Almost three years ago, I wrote a blog on how instructional technology has changed (or evolved) since I first taught a college course in Spring 1986 (or since I had a week’s training in “instructional technology” in my one secondary education course when I was an undergraduate at Stephen F. Austin State University in Fall 1979) (here is the link to the previous blog: https://historyeducator.wordpress.com/2011/02/02/technology-and-teaching/). Since then, I have begun recording some of the lectures for HST 2201 (United States History to 1877), all of the lectures for HST 2202 (United States History since 1877), and most of the lectures for HST 4401 (History of Pennsylvania) using a flip camera. While the flip camera is easy to use, there are issues inherent with using it for a “professional” presentation, namely that it’s placed on a window sill, aimed toward the projection screen, and picks up all ambient noises ranging from students talking (which isn’t always a bad thing), to the sound of the heater/air conditioner running below the window sill (which can be quite loud at times when it works) or the noise of a lawnmower or traffic outside the classroom when the windows are open. Plus, because it’s a fixed camera, I’m not always seen in the video—which isn’t necessarily a bad thing, but it’s certainly not as engaging as I would like.
The relatively medium-to-low quality of the film wouldn’t be a problem except that I also use the filmed lectures in the online version of HST 2202 (students physically aren’t in the classroom when I lecture, so they get to see/hear what the students in the room do). One student commented on the online course evaluation last spring that he/she had some difficulty listening to the first lecture and didn’t watch the rest of them, so I’ve decided to fix that problem. This spring, when I teach the course again, students will be required to watch the lectures for the course “attendance” grade (yes, I know, they can just play it and not pay attention, but honestly that’s not a lot different from students who sit in the classroom texting or playing games on their cell phones while I’m lecturing). The other change: I’m doing a more professional presentation of the immigration lecture that was the focus of the previous blog as a test to find out if it better serves students’ learning needs.
As an aside, there are a couple of reasons why I started recording the lectures. First, during the 2011 spring semester, we had four snow days during which the university closed—and thus classes weren’t held. Recording lectures and making them available through the university’s course management system (Desire2Learn) means that students won’t miss a day of instruction if we have a snow day. Plus, I can make them available for students to review when preparing their take-home examinations. Second, when I saw Charles Shaughnessy following his performance as Professor Henry Higgins in My Fair Lady in June 2011, he asked if I had a video of the lecture—which, of course, I did not. So in February 2012 when the lecture was presented again, it was recorded with the flip camera—and, while the quality is adequate, it really wasn’t as good as I would have liked to share with someone who is a professional actor/producer (although I did still share it with him). I filmed it again in February 2013, but in that version I’m strolling around the classroom with my left arm in a sling while recovering from shoulder surgery…so that’s not exactly a version I want to show very often. Since then, I have wanted to redo this lecture with a “real” video camera…which I am getting to do this fall. And, as it turns out, I get to do it with two cameras.
Since the first attempt in February 2012, Mansfield University has hired a new instructional designer, Nick André. Nick has been very helpful in making the video something that is professional in quality (certainly more professional than a flip camera on the window sill). We booked a classroom to film the lecture with multiple cameras (including one that followed me as I paced around the room), adjusted the lighting, and provided me with a microphone to enhance the audio (just in case—my voice usually projects well enough that I don’t need any help to reach the back of the room—and, in fact, it sometimes was too loud, which we had to adjust in post-production). And, when I stumbled over words, we stopped filming and started over—something I really don’t get to do when I’m teaching.
Then we started the process of post-production. Just after one morning (during which we worked on 8 minutes of video; the entire lecture has been divided into five installments), I really began to appreciate the time involved in transforming a simple “let’s shoot a home movie” into “let’s produce something that can contend for an Academy Award” (and no, I have no delusions that this lecture video will ever win any awards). We used Camtasia during the editing process, which involved animation (such as drawing arrows on maps to provide more specific locations–stuff that I would have used a pointer in class), inserting media into the video (which alerts students/viewers to click on the web link and access additional information), working with separate tracks for the PowerPoint presentation and the audio portion of the lecture, inserting me into the image (video of me talking in the corner overlaid over the PowerPoint slide), and developing ways to get anonymous student/viewer feedback. Phrases like “transition to fade,” “line up the tracks,” “right click on the pan handle,” “scrub the video,” and “callouts” are becoming part of my vocabulary, and, unfortunately, I have started watching television shows and feature films and focusing on the production qualities instead of the story line (which I’m afraid will happen with the lecture—the students will be so engrossed in the gadgetry that they don’t pay attention to the content—although I have found a solution to that problem). I have also started to rethink how I present the information on the PowerPoint slides; in the future, I will try to make sure that the content is concentrated on the top half of the slide, with the bottom section clear for the insertion of the camera footage of me speaking (and, occasionally, pacing around the front of the classroom).
In the beginning, I was watching Nick work with the first part, which essentially is an overview of immigration in the late 19th century. As we were working on it, we began to think about how to improve it. The nice thing about editing that I’ve found out is that you can have do-overs that you don’t get when presenting the lecture in the classroom (we also re-filmed the last portion, as I realized after stopping that, unlike when I’m actually teaching the class, I do have time to talk after the audio clip plays). The entire film ended up being around 50 minutes—just like a regular class—except the 50 minutes will be divided into smaller segments centered around the content provided (e.g., one section will deal with the transatlantic crossing and processing through Ellis Island; that will be the “Coming to America” section and will fall between the “Reasons for Immigration” and “Employment Opportunities” sections). It will conclude with credits (just like a real production) where I can list credits for illustrations, properly thank those who helped with the project, and include some music to play while the credits are “rolling” that fits into the theme of the lecture.
The videos have been posted on You Tube (they’re set up in a playlist) and will be posted on the Desire2Learn course site for both the on campus and online sections of HST 2202. Hyperlinks to information are embedded in the You Tube videos using Pretty Links; I have set up a WordPress.org account (which is slightly different from the WordPress.com account where this blog is posted) to use for creating the links. The WordPress.org account has been established as an “Associated Website” on You Tube, and Pretty Links enables me to redirect from WordPress to another website (such as a seamless transition to a biography of Thomas Nast when a student clicks on the red web link logo in the corner of the Thomas Nast cartoon). And, of course, since the links are included in the video of a lecture, the students should expect to be assessed on the information included in the video along with information in the websites they are supposed to access.
The best part, though, is that it will be a far more professional production that might become part of the Legacy Library on the MU YouTube Channel (and thus will be available to prospective students who are interested in seeing the type of engaging instructors we have here at Mansfield). Fortunately, I already have all of the permissions I need (in writing), which is important because the lecture continues to include the original audio clip that led to the whole “let’s bring another voice into the classroom” experience back in February 2011—only this time, the students will be able to click on the red logo in the corner and access additional information on the guest speaker—and they will be tested on that information.
If you are interested in viewing the finished product, send me an email at firstname.lastname@example.org.