also like the "yes-no-ifneedbe" option so that when you're doing a regular Doodle to schedule a meeting, people can indicate that they could attend if need be, but would prefer a different time.