My so-called digital life: making split-screen video OER

It has been a while since I have written a blog post. I got busy; I got out of the habit. And yet I know how useful it is to write a blog post on what I’ve been learning lately, what I’ve been musing on, problems I’ve been trying to solve, conferences or events I have attended and learnt from. And so I am back, trying to get back into a good habit of digitally reflecting, as part of my so-called digital life. On Tuesday, I will be describing the benefits of blogging to a group of PhD students here at University of Leicester. And so, it’s time to start practicing what I preach.

Since I last wrote a blog post, I helped carry off Follow the Sun 2012, our very successful third online-only conference on the future of learning. I also earned my CMALT. Thank you, Association for Learning Technology! These are good to note. But what else have I been doing? Mainly, I have been building open educational resources (OER). I have done some for the history-focussed Manufacturing Pasts project. I will link to these and share them out when the website is ready, which should be in the next few weeks.

Intro to Final Cut Express by Techcast Focus

I have also been learning to use Final Cut Express, because I have to build OER out of a film of a presenter, combined with a film of what she is demonstrating on the computer. The best way I can think of do this, with the resources available to me, is to make a split-screen video comprised of the two films.  I am pretty good with iMovie, and decent with MovieMaker, but have never touched Final Cut Express. And so I went to YouTube for tutorials. I link above the first of a series of 5 very useful tutorials posted by Techcast Focus — I highly recommend these if you are just getting started in Final Cut Express.  I learnt how to do the split-screen process from this tutorial by oneironaut420. I plan to make the video of whatever is being demonstrated on the computer by a simple screencast — probably using Quicktime Pro if it can be done on a Mac, or on Camstudio or Debut if it must be Windows.

One main reason I decided to blog about this is that if I don’t, I will forget this technique. Blogging is my open research notebook.

Please comment on what you blog about, how you keep yourself going with blogging — or your own cool tips for building video OER!

Terese Bird, CMALT

Learning Technologist and SCORE Research Fellow, University of Leicester

Understanding lecture capture

Yesterday (16 June) I travelled to Queen Mary, University of London, to attend a one-day event called ´Lecture capture – doing it well and at scale´put on by the Association for Learning Technology (ALT).  

As someone who knew virtually nothing about either the technology or pedagogy behind LC, I found the day to be tremendously useful.

In the morning session, Eoin McDonnell and Kris Roger – both senior learning technologists – told us about their experiences of scaling up LC at Queen Mary and LSE respectively, and I heard about some unfamiliar technology such as Echo360.  From an academic perspective, Neil Berry of the Department of Chemistry, University of Liverpool, outlined a HEA-funded LC project that was having a significant impact there.

One of the revelations of the day was provided by Dr Marco Zennaro and Dr Enrique Canessa of the International Centre for Theoretical Physics (ICTP). The centre had commissioned a bespoke, open source, automated LC system called openEyA. Even taking into account my ignorance of LC, the demonstration seemed to show a very powerful and customisable application. And the fact that EyA (Enhance your Audience) is free and runs on Linux’s Ubuntu OS (itself open source) makes it a very attractive option, at least for a pilot study of LC. A decent HD webcam and a laptop with a good external mic is all that’s needed to capture the lecture. Thus far, ICTP have available over 7,000 lectures to watch.   

The EyA interface showing the video screen, snapshot and zoom windows

The EyA interface showing the video screen, snapshot and zoom windows

In the afternoon session, Juliet Hinrichsen and Amanda Hardy told us about their experiences of setting up LC at Coventry University, and pointed us towards the excellent resources hosted at JISC-funded ELTAC (Support for Lecture Capture) website. These are a must for any HEI thinking of going down the LC road.

The pedagogical justification for LC was provided by John Conway (Imperial College London) and Clive Young (UCL). Admittedly a whistle-stop tour, they nevertheless managed to convey enough in 20 minutes to convince me of the efficacy of video in teaching and learning (of which LC is simply a part). Like me, John and Clive are members of the ViTAL (video in teaching and learning) special interest group.

Intellectual property rights in LC was covered by Graham McElearney in the final session, but I was unable to attend this because of train connections.

It is a reflection of the great service offered by Seb and everyone else at ALT that the need for this event was established by following discussions in the Members List some months ago. In the end, the event was oversubscribed.

I learned many things on the day. For example, lecture capture might refer to audio only, or audio with a screen cast, or a fully videoed lecture hall podium that captures the lecturer, blackboard, PowerPoint slides, etc.

But one thing that came over very clearly from all the presenters was that students love captured lectures – and are demanding more. No one could point to a decline in attendance in lectures. Rather, the students were being highly discerning in choosing which part of a lecture to watch again, and found them particularly useful as revision aids.

Simon Kear

Keeper of the Media Zoo

Disseminate from Day One

I recently attended the ALT-C conference “Into something rich and strange – making sense of the sea-change” (7-9 September in Nottingham). As usual, it was a really good conference; I felt that every session was packed full of information on good practice, experimentation, research, and innovation in learning technology. Although I heard a most inspiring keynote from Sugata Mitra on his life’s work beginning with the installation of ‘hole-in-the-wall’ computers for children in rural India, and although I heard the winning research paper about 5 years of data-gathering on students’ use and purchase of mobile devices, probably the most practical take-home message I received was from a ‘graveyard-shift’ session by the Higher Education Academy (HEA) on the importance of dissemination and sharing our findings. The HEA was asking us, “What else can we do to get the word out regarding some of the great work that is being done?” They pointed out that many funded projects treat dissemination as something done only at the end of the project, when a paper is written and presented at a conference. In fact, there is so much lost with that approach, so much discussion that is forfeited, so much networking and reflection which could enhance and improve and extend the reach of the study. Dissemination should be done from day one.

This resonates with the drip-drip theory of publicity — that if you often, even daily, put out little drips of information about a project or event, it is more effective than just a few big informational outputs.

I’ve had opportunity to discuss these issues with postgraduate students, especially those working on PhDs.  I often hear them say that they don’t think they should talk about their work at all with anyone outside their team. I can understand not wanting to reveal one’s research secrets in advance of publication. However, I think this reticence denies them valuable opportunities to bounce ideas off other experts and receive support from others.

I for one left ALT-C realising that I need to approach each of my projects with the willingness to ‘disseminate from day one.’ We at Beyond Distance are pretty good at disseminating our findings, with this blog and blogs for each of our research projects as well as workshops and other activities, but we can always improve. I need to be much more faithful in my blogging. A little bit, and more often is better than stressing over fewer, bigger communications. Twitter, of which I am already an avid user (I am tbirdcymru and the Beyond Distance Media Zoo is BDMediaZoo), is built for exactly this. Because the bottom line is: if we do great work but don’t effectively communicate it, have we actually completed the great work?

Terese Bird, Learning Technologist and Assistant Media ZooKeeper

Beyond Distance Research Alliance

Found: spirit of transformation

People who have heard me speak at conferences and the like know that I’m always banging on about truly believing that, as educators and technologists, our era – NOW – is one of the most wondrous and exciting that has ever occurred in the history of the 1000 years (at least) of formal education.

We have access to online resources for learning and teaching that those who came before us could never have imagined. We have greater numbers and more motivated scholars sitting at our feet (computers) than, say, 50 years ago anyone would have been thought possible. We are in freely available networks of professionals and support that offer us peer and expert engagement.

In other places and times, people have fought and died for nothing less.

And we constantly cross bridges from impossible to possible.

Yep, of course it costs – money, time, resources, our ongoing commitment and much of our lives…, and hence the choice of title this year’s (2009) Association of Learning Technologies conference, last week in Manchester: In Dreams Begins Responsibility.

I was co-chair of the conference, with Prof Tom Boyle, and had the time of my life. For me, everyone presenting, exhibiting, taking part, twittering, conversing – whatever – caught the spirit and the point of the title.

Each person I heard speak (in many different roles and contexts) knew that indication of value for learning is needed for substantial achievement to follow – especially associated with new technology – and that evidence can take many usable forms. And from that comes the clarity to make context- sensitive choices leading to real sustainable change for the better.

For me seeing true conferencing, amazing open knowledge exchange happen in front of me over several days convinces me that we are indeed at a watershed, a tipping point towards educational transformation, that will not be hijacked by the ups and downs of funding, league tables, political nuances and the rest that the 2nd decade of the 21st century has yet to chuck at all of us in Higher and Further Ed.

If you weren’t there last week – it’s not too late! Take your dream, and take responsibility! And ALT-C happens every year and there are many opportunities to engage with others to achieve this complex transformation on and off line. You can access some of the excellent speeches at

If not us now, then who and when?

Gilly Salmon

ALT-C 2009: a great conference, a winning team and open-source laptops

Winning the ALT Learning Technologist team award of the year wasn’t the only reason why the ALT conference in Manchester was truly enjoyable. Inspiring keynotes, highly interactive seminars, effective networking and loads of fresh ideas made this event a success.

Martin Bean‘s keynote address was excellent. There was one point, however, that I would like to challenge. Martin said that he’s had many discussions with high-profile politicians such as Education ministers. Martin referred to them as “idiots” for even contemplating the idea of giving laptops to schoolchildren on a large scale. He cited some of the issues associated with programmes such as One Laptop per Child – challenges we have known for years and that are unlikely to go away, especially in the developing world. These include pedagogy, technical support, training for staff, logistics and designing for online environments. But more to the point, wearing his previous hat, maybe he didn’t like it that those devices do not contain Microsoft software?

We know that many politicians’ agendas may have little to do with benefiting children or enhancing education through appropriate uses of technology. We also know that with a few additional elements in place, the impact of projects like OLPC can be significantly amplified. David Cavallo’s keynote address in ALT-C 2008 may provide a few answers to Martin’s concerns.  

I was born and bred in Uruguay, where a version of OLPC is running and will be extended to other aspects of learning technology and connectivity. Despite my own initial doubts (in line with Martin’s), I can now see that the project has changed the lives of many children and families – forever. How the change has taken place and how it continues to take place has been extensively documented and is a matter for another blog post – suffice it to say that 4 years ago you never saw children sitting with their laptops outside their schools on a Saturday afternoon. Now there is something in the air that attracts them there: a wireless signal… and a range of skills that most of those kids will need in future but didn’t have before.

Sorry, Martin, much as I enjoyed your presentation, I cannot agree with you on this one. Giving a $100 laptop to each child does not make someone an idiot. In fact, it could be money very wisely spent.

A. Armellini
15 September 2009

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