Tuesday, June 11, 2013

Live from Wyoming! Quick tools for making videos

Life has been a little hectic over the last two weeks, which is why I've been absent. I live in Nebraska, but my husband is working in Wyoming for the summer, so we've just temporarily moved out here and gotten settled in. My goal for when we're not moving to a new state is to post two updates per week.

I'm starting to work on course materials for the fall, and one of the things I'm working on is preparing instructional videos for students to use outside of class time. You might be hearing/reading about flipped or blended classrooms, which is part of my goal with these videos. So why bother with such a big change?

  1. Deeper learning. I was mainly interested in this concept because I was noticing a problem in my Spanish linguistics class. The class met once per week, and had a weekly homework assignment. (I know it doesn't sound like much, but the homework assignments are challenging, and require a fair amount of time to complete.) What I noticed was that a number of students failed every assignment, but never asked for help. They clearly hadn't understood the material. If I notice that the whole class is having trouble with a topic, I change the schedule and devote more time to the topic. But what do you do when 2/3 of the class is doing fine, but 1/3 is completely lost? I realized that these students needed to be able to review the material outside of class time, and a good way to do that is to create videos. (The other part of the course redesign was the implementation of digitized homework assignments delivered via Blackboard, which allowed them to repeat an assignment. This was crucial for understanding the material.)
  2. Better preparation. This will depend on how you structure assignments, because if you just post a video and ask students to watch it before class, in my experience, they won't watch it and won't be prepared for class. But I've had a reasonable amount of success with posting videos and assigning online homework (delivered through Blackboard). I should say that all of my homework assignments are listed in the syllabus (and on Blackboard) from the first day of class, which helps students stay on top of when they have things due. This approach might not be as successful if you assign something for students to bring to class the next class period.
  3. Opportunity for review. Remember when you were a student, and you watched your teacher do something on the board, and it looked really easy? But then when you went home and tried to do the homework, it was much harder than it looked? Making a video allows students to go back and review the content while they're doing the homework, so that they can keep working instead of giving up until they can talk to the teacher to figure out what they're doing wrong. (Learner autonomy!)
  4. More class time for getting help. The last hour or so of each class period was for students to work on homework and ask questions. This was enormously successful, because a lot of students work and have families, so office hours aren't always feasible. They're still getting all of the contact hours because the instruction is given outside of class time, but they have an opportunity to ask for help (and work collaboratively with other students, which was also beneficial).
So that's the why. Here's the how. There are actually multiple ways you can do this, depending on what platform you're using. I always use PowerPoint, because I'm presenting information, and PowerPoint is the clearest way to do that. In theory, you can add audio to PowerPoint, but when you try to save it as a video (which appears to be an option only in PowerPoint for Mac), it doesn't incorporate the audio. (In addition, the audio quality seems to be better if you record it in a different program, in my experience.) So what can you do?  Here's a quick solution that works for PowerPoint for Mac:

The only thing that I do differently is that I record my audio separately in Audacity (a free program you can download here), and then add it into iMovie. It's a lot easier to edit that way, so I don't have to re-record nearly as much.

Another option that could involve any program is this free app available through the App Store (also only for Mac). It allows you to do both screen capture and webcam (and put them side-by-side if you want). You can publish videos to YouTube or Dropbox. Videos under 1 minute are free, but videos longer than a minute appear to cost $1.99 to publish. (I'm not sure if it's a $1.99 flat rate, or if it goes up by length of the video.)

UPDATE (10/27/2013) : The newest version of this app allows you to publish videos of any length for free with the Adobe Presenter Express watermark; it's $1.99 if you don't want the watermark to appear on your videos. Here's a video that I've done using this app:

On the Windows side, probably the easiest free option is Windows Movie Maker. You can import pictures and audio into Movie Maker to create a video the same as for iMovie. You can save your PowerPoint slides as images (see instructions here), and then import them into Windows Movie Maker.  I would also record the audio on Audacity for Windows Movie Maker. (A tutorial for Audacity is on my to-do list for this blog.)  If you have a few hundred dollars to spare, you might want Adobe Presenter, a plugin for PowerPoint. Older versions have been limited in that you've had to have an Adobe Connect account to publish your videos, but Adobe Presenter 8 allows you to upload your video to YouTube. (Retail price is $499; you may be able to get a better price through your school due to volume licensing.) 

Suggestions or questions?  Let me know!

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