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Micro & Macro Video
Two schools take videocast lectures to opposite extremes, finding
innovations that work on both sides of the spectrum.
DAVID PENROSE KNOWS A THING OR TWO about
being concise. As the manager of online services and senior
instructional designer at San Juan College in Farmington,
NM, Penrose developed a method of condensing a 60-
minute lecture into 60 seconds. After doing some "reverse engineering"
and breaking down the traditional lecture into
individual components, Penrose came up with a format that
professors could use to develop a focused minute-long lecture
that would be supported by assignments designed to
enrich the students' research, collaboration, and writing
skills. The next step: deciding the best method for presenting
the micro-lectures. Explains Penrose, "It quickly became
obvious that using video as the delivery mechanism was the
way to go. By using video, we could present high-impact
images, words that were difficult to pronounce combined
with audio explaining the concepts, so that students could
see and hear and read and experience all of this material
over the course of 60 seconds."
Small and Smart
The main goal of Penrose and his team was to create video
podcasts that could be easily streamed, viewed, and digested
on a smart phone or handheld device. Because the video
podcasts would be created on a Mac platform, the team
decided on Telestream's Videocue
presentation software to record the
micro-lectures. Explains Penrose,
"We found that Videocue was very
easy for faculty to use, and the more
you're empowering faculty, rather
than making them dependent on
somebody in the studio, the more
they enjoy the process." The software
includes a teleprompter function;
faculty are asked to write out
their micro-lecture, rather than
attempting to speak it from memory
in front of the camera-- a necessity
since every word spoken in a 60-second lecture must be
integral to the concept being presented.
After experimenting with both his iMac's built-in iSight
camera and a high-end Canon XL1 digital video camera,
Penrose chose a $39 Dynex 1.3 megapixel USB camera
that mounts on top of his computer monitor. The camera
and software, combined with a Revolabs xTag wireless
USB microphone, a simple lighting kit, and a greenscreen,
were all of the elements needed to create the
micro-lectures. "The total cost was about $1,900, 21-inch
iMac included," remarks Penrose.
When Penrose was asked to create an online program
that would articulate to Texas A&M University curricula, he
quickly realized that he could use his micro-lecture method
as the backbone of the coursework. The results were unexpectedly
positive. "The program ended up being so successful--
we even got accolades from Texas A&M -- that our
micro-lectures started generating a lot of interest" throughout
the college, Penrose reports. San Juan College now has
micro-lectures included in the coursework for classes in
over half of the school's academic departments.
Faculty at San Juan College who've incorporated the
micro-lectures into their curricula have found that decreasing
the amount of class time devoted to traditional lectures
has actually increased the amount of time for students to
participate in hands-on, active learning. "We have a three- credit class that may only have 10 60-second lectures for
the whole course," Penrose says by way of example. "But it's
a writing-enhanced course. The students are asked to complete
graduate-level activities; massive amounts of research
and writing. [There's] a lot of student interaction; a lot of
group work." The advantage of video mini-lectures in that
kind of class, Penrose posits, "is that because the lectures
are so concentrated, the real learning comes from the
engaging activities that follow the lecture." He adds: "Also,
because the material is so focused, the micro-lectures rarely
become obsolete. It's time well invested."
Big and Bold
David Miller, professor of psychology at the University of
Connecticut and a 2007 Campus Technology Innovator
Award winner for his use of audio podcasts in the classroom,
is experimenting with videocasting as a way to deliver
a full-length multimedia lecture for students in his undergraduate
Animal Behavior class, creating a course that's a
hybrid between online and traditional courses.
Like Penrose, Miller built his videocasts on a Mac platform,
using Apple's Keynote presentation software as the
backbone of each presentation. Explains Miller, "I always
used Apple Keynote while I was lecturing, but I didn't use a
lot of bullet points. Instead I used a lot of multimedia in my
class presentations so that the students weren't just sitting
there copying down a lot of text. I realized that I could use
modified versions of these multimedia Keynote presentations
as movies that students could access as a streaming
video at any time from a protected website on the internet."
Miller used Telestream's ScreenFlow software to create
"screencasts," or high-quality videos produced by recording
the images and audio coming live from a computer. By
running the ScreenFlow software as he plays one of his
Keynote multimedia presentations, Miller can effortlessly
create an Apple QuickTime formatted video that his students
can stream from the internet. The ScreenFlow software
also allows for post-production editing. "There's a lot
you can do in post-production that really adds to the lecture,"
Miller explains. "You can zoom in on just one area of
the video to focus students' attention to important action
that's occurring in one part of the screen-- you can't do that
in class. Perhaps you could shine a laser pointer and hope
that students follow, but there's no guarantee." Features
like video zooming, says Miller, make his video lectures
"even better than the classroom experience."
Unlike Penrose, who designed his video podcasts to be
viewed over a wireless network on a tiny screen, Miller created
high-quality, large-size videos that students can watch
on their laptops or PCs, and they must be connected to the
campus Ethernet to do so.
For his undergraduate Animal Behavior course, Miller
incorporates clips from nature videos, pictures, scanned
images, and even animation into each presentation, and
subsequently, into each videocast. The use of outside
source material presented legal issues that ultimately determined
for Miller the delivery mechanism for his videos.
"Before I could even move forward with this project, I had to
spend a lot of time going back and forth with our attorney
general to make sure that this project was in line with copyright
laws," he says. "It was determined that the lectures had
to be accessed from a protected site and could only be presented
as streaming video-- they could not be directly
In preparation for the Fall 2009 semester, Miller recorded
over 90 movie modules; he estimates that the total viewing
time is about 40 hours. The videocasts will take the place of
one of the course's biweekly class meetings-- students are
expected to stream and view the videos on their own time.
The remaining class meeting will be dedicated to questions
and answers as well as participatory activities and discussions.
Miller is excited about this new approach. "It just
strikes me as a win-win situation from the standpoint of the
students. When you're lecturing, you're talking and then it's
gone. Even if a student is recording the lecture, they're only
getting the audio part. Here, they can pause these movies to
take notes, or they can take notes right there on screen as
they're watching by using a word processing program." In
addition, by freeing up one of the bi-weekly class meetings,
Miller is able to host an honors forum during the available
lecture hour to accommodate students looking to earn honors
credit for the course.
With a class size of about 135 students, Miller's only
concern as he dives into this experiment is in regards to the
streaming video. "If all 135 students were to attempt to
access the video at the same time, I'm not sure if our bandwidth
could handle it," he worries. "The video quality would
definitely suffer, and there'd probably be some break-ups or
pauses in the video. We did some beta testing over the
summer where we had about 20 PCs and 15 Macs simultaneously
stream the same video, and there was no degradation.
But if all my students decide to watch it between 11
pm and 2 am, they're going to run into some problems."
Jennifer Demski is a freelance writer in Brooklyn, NY.