This is the second part of my post on lecture capture. You can find part 1 in the previous blog entry.
After a week in class, my lecture capture bugs have been worked out. I wanted to give it some time because things rarely go smoothly and they didn’t here, either. I discovered some elements were not in place and I’ll share what I’ve learned.
For me, the biggest factor was finding a good microphone. Screen capture is not an issue, there is a killer app for that. Camtasia Studio is a software package that has been around a few years – it does the screen capture well, and will sync a voice over that. The software is sold by Techsmith and they are a company committed to selling products in the education space. They have a collection of how-to helps and videos. Even more impressive, if you shoot them an email, you get a personal response right back, often complete with personal praise for the way you are using their product. Techsmith is a great resource and there is no software I know that competes with Camtasia.
I simply installed Camtasia on the machine in the lecture hall and use their “recorder” feature to capture everything on the screen. But I am a very active lecturer and I run up and down stairs, talk to students, quiz them, throw things at them when they drift off – anything but stand at a podium by the mic and click through lecture slides. A stationary mic at the lecture podium is the traditional way but that doesn’t work for me. Many large lecture halls will include a “portable mic” but that doesn’t work either – it doesn’t show up as an input to the computer since they are sold as microphones that plug into an amplifier that is separate from the machine. Another option used by some is a video camera setup somewhere in the hall that captures the lecturer and the screen. I wasn’t going to just set up a video camera and hope it collects most of what I want students to see on video – that never looks good to me. I also tried using my LiveScribe pen to record audio as I worked the room and while that works, the editing is time-consuming. That’s a method suggested by the good folk at Techsmith – record the audio as a separate track and then lay it in – but I’ve got many other hats to wear besides my classes and I’ve got students knocking at my door nonstop. I needed a faster way.
What worked for me was to find a great microphone solution that moves with me. Bluetooth seems like a good solution for many – but with a range that starts to falter at 20 feet (they advertise 30 feet, so it is worth a try in a small room), my room is much too large for that answer. A technology called DECT is new in the US market and I found a solution offered by Plantronics that works well. I wear the mic around my ear like a typical Bluetooth earpiece and plug-in a dongle at a USB port on my base computer (or laptop.) I set my computer up (via the control panel) to see the Plantronics mic as the main input source but also check the box that records system sounds so I can capture videos I run in lecture and the different demos I pull up. I open the Camtasia screen capture recorder, push record and I am good to go. The sound is great and everything on the screen is captured. The microphone is a bit too directional (to cut down on background noise) so I have to remember to repeat student questions or else they will not be heard clearly. Other than that, the recording is good.
The next hurdle is saving the lecture. This gave me serious problems the first two days. My lecture room is over scheduled – it is used at 8:30 am and is filled every hour until 4:30. Our classes run 50 minutes so in a perfect world, we have 10 minutes to get out of the lecture room and a new class and teacher comes in. I felt extremely pressured to get the lecture video processed and saved in my “fair five minutes.” In fact, it didn’t work at all and it took me two tries each on those first two days of class, with a 50% failure rate.
The solution came by adding more RAM to the machine. All lecture hall computers are stocked with 2 GB RAM – not enough for this application. When our IT agreed to add another 2 Gb it completely solved my problem. I put my lecture resources on to the desktop before I begin, clearing off my thumbdrive as much as possible. So when the lecture is over, I click on the “stop” button on Camtasia recorder, and processing begins immediately. With 4 Gb of RAM, this takes under 1 minute for my 50 minute lecture – typically around 750,000 Mb -1 Gb of data. I then save this to my thumbdrive, pull it out and walk off, all in under 3 minutes. I have another option of saving to what we call our “shared drive.” I can then access this from my office machine but so far, I’m using the thumbdrive.
When I get back to my office, I fire up Camtasia and pull in the lecture file. I do some quick edits – mostly to make sure the material of interest is as large as possible. I then do a little bit of audio editing. I’m a very loud lecturer – it helps with engagement in a large hall – so I have to even out my loudness a bit. But on average, editing takes under an hour – and often under 30 minutes. I’m not trying to make this a professional product. I would spend much more time on this if I was. I’m trying to provide my students with more resources they will use to learn chemistry. I’m not sloppy but I’m not investing time in dressing it up – which I could. And perhaps I will, come summer. I have a business where I create and sell problem-solving videos that are packaged with popular college textbooks for college. Those videos are very tightly edited and I invest time in the way they look. I don’t do that with my lecture videos. Not yet, anyway.
I use a mix of techniques in every “lecture” I give and most of it comes through the computer. Videos, sound files, photos, Flash demos, etc. The exception is working problems or sketching diagrams or helping students along with notes – I find doing my own writing during a classroom session is an important part of engaging the students. To do this, I pause the screen capture and switch to using my LiveScribe pen. This is a tool that records my voice in sync with a process that captures my writing in real-time. This goes on an overhead camera that bypasses the computer. The output of the pen is a file that can be viewed as a pdf document that plays back my voice over my writing as it appears as a video on-screen. It’s a bit of tech magic that works very well. The problem so far is that it doesn’t edit in to the Camtasia package, so this will be a standalone file I send with the video lecture. I hope to solve that problem in the near future. Help me please Techsmith!
But for now, students have a way to check their notes, to fill in the blanks when they must miss class and to simply “go to the source” for any questions that arise. One thing I notice, however, is the amount of time I spend engaged with the students on specific issues. I encourage questions and in a large lecture hall, it takes commitment to create a space where students feel comfortable asking. And ask they do – which comes across as “dead time” during a lecture recording. I’m not yet sure this is the final product. As always, the proof is in the usage. I’ll try putting in a few lectures where I “stick to the material,” making it shorter and I hope, sweeter. We’ll have to wait and see what gets used most.