Learning Innovation Unit, Dublin City University
Learning Innovation Unit
Camtasia for Remote Students – A Review
By David Molloy, School of Electronic Engineering
Since 1997, the School of Electronic Engineering has been offering remote modules to students on taught postgraduate programmes. Back then, a handful of modules were available to about twenty students, some of whom took up the option of continuing engineering education remotely. Today, there are in excess of two hundred students taking any of four million combinations of remote modules on postgraduate programmes in the school. While there are a number of factors affecting this growth in student numbers, the provision of course material in an online capacity has been demonstrated to be hugely significant.
Due to the programme being developed prior to the use of Moodle/WebCT in the University, remote course material was typically generated through a laissez-faire approach. Lecturers were asked to “think online” when developing modules and were encouraged to experiment with different techniques for the deployment of such material. This resulted in a considerable variety of approaches being taken, which provided academics with the opportunity to get firsthand advice from their peers in relation to “What works”.
Unfortunately, there was still one major puzzle to solve. As one student submitted in an online feedback form in 1996:
“.. it would be more beneficial to me and the rest of the students if there was some sort of recording of lectures – I can’t help feeling that the on-campus students are getting information that just isn’t finding its way to us!”
This has been one of the most voiced concerns by students who are participating, in a remote manner, on a module which also takes place on campus. The concept of “equivalence of product” should be adhered to for all students, who should receive a common course experience, regardless of study mechanism.
Exploring lecture video recording as a solution
The obvious solution to providing this equivalence was to provide remote students with video/audio recordings of all lectures. Unfortunately, despite numerous attempts, the provision of video material never worked satisfactorily. There were a number of factors involved, including:
- Manpower: the requirement for a camera operator and lecturer in each lecture.
- Time: video editing is a time-consuming process.
- Hardware cost: equipment such as cameras and microphones is expensive.
- Dynamic course material: where a module content would change annually, the process would need to be repeated.
- Quality and scale: rendering, compression and hosting of appropriately sized video files while ensuring that the quality of these files is sufficient clear.
- Focus: lecturer/slides/blackboard – be shown at any time in the video recording.
In short, the process was found to be too expensive, time-consuming and required professional video operation/editing.
A number of lecturers used the fallback process of audio recording their lectures as a half-way arrangement. While a number of students commented positively at these efforts, audio recording fell somewhat short of the ideal.
Camtasia screen capture as a solution
With the encouragement of the Learning Innovation Unit (LIU), a number of academics in the school have been deploying screen-captured video material over the last three academic years. Screen capture, while different to video recording, provides a very close second place when compared to professional video editing. In addition, it provides a range of advantages and addresses the problem factors listed previously:
- Manpower: only the lecturer is involved
- Time: no lecturers in the school perform any video editing as it is found unnecessary. Videos are provided “warts and all”.
- Hardware cost: where a lecturer has an existing laptop with built-in microphone there are no additional hardware costs
- Dynamic course material: content is easy to produce and deploy on an annual basis
- Quality and scale: Camtasia provides a range of high quality, small size file formats
- Focus: the laptop screen is recorded at all times. An option to embed a video of the lecturer is available but is limited in usage.
Lecturer time overhead
While many lecturers might be considering using Camtasia or an equivalent package, the most obvious concern tends to be “How much time will it take?”
There are two answers to this question:
- Edited Video: Where a lecturer would like to video edit for professional reasons (creating sections, titles, cutting out the “umms” and “eehhs”), this process is open ended in the time that may be spent
- Raw Video: Where raw video only is produced and uploaded, there is an overhead of approximately ten minutes per lecture.
Each of the lecturers in the school has taken this second, far more practical approach. There is an additional overhead of a few hours work before first usage - to install the software, check microphone setup and to familiarize oneself with the Camtasia package.
- ‘Chalk and talk’: Where a lecture takes place, with the lecturer predominantly using the blackboard, then screen capture is a less suitable approach. As it only records voice and the laptop screen, the resulting video would prove virtually useless. Alternative approaches, such as the use of a stylus have been deployed and have worked effectively. After an initial time overhead in “getting used to” the stylus and software, it provides the facility to record “chalk and talk” material (with none of the dust!).
- Screen size: When recording screen-capture videos, it was typically found that reducing video resolutions to dimensions such as 1024x768 was preferable. Large resolution videos would result in large video files and the potential loss of some quality or the “hanging” of other programmes on the laptop. Naturally, more powerful laptops could cater for higher resolutions.
- Microphones: A range of different microphones were trialed, with varying results. Before organizing a screen-capture lecture, it is good practice to test any audio equipment in advance. How far can I walk from my laptop? Will the microphone pick up questions from the class? How long will the battery last on my wire-free microphone? One strongly recommended microphone/webcam is the Logitech 9000 Pro, which provides a large audio range without volume reduction. While DECT wire-free headsets such as the Plantronics CS90 were used successfully to provide great mobility (50m), additional care is required in advance of lectures to ensure that batteries have been sufficiently charged.
- Video format: Camtasia allows the creation of multiple video formats, including Flash, iPod/iPhone(M4V), AVI, WMV, MOV and RM. Most commonly used has been Flash, due to the proliferation of Flash plug-ins in virtually all browsers across all operating systems. M4V format has also been trialed for the use of Apple handheld devices and although it has worked well, additional care needs to be taken regarding the screen size.
Each semester, feedback/satisfaction surveys are performed to gather student opinion. Without question, the most common recommendation from students is that all remaining modules should provide video recordings of lectures. Here are some (slightly edited) snippets from these surveys:
“For remote students, all lectures should be recorded.
This was done brilliantly in <snip> and <snip>. It has shown that
it works. So dont [sic] see why
“Video recordings for each lecture please !!”
“The recording of video lectures gave me a real sense of participation in those modules… this should be done on all modules as it provided some real study benefits (and value for money!). If possible could you please please please ask other lecturers to do the same!”
“Recording of lectures by some lecturers. Very positive.”
In summary, screen-capture has taken an otherwise unfeasible task and facilitated the easy production of quality video lecture material. While there is undoubtedly some extra work involved for academics, it accounts for a relatively minor amount of time. Feedback from both staff and students has been entirely positive and the school will continue to encourage all lecturers teaching on remote modules to explore the possibility of generating screen captures for their remote modules.
For some examples of screen captured lectures, using Camtasia, please visit http://wiki.eeng.dcu.ie/ee557 and navigate to the ‘Video Resources’ section.