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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.

Micro & Macro Video 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 downloadable."

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."

About the Author

Jennifer Demski is a freelance writer in Brooklyn, NY.

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