Making a video that keeps the viewer’s attention

I have certainly seen and made my share of boring educational videos, but there are ways that each of us can opt out of this process and make some that actually keep the viewer’s attention. Leila Meyer wrote an article For Campus Technology titled “5 Lecture Capture Hacks for More Engaging Videos” that nicely captures some of the ways that we might make better videos.

Search Techniques video

I have some experience with four of these approaches that I’d like to share:

  1. Dynamic green screen: An example of this is the YouTube video I have embedded at the top of this post. Since I have made about 50 of these for a class, it’s probably pretty clear that I like this approach: the slides are clear, my facial expressions are obvious, and it was easy for me to highlight items on the slides. I made these using a green screen setup in my basement plus Techsmith Camtasia video software for my Mac — not the easiest thing to create but, once it was setup, very easy to use.
  2. Virtual green screen: This uses the approach of the previous point but does not require an actual green screen setup — it is all handled with some specialized hardware and software. Check out Personify.
  3. Lightboard: I got to use one of these in a demonstration and it was simply outstanding. If you like to write on a board while explaining a topic, then this is the approach for you. It requires a studio and some specialized hardware, but once your school has set this up, it is extremely easy and natural to use. Highly recommended.
  4. Multi-perspective video capture: MediaSite has created an enterprise video solution that allows you to capture a lecture from a class. It requires a good audio capture for a classroom and, of course, a good video capture set up as well. It is relatively easy for the faculty to do but it doesn’t provide a specialized experience for the student — it feels just like sitting in a class (without having to be there). This is more of an enterprise solution to this situation.
  5. Interactive video: Both eduCanon (for an individual teacher) and Techsmith Relay (more of an enterprise solution approach) are tools that support the creation of interactive videos. It probably makes sense to experiment with the first, see how it works for you, and then (if enough people at your school support it and there is enough money in the budget) think about getting Relay.

A couple of options were also pointed out in the comments to the above article that I want to be sure to highlight:

  1. Office Mix: This add in for PowerPoint seems to be tailor made for educators to create interactive presentations for a flipped classroom. I don’t have any experience with this but it looks like it’s worth investigating.
  2. Zaption: Zaption also provides a tool for creating interactive video lessons. Be sure to check out their gallery of examples.

If you find yourself creating videos that simply show PowerPoint slides while your voice drones over them, and you think you can do better, you are right. Several of these examples are available for teachers to experiment with on his/her own, some with very little up-front cost. New tools are appearing all of the time so flexibility and a sense of experimentation are probably both key if someone is looking to making engaging videos this year…and next. This software is not going to stabilize for some time so just take the leap and start trying out some of these tools.

Using video as proxy for a class discussion

A case classroom at the Ross School of Business

I am going to be offering a blended version of a class that I have offered the last three years as a pure case discussion class (which I have discussed a bit before). I don’t currently know what percentage will be face-to-face versus online, but I’m guessing that over half (and maybe up to 3/4) will be online. I need to come up with a way to move the class online while still offering the benefits of a case class.


I do believe that students benefit in several ways from a case class:

  • Being put on the spot to discuss a situation with a professor,
  • Have a give-and-take with the professor (and other students),
  • Hearing the opinions (often contradictory) of other students,
  • Defending his/her position against challenges.

This is all very useful to these undergraduates, and are some of the major benefits of the case discussion method.


A recent change for this class is that I am moving the bulk of my class online. The second is that I am hoping that the class continues to grow so that I have more than the 60-75 students that I have had the previous three offerings. The question becomes how can many students continue to get the benefits of the case discussion method (or, at least, many of them) while taking the class online?


When teaching a case class, 95-100% of the class speaks at least once every 3 hour class period. I certainly didn’t see how I could carry this off over video. I was stumped for a while but I had several insights the other day.

  • I realized that no one student ever spoke more than four times during a class, and almost never more than 2-3 total minutes. Add that up over the semester and it’s entirely possible that no one student ever spoke for more than 30 minutes over an entire semester, with most totaling more like 15-20 minutes. (These are rough estimates.)
  • Many, many students want to say something nearly every time I ask a question, and feel like they don’t get to make the points that they want to make most of the time.
  • Two of the benefits listed above come from listening to other students, forming opinions based on that conversation, and forming defenses of his/her position against those other opinions.

Proposed solution

I am still working through the details, but I am thinking that every week we could have a process that goes something like the following.

Google+ Hangout
  1. Groups of three randomly-chosen students would be assigned to read two cases and answer some simple questions about them.
  2. The answers of all students would be made public, and a new set of more in-depth and analytic questions would be made public.
  3. A pre-assigned set of 4-8 students would prepare for an online discussion about those questions, plus lingering questions from the first set of questions. If we had 2 cases per week, then this would give up to (2x8x12) 192 students per semester the chance to go through this experience. Or, if I had 60 students, then each student could have 3 chances per semester.
  4. The rest of the students would only have to think about those questions, but in no way have to prepare.
  5. I could have a conversation over Google+ Hangout (especially OnAir) with that set of of 4-8 students in which we go over their thoughts about the second set of questions (plus other stuff that might come up). I assume that each Hangout would last about 30 minutes.
  6. The rest of the students in the class could watch the Hangout live or watch it recorded on YouTube.
  7. One third of the students in the class other than the students involved in the Hangout would be responsible for submitting a write-up related to the second set of questions. Another third would be responsible for critiquing a couple of those responses. The final third would be responsible for commenting on the responses. Authors would be able to respond to the critiques and comments as they see fit.


Looking back at the benefits that I list at the beginning, I believe that this new structure does a pretty reasonable job of delivering those benefits. Students are put on the spot in the Hangouts. They have exchanges with the professor and students in the Hangouts. Those students plus the audience gets to hear the opinions of those students. Certainly, the students in the video have to defend their positions (from the students and the professor). Additionally, in the follow-up writing assignment, the students in the writing and commenting roles are all learning to formulate arguments for a position and defend an argument against attacks.

Like I said, I am still working through the details but I think I have come up with a promising proposal. Has anyone tried anything like this? If so, please share your experiences with me through twitter or the comments below. Thanks!

Video tools for cheap introduction to movies and screencasting

The tools for creating movies and screencasts have changed, and are changing, quite significantly. The time-frame for looking for significant changes in the market place is a couple of months at most; if you last looked at this area a year ago, then you need to get on it and see what else is out there.

In the following I provide a quick overview of a few of the top tools for capturing screencasts (from your Mac or iPad or even from a Web-based tool) and then assembling these into published movies. However, before we get started, I need to define a few terms that I use in specific ways:

This is the fully-assembled final product that we all watch on YouTube (or similar site). The video going into the movie can come from screen captures, webcams, or digicams. It can also contain movies, subtitles, credits, and transitions between scenes.
This is a video that captures what is happening on a screen, and usually a narrator is describing the action.
This is the camera either directly attached to or built in to your computer. It captures the by-now iconic view of a “talking head” looking directly into the computer.
This is a video camera or point-and-shoot camera that can also capture videos away from the computer and then be downloaded into the computer for processing in the form of an MP4 or AVI file.

Web-based screencast tools



Screencast-O-Matic is a tool that you can start using on either a Mac or Windows machine without installing any software. You can use it for free in order to get an idea of its capabilities. Access to all of its capabilities costs only $15!! It can use video from either a screencast or a webcam but I didn’t see how to import video from a digicam.

With the free version you can record up to 15 minute videos from your webcam and screen capture, upload them to YouTube, and publish to MP4 and AVI (among others). For the additional fee, you gain access to some editing tools, a very nifty screenshot tool (I didn’t know that I needed this either until I looked at this video), plus the watermark gets removed from the videos. (Check their homepage for a more complete description of the features of this software.)

This is an amazingly full-featured tool given its ease of use and the ease with which you can begin to use it. With this tool, students and professors can easily experiment with publishing and creating videos of all types. You would be doing yourself a disservice if you didn’t at least give it a try.



Screenr is another Web-based tool that works on either a Mac or Windows machine. Just like Screencast-O-Matic, it uses a Java program to control the recording process. However, this tool is quite different from SOM in that it is quite limited in its functionality. It allows the user to create a screencast (in one cut), attach a text description, and then publish it. There aren’t any editing tools, nor is there any way to integrate video from a webcam or digicam.

Think of this tool as a quick-and-dirty, I-need-to-show-this-stuff-on-my-screen kind of program. In this role, it excels. It could not be easier or quicker than this Web-based tool: go to the Web site, click on the button, record what you want, stop the recording, and then publish the result. No extraneous things to think about. This is a great tool if that’s all you need.

Screencast tools for a Mac

QuickTime Player

The free QuickTime Player now has the ability to record a movie, audio, and a screencast. (See this article about this last feature.) It is actually quite simple to use this program. Go to the File menu and choose either New Movie Recording, New Audio Recording, or New Screen Recording. This then creates a media file that can be imported into other programs or published on YouTube as appropriate. For Mac users this is the natural place to start with their multimedia explorations.


If I were going to cover all screencasting and movie-making tools, then I would definitely include both ScreenFlow and Camtasia for Mac (or Windows). These are powerful tools with lots of functions and capabilities. However, since I am focusing on the inexpensive end of the spectrum, I will leave these for another day. But if you feel you have outgrown the programs I mention here, or if you need some features that aren’t provided by them, then these are great programs to look at next.

Screencast tools for iPad

Screencasting on the iPad results in a different type of video. Laptop or desktop-based screencasting is focused on showing what is happening on the screen — usually a PowerPoint presentation, a Web page, or even the operations of some other program. On the other hand, iPad screencasting is focused on capturing written input on the iPad along with recordings of direct manipulation.

A tool that is essentially a mix of the two types of screencasting tools is Doceri. It virtually connects an iPad to a computer screen, thereby allowing direct input and writing via the iPad interface but on the computer screen itself. I like this tool so much that I made a video demonstration of it.

Movie-making tools


iMovie is the reference moviemaking tool for the Mac. It is the tool for integrating video and audio from multiple sources into a single video which can then be published in all types of formats (from DVD to YouTube).



Animoto is a tool for creating a slideshow of photos set to music. It is quite like the slideshows produced by iPhoto (if you are familiar with that product) with the addition of text that the user can add throughout. The resulting video can be shared in all the usual ways, DVD to YouTube.



Qwiki is the most intriguing tool that I discuss in this post. It produces very slick, polished videos that are a combination of videos, photos, and other information. They have demo on their Web site. As they say on their Web site:

Each “Qwiki” is easily created through a browser — enabling users to combine pictures, videos, infographics and their own voice into a beautiful, interactive presentation describing anything.

And it’s free! You owe it to yourself to check it out and see if you can take advantage of what it has to offer.



YouTube is the all encompassing video publishing site; however, it also has the ability to capture and edit video. If you go to your video upload page, tools are available to record video off of a webcam (as well as, of course, upload videos off your digicam). YouTube now also offers tools to edit your video after you have uploaded it (including trimming and shake removal); here is one video among many describing the site’s capabilities.


So many choices are available to you now for your video and screencasting needs. Things could change soon, and will. Some of these free or cheap programs could become more expensive or disappear. Others may survive, but it’s unclear which ones are which. Your best bet is to retain familiarity with a variety of tools, and don’t become too dependent on one of them. Be flexible!

In the meantime, you have to do something. If you are beginning to explore video, I recommend that you start with Screencast-O-Matic. It is cheap and you can begin to get an idea of what the process is like. As your demands increase, you should move on to using QuickTime (for free) to import video off your digicam; you might also compare its screencasting tools with those of SOM.

Now you might also have some slightly different needs. You might want to explore the iPad-based screencasting tools; it gives much more of a sense of demonstrating some task to a viewer. If you want to present photo-based information, Animoto provides a tool for creating polished slideshows.

As for assembling the final movie, YouTube is turning into a reasonable alternative for handling simple movie assembly. However, for Mac users you really can’t beat iMovie for a moderately advanced movie production studio. (I’m not even going to mention Final Cut Pro.) Finally, Qwiki provides a great tool for possibly taking the production values of your videos to a completely new level.

The most important recommenation: do something. Get in the game, or be left behind.

Digital and multimedia alternatives to traditional written reports

It used to be so much simpler. When asking a student to display mastery of some material, a professor would ask for a 10 page paper. The student would research the topic, type up the contents, maybe include an image or graph, add the bibliography, and turn the paper in. The professor would walk out of class with a stack of papers to grade. This was all so predictable.

Well, not any more. The opportunities for displaying mastery are probably limited most by the professor’s imagination more than either the students’ abilities or the technical tools. Here I will go through some of the ideas for new types of projects that have crossed my mind recently as I have been planning my courses.


I have used Wikidot to host my course Web site for the last five years or so. It’s very stable and has a ton of features; see their education page for more details. But I have also used it as a way for students to write reports. I have been ecstatic with the results. Take a look at this one on the U.S. coffee industry as an example of some particularly amazing work. Here are the advantages of using a wiki for my assignment:

  • Students could easily link to current news stories.
  • Students could easily include photos and videos that were appropriate for their topic.
  • Students could write this work that it was going to be a public good when they finished it; on the day the project was due, they would turn their wiki from being private to being public. The report became something that anyone could look at as an example of their work. This definitely provided some motivation.
  • Students could amass a lot of information, but they would also have to learn to organize this information in a comprehensible manner.

Let’s consider this last point a bit more. The wiki tool gives students a lot of options for addressing this problem of how to organize additional information they have gathered. In a paper, students have three choices: footnote, table, or appendix. With hyperlinking (to new pages or within an existing page) and tabs, wikis provide more dramatic and (potentially) more effective tools for organizing information.

Curation tools

If the professor is interested in having a student follow a topic over a period of time (a month or so), then the curation tools that are currently out there provide some really easy-to-use tools for collecting and organizing information. LiveBinder is one such tool; you can learn more on this page. (Here is one example.) They promote themselves as “your 3-ring binder for the Web”, and this is quite appropriate. It’s a tool for gathering resources and putting them into categories. It’s quite utilitarian in nature but these binders are easy to work with.

Scoop.It provides a completely different experience. Think of this tool as providing a way for students (or you) to gather Web-based resources on one particular topic. Here is their Scoop.It page on Scoop.It itself. You can see that it is uncategorized, simply providing an attractive page of articles that they have gathered on a single topic. I could see producing a Scoop.It page as being part of a student’s assignment as a way of getting the student to understand that the topic they are covering is a living, changing thing (whatever it might be).

Network-drawing or mindmapping

Pearltrees example

Instead of writing about a topic, the professor might ask students to create a mindmap about a topic. These tools have gotten much better in the last couple of years. (Some of them are free while others provide very low rates for academic users.) They each make it quite easy to draw networks of related concepts, but each tool is somewhat different.

PearlTrees is a tool for gathering URLs from around the Web. This works by clicking on a bookmarklet in your browser, and then this “pearl” is added to their personal network. The student can then go to the network and re-organize the page.

Spicy Nodes exampleMindmeister example

SpicyNodes feels more like a writing or composition tool. This is a tool for sitting down, thinking, and creating; it’s not something that feels like it could be thrown-together. The “nodes” in this network can be text, simple HTML, URLs, or graphics.

Finally, MindMeister provides the ability for students to work in groups without worrying about stepping on each other’s electronic toes. Here are some education examples. While here the user can add graphics, the focus is clearly on the thoughts and organization of ideas.


The tools for creating videos are widely available and cheap. If you assign a group of students to create a video, the probability of one of them having a smart phone that can take video approaches 100% for any group of 2 or more. Almost every laptop comes with a web cam. I’m going to write an entry on this soon, but there is all kinds of free software available for producing videos:

Professors should think really carefully before they don’t assign videos during a class. It provides a different way of increasing student interaction with a topic, and might get them to think in a different way about how to organize their thoughts than they would otherwise.


VoiceThread is a unique multimedia collaboration tool. It allows multiple users to collaborate or comment on a video or PDF (or whatever) in multiple different ways. You really should look at their features page.

The question here becomes how to use this tool in a class. The professor could assign a video clip to a group of students and get them to create a commentary on it. These could then be shared to the whole class as a way to get a classroom discussion started. Another alternative would be before every class assigning different groups of students a specific article; they would then be assigned to point out its strengths and weaknesses and how it could be improved. Again, this could be distributed to the class as a whole for discussion. Finally, there’s no reason that these need to be short videos or be the result of a limited amount of work. Students could use their creativity to figure out how to use this tool to present multiple sides or viewpoints to an on-going controvery in a field.

I think the possibilities with this tool are extensive; personally, I need to adjust my thinking to this new way of working. I’m hoping that you’ll hear more about this from me later.

How to tell stories digitally (ISTE12 workshop)

Jason giving it his all in our workshop.


The following are my notes and take-aways from the ISTE12 workshop given by Jason Ohler titled “Finding the Digital Storyteller Within.” He did a great job, and I highly recommend to anyone interested in digital stories (more on this below) that they attend one of his workshops (the longer, the better). In the meantime, he has a blog, a book about Digital Storytelling, his slides for the session, and a real extensive Web site.

Here is what he stated in his introductory Web page about the workshop:

I am all about story development, planning and execution. We just happened to be using digital technology to do it.

Think “new media narrative” rather than stories
I think the word “story” erroneously implies fiction, language arts, Walt Disney. Not the case. That is why I prefer the term “new media narrative.” I will show examples of “math stories,” documentaries created in social studies, and other kinds of new media projects that attest to the fact that new media narrative is a powerful alternative to essays and reports.

And, so, that is what we did, and this is what I learned.

Key take-aways

The following are key points that he discussed during our session. I have tried to include links to his Web site for supporting details. I can’t emphasize enough how useful these are.

Scripting a story
He takes us through two processes for creating a digital story. He also took us through the story core and story mapping process. His Green screen storytelling project provided a good example to get a better idea of what he was talking about. We all found these tools to be simply great for evaluating whether a story is good and also to create a good story ourselves.
Assessment rubric
He also provided a ton of details about assessment. His basic story was to be clear that you’re not just going to be blown away by moving pictures on a screen — you’re going to grade them on the underlying narrative (see above) and lots of other things. This is the only way that they will get better!
He made this point over and over again: it’s the underlying story/narrative that is most important. The visuals and videos that accompany the narrative are supportive.
Words first
When creating a digital story, the student should create the story and narrative first; once this is done, then they should focus on the images. This is the opposite of what is usually done.

Software and sites

Jason barely mentioned the technology, other than little hints for us. Here are some of the sites that he mentioned:

  • Use for free music. This is better than GarageBand but it costs a little money.
  • For music he also uses
  • For photos he likes
  • He uses Perfect Resize (formerly Genuine Fractals), an add-on to Photoshop ($100 right now) that can be used to up-size a photograph. This allows him to use a 300×500 photo that he might have gotten from a site for free, and then use this software to make it useful at full-screen size.
  • He subscribes to for photos and (what else) clip art. He always prefers that students take the photos themselves, but he realizes there are limitations to what they have time to do.

And that’s it. He did a great job of giving us an overall framework for how to create compelling stories and how to evaluate the digital stories that students create. I will be using all of this myself as I create videos during the upcoming year for my blended class.

Detailed notes

Here are my notes from the class. I’m not sure that anyone would find this useful, but I’m keeping it here just in case.

  1. He is going to give us guidelines for creating digital stories. He will give us a skeleton and we will change it based on our audience. This will be a starting point.
  2. Digital storytelling in the classroom; Digital community, Digital Citizen — both books by Jason Ohler
  3. He has a blog:
  4. His presentation is New Media Crash Course presentation on his web site. (Link later.)
  5. This is about structuring stories.
  6. Teachers as “door openers” for the students. Which door is for which student?
  7. Watched a video produced by a kid. It was really good, but the production values were terrible. But the story was awesome. (About his bunny, Fuzzy Lumpkins the Sith Lord.)
  8. Most media that he sees is not very good. The coherent narrative is not very good. It’s hard to go from reading to writing, and it’s hard to go from watching media to creating media.
  9. We are afraid to give strong, critical, useful feedback on student media work.
  10. Worst infraction by students is that the music is too loud. Don’t ever give up Executive Producer role for students.
  11. Tell students to watch TV and see how they do transitions. Do they use checkerboards? No, I didn’t think so.
  12. Key resources:
    • Green screen storytelling project:
      1. plan, permissions, paint.
      2. Tell the story
      3. Map the story
      4. Teach storytelling (Who’s line is it anyway?)
      5. Do the unit of instruction
      6. Storystorming
      7. Students tell their stories; get kids to move with their stories, there’s something kinesthetic about creating a written story.
      8. Students write their stories (notice that this is the end)
      9. Students tell, retell and peer critique stories
      10. Students create background artwork
      11. Students scan artwork
      12. Students perform in front of the green wall. (Get students to teach each other.)
      13. Students record their performance
      14. Students create background music for titles.
      15. Students are trained in chroma editing
      16. Students add artwork
      17. Students edit, master and help each other
    • Digital storytelling site: a great section on Assessment for digital stories and new media narrative projects. Also information on copyright and fair use. Here is where to start.
    • music impact
    • Use for free music. This is better than GarageBand but it costs a little money.
    • Story proof? by Havens (he loves it)
    • There is a grammar associated with camera work. Ask him how to learn about this!!!
    •, also
    • Genuine Fractals, add-on to photoshop that can be used to up-size a photograph
    • He subscribes to for photos
  13. Become aware of the music you hear when you’re watching media. NBC uses lots of music; it’s a cheap way to pull at the heart instead of with good writing.
  14. Music is the adjectives and adverbs of your story.
  15. Literacy: therefore, we need to be able to write well whatever we read. We need to say that creating this media is now just as important as being able to watch the media (e.g., read text).
  16. Homework can be a media collage now. How can we do this well?
  17. Digital storytelling is cliche. It should be “new media narrative.”
  18. He thinks it’s hard to look at a storyboard and tell if the story is going to be good or not.
  19. He tells a story about a little girl helping a CIO in front of a big audience.
  20. Stories are highly efficient information containers.
  21. Stories have to have “personal transformation” in a story or it isn’t memorable. There needs to be something to hang your emotional hat on. There has to be a problem, question, inquiry, goal — something that makes you lean forward in your chair. The discovery has to be complete. No “stay tuned next week.”
  22. Think about a “story” versus “bullet list.” Think about how memorable the two are.
  23. He shows a video, a math story called “ball”. How to animate a rolling ball. They presented a problem (of the ball skidding across the sand). What are they going to do about that? Note that didn’t have to have the problem! They gave us a problem that drew us into the video.
  24. Traditionally storyboard. He doesn’t use that.
  25. Visual portrait of the story: beginning, problem (tension) -> solution (resolution) [this is the transformation], end.
  26. Transformation: emergence, rebalancing. From new you to the old you. Physical/kinesthetic, inner strength, emotional, moral, psychological, social, intellectual/creative (learning, problem solving, critical thinking, realizing new understandings, spiritual. The key is that characters have to realize something or there isn’t a good story involved.
  27. Use the photos that I took here. He includes a bunch of Maps; includes the work of McKee.
  28. McKee says you need to move toward goal, away from goal, toward the goal, away from the goal. Do this alot, it draws us in.
  29. Story spine by Kenn Adams. Great summary.
  30. Don’t let the perfect be the enemy of the good.
  31. Simple rubric: story (flow), media use (alignment), research (well done), narrative production (bumpless), writing (meets your standards), planning (process followed), voice/creativity (present). The media has to fit the narrative; does the picture show a dog? For media alignment, you need to give structured feedback about specific moments in a video.
  32. Story creation process: plan, write (write 1/2 to 1 page; keep it under 3 minutes for student work; but if this is a final project for semester, could be longer), put (writing into a two column table), describe media, speak/record, get media. This is huge! Use this in a class. The peer pitch is your elevator pitch; is it clear, interesting, problem clear, solution clear.
  33. A two column table: narrative on left, image description and emotion description on right.
  34. Have the student record/listen/rewrite. They will do this a lot because they don’t like how it sounds.
  35. Be sure to have them do just audio first. Go back and do the images later.
  36. Get media later.
  37. Now it’s technical: create the title page; add pictures and video; add citations, music, transitions and effects; export to something youtube can understand; perform it publicly (makes a big difference to students).
  38. He has a media development checklist (photo).
  39. Story storming: a process to elicit a story from them. Problem/question? Then Solution/answer. Then Learning/transformation. Get them to tell me a problem; wait until you get a juicy one (“don’t like school”). What are the solutions or answers to that? Write down several different choices. Look for learning/transformation associated with each. Some don’t have one here, so that’s not a good story. The good ones have a lot to do in this area.
  40. Documentary options: 3rd person narrator; 1st person protagonist (I don’t understand whatever, come with me as I discover; Michael Moore); 1st person included (he gives the 3rd person, but he includes personal stories; Ken Burns); 1st immersive (media created through the viewpoint of being that person, from that person’s eyes; King John story)
  41. He has us come up with a story ourselves.

Using the Doceri whiteboard app for the iPad

I recently received the Doceri Goodpoint Stylus along with my previously downloaded Doceri Remote app for the iPad and the Doceri Desktop application for my laptop. I am extremely impressed by this combination of hardware and software, so I put together a video that explains just what it is and what it’s like to use it. They have lots of good videos on their site, but I always feel better if I see some type of non-affiliated endorsement of a product than if it is strictly a corporate, official demonstration. Well, I hope this 13+ minute video fills that role for you. You’ll probably want to watch it on YouTube instead of embedded on this site.

Let me know if you have any questions or comments about this product. I will follow up as soon as I can. Thanks!

Trials of a new video producer

Yes, I am interested in technology, and I have quite a (long) history with it. Yes, I am interested in the use of technology in education, and I also have quite a (okay, again, long) history with it. And, yes, I am going to teach (the enrollment gods be willing) a class on living and learning digitally to business students that will be mostly online and use lots of video.

But I have not ever actually published a video using iMovie. Oops. That might be what’s referred to as a “hole in the resume.”

It is true that I have previously created a video promoting an earlier version of this class and created another series of videos explaining how to edit wikidot pages (with over 13k views! I had no idea). However, both of these were created (in ways that I only vaguely recall) with software that was cheap, difficult to use, and not that robust. I’m not even sure that I could get it to work again.

Given my plans to teach this class in this manner, I recently decided to actually test whether or not I could put together a video. I know there are other professors out there who are intrigued by where technology is going but are uncertain about the move from classroom to video, so I figured I would document these early, tentative steps. I know how to speak in front of a classroom, no problem. Delivering content over video is more complicated. There’s the content itself (essentially the same, though structured differently), then the delivery of the content into a camera (very, very different), and the assembling and publishing of that digital content. I wanted to see for myself, before I got too far into this process, just how hard or easy it is to complete that last step. If that step is too hard to take, then I would have to change my whole concept of what it means to deliver this type of class.

The following two videos are the result of that first test. The first simply tests my abilities to use iMovie to create a movie, and the second shows the current state of my production facility and the hardware I use.

Initial tests of hardware and software

This is really raw video. (Please don’t judge! I’m not performing or using my stage voice or anything. This is “testing, testing, 1, 2, 3.”) This video is the result of using my MacBook Pro, an iSight camera (since my laptop’s camera stopped working a couple of years ago), iMovie, a microphone, and a document camera. (More on all of this below.) Here is the movie; my comments follow.

  • I published this in “Large” format (808×540), suitable for Apple TV, computer, and YouTube. I will have to think about this as I go along. For an iPhone, it recommends publishing at 480×320; however, some loss of detail would certainly occur.
  • It is simply a matter of checking a box to have iMovie automatically insert a standard transition between scenes. I used “cross-fade.”
  • Inserting a title (at the beginning), subtitles (before scenes), and credits (if needed at the end) couldn’t be easier. Drag and drop, then type. Done.
  • At 0:05 when I first appear on screen: so many things to see here.
    • I have a ceiling light to the left of my head; I am going to have to change the alignment of the camera to get that to go away.
    • The lighting on my face is a bit dark, and shadows are being cast across my face. (Later, I will address this.) It is hard to get this right because I have a light directly above my desk (a different ceiling light) and none in front of me. Who has a light shining on his face (but only direct light!)? Well, certainly, not me. What I had to do (for this shot; I do more later) was put a desk lamp next to the camera and behind the laptop and point it away from me so that it reflected off the wall.
    • So far I like working with this microphone. It is comfortable, the ear microphone is sufficient, and the sound pick-up seems acceptable. I wanted to get a microphone because I plan on lecturing to a camera in front of a whiteboard and I figured I would need one at that time since I would be turning my head periodically away from the camera. (I will test this setup soon.)
  • At 0:21 the first subtitle screen appears. (I’m sure this has another name.) Again, this was super simple.
  • 0:26: I recorded a second short clip in order to test how to handle the insertion of a second video into the movie and how transitions work. I need to remember to have at least 1 second of me staring at the camera at the beginning and ending of a clip in order to provide time for the transition to work effectively. The transitions take about 0.5 seconds off the end of a clip and blend it into the beginning of the next clip so you don’t want to be doing or saying anything at that time.
  • 0:37: I wanted to record a clip and then insert a voice-over to see how it works. I recorded the whole clip, and then I went back and used iMovie to record the audio for the middle segment. The audio for the voice-over came out different than it did for the rest of the segment. I have no idea why because I used the same hardware and software for everything. I still have to investigate this.
  • At 0:53 the doc-cam makes its appearance. This was kinda tricky to setup — actually, not really to setup but more specifically to understand how to setup — but it is easy to use.
    • I will have to use a more bold-faced pen if I am going to write on paper.
    • Though the doc-cam has an audio pick-up, I set up the software to use the head mic that I had on.
    • The doc-cam appears to be much more comfortable working in a Windows environment than a Mac environment. The software that is made available for the Mac is explicitly in beta (and it should be). It works, but it has some glitches. The major one is that it records the video in one orientation, with the top of the video being away from the base and the bottom of the video being closest to the base. The software has a button that is supposed to rotate the video, but it doesn’t really work. This ends up not being a problem (at least as far as I can tell for now) because, after the movie is saved, QuickTime can rotate the movie into the correct orientation.
    • I was hoping to use this camera during live feeds, but it doesn’t appear to be a standard video feed. I can’t get my Mac to choose it as a standard video input so I can’t switch to it — it only works when it is being controlled by its own software. I will have to continue investigating this, and possibly look for another product if I can’t figure it out.
    • Regardless of all the above, I think the image is pretty clear and doesn’t have a lot of the ghosting and blurring that older, school-supplied doc-cams seem to always have. I definitely would feel comfortable using this hardware in a pre-recorded segment.
  • 1:14: I wanted to test if the selection of audio input made a difference in the recording. I definitely like the change in audio quality from the first segment (computer microphone) to this one (Bluetooth mic).

All in all, it was a successful test. I still have some issues to investigate, but it all seemed doable. Now I just have to work on my on-camera personality.

Production facility

This video shows my “production facility” (aka my basement). The video itself is somewhat of a technical test as well, since it is a combination of video off my iSight and off my first-generation Flip. (I recently was saddened to discover that my Flip HD has died after barely being used. Got a new battery and it didn’t revive it. That’s really too bad since I haven’t seen anything that approaches its combination of cost, simplicity, and quality output. I am going to have to keep my eyes open.)

Here’s a list of what I discuss in the video:

Apple MacBook Pro
This is a 15″ early 2008 model with 4GB of RAM running Lion 10.7.4. The main problem is that it is nearly out of hard disk space (as well as the aforementioned camera issue). I will be replacing this soon. For now it serves it purpose quite well.
I was fairly amazed by how easy it was to get started with this. I watched their introductory video, but that’s the extent of the training that I underwent before I did any of this. I’m sure that Final Cut Pro X is a wonderful piece of software, and I’m also guessing that I will start pining for it at some time; however, for now I can see being satisfied with iMovie and its focus on ease-of-use.
Plantronics Voyager 520
This is a noise-canceling, Bluetooth, over-the-ear microphone. It is comfortable and seems to provide adequate sound quality. I will have to monitor this over time but this looks like it was a good investment.
Luna Interactive Projection Camera
As I said before, the Mac software that comes with this is a bit iffy, but the hardware seems solid. I especially like the quality of the video that it produces. The only thing that bothers me is the difficulty using it in a streaming video.
Flip Video (original)
This is a solid, reliable piece of hardware. As long as it doesn’t fail (seem Flip HD experience above), I expect that I will use this for a while. I next need to test it out in a room with me in front of a whiteboard. This will have to wait for future explorations (and associated posts).


I’m a long-time Mac user beginning with the Mac SE/30 in 1989 all the way through my current iPad, MacBook Pro, and MacPro 12-core tower with 16GB of RAM (I run lots of computation-intensive simulations in my research) so I am comfortable working in that environment. However, “working in that environment” and “producing videos” are two completely different things.

I now have the confidence to invest a bit more time in learning specific techniques and approaches to teaching on video. I didn’t feel the urge to investigate these before because I didn’t have the confidence that I would be able to carry it off. Now I do.

I hope these videos and this blog post gives you confidence that you could get into the video production business, at least on a part-time basis. Do you have any help for me on the next steps on my learning journey? Let me know if you do.

Hardware and software for video creation on iPad 3

Aaron Valdez, of the UM LSA ISS Media Center, presented a session at Enriching Scholarship titled “Creating videos with iPhones & iPads.” You can see from these photos that he talked about and showed a bunch of accessories and software.

Blinged-out iPad and iPhone for video camera duty

iPhone (left) and iPad (right) blinged-out for video camera duty

Table full of iPad and iPhone video accessories

Table full of iPad and iPhone video accessories

What I’m going to capture here are my impressions of his recommendations related to hardware and software that would be most appropriate for turning the iPad (and iPhone, but I have an iPad so that’s what I’m going to focus on). My targeted use is to create tutorials, lectures, and other learning sessions in a room.

Also, I should be real clear here that Aaron definitely does not endorse the use of the iPad for professional or high stakes videos. If you have the money to invest in a dedicated video camera, then he suggests that you get one. On the other hand, if you have an iPad, he thinks that it is capable of capturing (and editing and publishing) acceptable video.

Simple tips for improving your videos

He basically started with a series of short tips that don’t cost anything or require you to acquire anything…other than a bit more expertise in using your device.

  • If you are going to record something for public consumption, by all means use the rear camera (which shoots in 1080p) and shoot in landscape mode in order to avoid pillar-boxing (the opposite of letter-boxing).
  • Tap on a specific point on the screen in order to set the camera’s exposure for that point.
  • Tap and hold on a point on the screen (until the box around the point pulses) in order to set and lock the AE/AF on the video. (This doesn’t work for the camera.)
  • When shooting a video, if you can’t use a tripod, then work to stabilize the camera as much as feasible by one of several methods: lock your elbows low and into your body; learn the art of smooth walking (like a marching band member); or put the camera against a wall or on a ledge of some type.


When taking the video, the iPad needs to be mounted to a tripod. In order to do this, you need to purchase something like the Grifiti Nootle ($20). There is no clearly superior product out there now; this simply seems to be something that does the job.


Here are some of his recommendations:

  • You should be careful to not backlight your subject; this is a pretty obvious one.
  • You should also avoid shooting at high noon or in a room in which light comes from only overhead. This provides a harsh light and can cast unattractive shadows (e.g., below the subject’s nose).
  • You should use a bounce to reflect lighting back onto the subject; this can simply be a big piece of white posterboard if you don’t feel like springing for an official bounce ($22).
  • In order to avoid the “deer in the headlights” look, put lighting someplace 3-5 feet to the side of the camera if possible.
  • A good starter lighting kit is this one by Lite Panels ($275).

Recording audio

This is where the iPad has the most deficiencies. It isn’t possible to change the audio volume or balance as it is recording — you just have to take what it gives you.

  • Shoot as close to the source as possible.
  • If there are a lot of speakers scattered around the room, then try to position yourself in the middle of the room.
  • If you are recording something at a distance, be sure to locate yourself away from people nearby who might be talking. The iPad will do its best to try to record the nearby audio instead of the distant audio.
  • For a microphone that can attach directly to your iPad, he recommends the Tascam IM2 ($50) somewhat.
  • For a more professional grade sound, he recommends the Rode VideoMic Pro ($150). To use this, you would also have to buy an adapter to connect it to the iPad.
  • You can mount your lights and microphone on the same tripod if you use this device ($32).


For apps he found some pretty basic apps that did all that you would need:

  • For a camera app, he recommends Camera Plus Pro ($2).
  • If you have had to record a video while walking around, he recommends using Dollycam to steady out the shakes.
  • For editing videos on the iPad, he recommends iMovie.

More advice & resources

Finally, for more advice on this subject, he recommends that you turn to the following:

So, while it’s not necessarily easy or cheap to get into producing videos at home, it certainly is easier and cheaper than it used to be — probably by an order of magnitude just in the last 5 years or so. The above should provide a good start for my fledgling videography career.

Do you have any recommendations for me as I continue my explorations and experimentations?