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Audio — It’s got to be good

Of all the technical issues facing an instructor making an online lecture video, audio has to be near the top of the list. A video with noisy, distracting audio is hard to listen to for long periods of time, makes comprehension difficult for students whose language is not native to the audio track, and ruins the dialogue the instructor is trying to establish with the student.

Here are some tips towards getting great audio in your recordings:

  • Use the right microphone — A microphone that’s up-front and close to the instructor, e.g. a lavalier or headset microphone, is probably the best way to capture decent audio. A shotgun microphone aimed at the speaker might be second best. Microphones that are in a laptop, part of a tablet, or that are sitting away from an instructor on a desk or mounted overhead will not pick up voice as cleanly and will be prone to adding laptop noise, room noise and other impairments. Microphones that are built into the video camera you may be using are not the best sources of good audio.
  • Use a professional pre-amp to boost the microphone-level signal to a line-level signal for transmission to the recording equipment. Something similar to a Mackie 402-VLZ3 Compact Audio Mixer is an example, and well worth the cost. Microphone-level signals are subject noise pickup and are not suitable for transmission over long distances. Use balanced audio cables (XLR connectors) wherever possible. These cables help in canceling electromagnetic noise interference. USB microphones are great in that they convert weak microphone signals to digital signals that are immune to noise. Our lecture-camera recorder only accepts USB audio.
  • Wireless microphones, if not good quality, will add unwanted hiss into your recordings. Use a wired microphone if possible.
  • Review and consider the acoustics of the room where the recording will be done. Are the walls bare and prone to echo sounds? Professional recording studios have special foam on the walls to capture all reflected sound. Perhaps you can find, instead, a room with curtains or books lining the walls. What about fans, air-conditioners, HVAC or other unwanted sound sources? These don’t add any value to your recording. And finally, close out other distracting noises like hallway conversations, cellphone ringers, barking dogs and kids screaming in the background.
  • Use a high sampling rate for your audio – 44 or 48 KHz. minimum.
  • Record to an uncompressed format for your original (i.e. AIF or WAV format). Formats like MP3 are already compressed and if they need to be decompressed and recompressed as part of your video editing process you will create a second-generation audio recording and will lose quality.
  • Finally, when creating your published online video, don’t shortchange the bit-rate settings for the audio. Settings like 11 KHz or 22 KHz will make you sound like an overseas telephone operator. Not a good idea.

Some consideration of the points above will not only make your audio good, but really great.

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What’s a Classcorder?

A few years ago nobody knew what an “action cam” or “helmet cam” was, and now they’re so taken for granted that if you don’t have one or two in your car trunk you’re not up-to-date.

The developers behind Lecture Creator feel that our new LC series recorders are so new and feature rich that they, too, might launch a new product category in the industry. Why? These devices:

  • Serve as a hi-def camera with a wide range of interchangeable fixed, varifocal or zoom lenses.
  • Recording is done directly to a highly compressed MP4 file that may be uploaded directly to content sites.
  • The unit can live-stream concurrently while recording.
  • The files created can be automatically uploaded to content servers.
  • It’s simple to setup automatic scheduling for recording.
  • A variety of web and serial command interfaces enable control of the device.
  • It will even email you when you need some notifications.

These features are ideal for lecture capture, lecture creation, performance capture and event capture (as described in our post on Lecture Capture and Creation ).

So we’re looking for a good name to refer to this class of devices. There’s nothing like it on the market. There are some video-conference cameras that do streaming, but no recording or scheduling or uploads. Some security cameras are IP-Network based, but their feature set is aimed at a different market (face recognition or license plate reading). A term like “Video Recorder” shortchanges all this unit can do. How about “Classcorder” or “Lecture-Cam” or “Class-cam”?

We’re open to suggestions on names and feature lists. And tell us about similar products.

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The Video Creation Kiosk

In some previous posts we have discussed setting up a mini-TV studio as outlined by Penn State’s One-Button Studio or the Learning Glass .

Why bother setting up such a facility? Isn’t it easier just to use your iPad at home in your basement to record whatever you need? That’s way more convenient, right?

There are some pretty compelling reasons to go to the effort to equip a mini studio with the right equipment to create professional looking lectures:

  • Great sound is really important to the quality of an on-line video and the environment of an office (with cell-phones ringing down the hallway), with buzz from HVAC units, with tablet microphones, and with other acoustic clutter does not drive an acoustically superior effort.
  • Lighting in offices, in rooms can be off-color (think fluorescent lights), sunlight can change during the course of a recording session, and lights may be positioned at the wrong angles promoting a ghastly appearance.
  • Finally, lectures created with a thousand different apps will have a thousand different formats and IT has no control over the storage, re-use, indexing or archiving of all the IP that goes into making those lectures. It’s simply not a good basis for starting a collection of on-line course material.

These mini lecture-creation kiosks need to be nearby, convenient and simple to use, reservation-free and self-service so that busy instructors don’t have to spend a lot of time or energy creating what they need to create. Biology teachers want to wrap their heads around the latest in biology, not to spend time learning some new video editing program.

Our camera-recorders solve a lot of the problems mentioned above. They record high-quality hi-def video, have all-digital USB audio, and will automatically upload finished recordings to one or two content management locations (like Google Drive, Kaltura or Opencast). They’re also very affordable. Easy as pie and the content is safe and secure and not lost when the instructor drops his/her thumbdrive into a nearby snowbank.

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Learning Glass

For an online lecture to be engaging and interesting there are a lot of techniques which may be used to keep the viewer awake. Simple voice-overs of Powerpoints are generally thought to be about as boring as it gets.

One of the most recent and interesting approaches we’ve seen is called the “Learning Glass“, a device created by a physics professor at San Diego State University.

This approach allows clear, interactive viewing of the whiteboard/blackboard while the instructor makes direct eye contact with the students.

Our LC-100 and LC-110 Recorders provide for the left-right horizontal flip required to implement the capture of a Learning Glass session. Since these recorders can stream and record at the same time, a live Learning Glass class can be streamed live and then posted later to the LMS for video-on-demand.

Additional resources for the Learning Glass may be found at this website: http://www.learningglasssolutions.com/

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Lecture Capture and Creation

The topic of “Lecture Capture” is frequently in the news with discussions and debates on benefits, costs, educational outcomes and technology. There is some confusion, though, about what video in the classroom means and there are really multiple uses for this technology. The types of videos created and the purposes for which they are used can vary substantially, and it’s a mistake to throw all classroom video into one bucket called “lecture capture”. Here is our take on this topic:

Lecture Capture is the recording of the daily lectures in a documentary fashion and the posting of those videos on a website or learning management system for student review. The instructor walks into a classroom and presses the Record-Start button, talks for 50 minutes, presses the Record-Stop button and walks out. By the time the instructor returns to their office the lecture has been automatically posted on-line and is available to the students.

Lecture Creation is used to prepare short, 3-10 minute videos on single topics for use in MOOCs or flipped classrooms. The students are given the assignment to view the videos on their own and further discussion of the contents of the video is left for the classroom, usually in an interactive or problem solving environment.

Performance Capture is used where the subject of the recording is the student instead of the instructor. The student is given some assignment or task, the activity or event is recorded, and later an assessment is done by reviewing the video with the instructor. We see this frequently in activities such as medical training simulations and exercises, mock trials for lawyers, behavior therapy counseling sessions and business school student presentations.

Event Capture is a general category where recording equipment is used to capture special events on campus such as graduation speeches, presentations by visiting scholars and Nobel laureates and other meetings of interest. The videos are frequently post-produced by professional video editors and often highlights are extracted for other purposes such as marketing or news.

In all of the above cases the availability of video online enhances the educational experience and promotes dispersion of knowledge in that educational community (and maybe even to the world at large).