Tuesday, August 12, 2014

Tips for a good Screencast / Online Recording

In an August 12 post in the Chronicle of Higher Education, Amy Cavender provided some very helpful tips for making recordings at your desk.  Here's the full link:  http://tinyurl.com/mwz4m9v.

Included in her suggestions are the following - with extensive re-wording by me for my own purposes:

  • Buy a decent microphone. NOTHING in your recording is more important than good audio! Using a mic built into a laptop is asking for trouble caused by background noises, fingertaps on the computer, and low volume in your recording. A mic needn’t be expensive. You can find good options at http://bluemic.com but there are a lot of reasonably-priced options. ANY mic that's close to your mouth while speaking sounds better than a mic built into a laptop. If you don't mind wearing a headset, you can get one with a mic for under $30 and it will help you with online events as well as recordings.
  • Keep the recording short, five minutes or less. It’s better to "chunk" your content into a series of short recordings rather than to create one longer screencast explaining everything. YOU wouldn't sit through a half-hour recording, so don't expect your students/audience to.
  • Create a script or outline, and read from it as you record. Writing a script - or at least an outline - forces you to think about what you're going to do in your recording, and it keeps you on track while recording. You will also make fewer mistakes, which makes editing the video much less time-consuming. (But practice until you don't sound too much like you're reading.)
  • If you need captions, using a script makes it much easier to add them. (Whatever tool you use to create the file, the process for uploading it to YouTube — assuming that’s where you’re hosting your screencasts — hasn’t changed since George explained it a few years ago.) If you’re reading from a script, your captions are already written, and it’s a straightforward (if potentially time-consuming) cut and paste job to sync your captions with your recording.
  • Don't do crappy recordings!  (This is my item, not Amy's.) Your audience should never be asked to put up with mumbled audio, poor graphics, or two minutes of searching for the right comment when you could have delivered it in seconds.  If YOU would not sit through it, your audience can't be expected to sit through it.
  • Edit your recordings. Practically everyone looks better if they edit out major mistakes (you can ignore minor ones and continue as you would in a classroom.) When you make a big mistake, take a few seconds to collect yourself, make a note that you need to edit that spot, then back up a bit and resume speaking. You will have a nice edit opportunity in there somewhere. 
  • Practice!  (My item again.) You will get better at this.
The payoff for doing your own online recordings is that you can capture information or content that you don't have to explain again and again - it's "in the can", accessible 24 x 7, and you can link to it from any online site or course.  The more recordings you do, the more repetitive work you save yourself while gaining media skills...and those skills are increasingly part of the required skillset of any teacher.

Tuesday, August 5, 2014

I Saw It On The Interwebs: Internet Control of Classrooms

At the link below is a PDF version of the presentation I made on August 6, 2014 at the Conference on Learning and Teaching with Technology (COLTT) at the University of Colorado.  Enjoy!

I Saw It On The Interwebs

Monday, February 17, 2014

Can you walk before you Zoom?

Web-based videoconferencing is one of those things that looks like voodoo to some, but to others it's about as new and exciting as brushing their teeth.  We use it for a number of synchronous classes, making sure to always record the class sessions and make them available to students later.  (Hey, people have real lives.  If you hold a class for 20 people with real lives, a few of them will have sick kids, job overtime, or computer crashes. Life happens.)

Our two "supported" web videoconference systems are Adobe Connect and Blackboard Collaborate. Frankly, both of them are enough of a pain that I'd love to find better alternatives, but they have specific advantages for formal classroom use.  We find it best to have an online moderator actually run the meeting while the instructor concentrates on the class and the content.

BUT - holding more casual online meetings and business meetings is a different deal!  We've found a very handy tool for those, and it's not Skype.  It's called Zoom.  http://zoom.us/

So far, our uses have been small meetings for supervisors and staff, and it has become a great way to avoid travel for these meetings. The good news is that it has been working very well, technical issues have been minimal (for those who are past the point of thinking their CD drive is their "drink holder"), and it has been very cost effective. People REALLY like it, they find it easy to work through the installation and setup, and they have had no problems using their webcams and even screen-sharing for presentations and conferences.

One thing we have discovered: Zoom is much more dependable when you're on a hard-wired connection than wireless.  To be fair, that's true of all web conferencing applications, but you have been warned.

Also, any time you use any web conferencing tool, you are smart if you set up a pre-meeting check in for those who haven't used it before.  I guarantee you will have some minor problems that people will have to work through the first time they connect using any web-based tool.

As is typical for a web tool like this, free accounts are available.  The free version allows an unlimited number of meetings with up to 40 minutes of connection time each. Also, essentially all the features of the program are available for users of the free version - which is rather unusual.  Frankly, if you can't do it in 40 minutes, you should think about other ways to do it...or take a break and come back to a separate meeting.

If you really like it, pricing plans can be seen here: http://zoom.us/pricing. For $10 a month you get unlimited meetings with up to 25 participants, for $50 a month you get up to 100 participants.

Zoom claims to connect with H.323 systems using a "Room Connector" option which costs an additional $50 per month.  We haven't tried this, as we don't use H.323 systems for instruction. We make it it a point to be web-connected and avoid proprietary equipment of any kind.

Bottom line for us is that this tool has come in so handy for small meetings that one unit on campus immediately bought a year's license for $120.  That's less than the cost of two round trips from our campus to Denver, 60 miles away...and it will definitely save many more trips than that.

On a scale from Necessary to Sustain Life to Abandon All Hope, Zoom rates "Worth a Good Test Drive."

Monday, January 27, 2014

Remote Desktop Access and Computer Control Made User-Friendly

For the past couple of years, my tech unit has been using remote desktop software called TeamViewer.  They describe their software this way:  "Remote control any computer or Mac over the internet within seconds or use TeamViewer for online meetings"

You can check it at http://www.teamviewer.com. There is a free version you can download for private use, and I'd suggest installing it on your computer at home and on your office computer.  You can connect one to the other and learn a lot about how it works.

Why use this when Windows has its own remote desktop client that can be run with a mere master's degree in computing, plus a few weeks of study in the official Microsloth Certified Monk Retreat, devoting your time to esoteric remote desktop studies?  Well, the ridiculous question reveals the answer: mere human beings can actually USE TeamViewer without spending a week learning how to use it! 

The user interface is very friendly, and it allows you to assign a name to every computer which has it installed and see that list of computers.  Assuming control of any computer (whether or not someone is already logged into it) is as simple as a double-click.

When you install it, you get this intro screen which orients you to some of the functions:

But the real fun starts when you get into commercial use and add more computers to the account.  Here's a look at the TeamViewer program showing part of our computer list:

This bears some explanation.

In the left side panel, you see an area labeled "Allow Remote Control."  This is information you can give to anyone who is running TeamViewer that will let them login to you computer and run it.  This is very powerful, as it gives you a way to do tech support in just seconds when there is a request.  The customer can download and install TeamViewer, give you their ID and password numbers over the phone, and you can connect to their computer.

Finally, click on the top of the pop-up screen where it says "Meeting" and you can initiate a web-based videoconference.

In reviewing the pop-up screen, you can see that you can schedule a meeting and see a list of meetings.  You can set up each meeting to use online (web) audio or to use a standard phone bridge.

I started an instant meeting and turned my video camera on, which opened this control bar to run the conference. The desktop can be shared, and there is even a whiteboard function. 

To have full access to a list of computers you work with, plus having a videoconference function built in, is powerful!

Although this is free for personal use, if you want to run your classroom computers with this, it's going to cost you. Our current contract is $2500 per year for installation on an unlimited number of computers, and we can have up to three live remote sessions taking place at any time. Don't forget that those remote sessions can be running on any computer anywhere on the Internet!  A student across the US from you can call with a problem and you can help them. Given the power of the tool, it has been well worthwhile for us.

Why don't you download it on a couple of computers, run it and try it out?  I think you'll like it.