Thursday, November 26, 2020

A quick and dirty workflow for creating lecture videos

I'm currently in the midst of fully reworking my undergraduate statistics course for online learning, which includes creating about 40 short (5-10 minute) mini-lectures for the students to view asynchronously.  As much as I would love to put many hours into generating high-touch videos, my time is limited so I needed a workflow that would allow me to generate these videos with as little overhead as possible.  Here is what I came up with.

Platform: I'm using a Macbook Pro as part of the setup described in my previous post on my home office setup.   

Software: I use Keynote to create the slides, Zoom to record the presentation, and QuickTime Player for cleaning up the video.

Slide Prep:  First, it's important to make sure that your slides don't use any builds, because (at least for Keynote) the Zoom "Slides as virtual background" feature doesn't support builds.  So just separate your builds out into separate slides.  Second, because your head will appear in the bottom right of the screen, you should make sure that there is no essential material that appears in that location.  In the worst case, you can always just move your head out of the way, which I imagine is someone amusing for the viewer.

Recording workflow:

1. Start a Zoom meeting, and start Screen Sharing. Under the Advanced tab, choose "Slides as virtual background", share the screen and the choose your presentation file.  

The slides will load, with a small image of your head in the bottom right.  

One exception to this workflow is if you need to present video as part of your presentation, which doesn't work with the "Slides as virtual background" option. In this case you'll need to use a regular screen share, which will lose the talking head in the corner.

2. Start recording, being sure to select "Record on this computer".

3. After you start recording, give yourself a few seconds to settle and get any fidgets out of the way.  Then start talking.  I try to give the entire lecture without stopping, realizing that I will probably make a few mistakes, and that's ok.  Occasionally I find myself totally flummoxed part way through, or realizing that I need to make a big change, in which case I simply quit and start over.  Since each of the videos is relatively short, I don't lose that much time if I have to bail partway through.

One tip that I still find somewhat difficult to follow: Try to finish your comments about a particular slide before you flip to the next slide.  I find that I have a habit of flipping forward to the next slide as I am finishing my comments about a slide.  This is usually fine for talk, but for these lectures I am using Panopto within Canvas to embed quiz questions in the video, which I usually want to place at a transition between slides. However, if I am still talking about the previous slide after I have transitioned to the next slide, the quiz placement becomes awkward.

4. When you get to the end of the lecture, give yourself a few seconds of stillness on the last slide or on a blank slide inserted after the last slide.

5. End the Zoom session using the End button (no need to stop sharing).  This will cause Zoom to save the video to a file, which will pop up in the Finder once it's done. 

Post-processing workflow:

1.  Open the mp4 file from the Zoom recording folder in QuickTime Player. 

2. Find the point where you want to start the video, just before you start talking.  With the player paused at that location, choose "Split Clip" from the Edit menu. Click on the leftmost section in the timeline, and press Delete to remove that leading section, then click Done to save the change.  Now do the same for the end of the video, finding the point where you want to end and removing the trailing section.

There is a "Trim clip" feature that one can use to do this in a single step rather than two,  but I find that it's easier to be precise about where the trimming happens using the Split Clip method.

3. Close and save the video to a new .mp4 file.

I find that this method takes me only a minute or so to post-process each video once it's recorded.  Of course, you could do much fancier stuff if you wanted; in that case I would check out DaVinci Resolve, which is one of the most amazing pieces of free software ever created but has a pretty steep learning curve for serious video editing

Uploading the video:

If you are using Canvas and your instance supports Panopto, then I would recommend using that method to upload the videos, since it provides viewing statistics (e.g. for recording which students have watched the video) and also allows embedding quiz questions within the video.  

As always, suggestions are welcome in the comments below!

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