It’s got to be perfect, almost

I’m going to let you into a little secret. For a long while I’ve harboured a secret desire to be a film director. There. I’ve said it. It’s in the open. And, I feel better for having come out of the closet on this.
But, despite my secret ambition, a few things have gotten in the way of realising my dream. If anybody said “lack of talent” shame on you. No, indeed, talent may be an issue, but budget has always preceded that. And, a lack of technical prowess, perhaps doesn’t help either.
So, when I discovered screencasting a couple of years ago, I thought to myself ‘got to give that a go’.
My first screencast, aimed at showing students how to use a course wiki was created using the free Techsmith programme Jing.
I loved Jing, partly because it was free (come on who doesn’t love free stuff), but also because it is so easy to use. Basically, you go to the website, click download, the programme instals on your desktop, you click on the little sun, wait for the countdown (1-2-3 ACTION!) and start talking as you move your mouse around the screen. At the end of your 5 minutes, you save or start again. What could be simpler?
Now, the simplicity makes this really appealing and straight away I could think of lots of ways this technology could be useful. From creating a short introduction to a tutor or a course, to explaining a difficult concept, or to summarising a tutorial for those unable to attend, it seemed to me that I could become a cottage industry. No budget needed, no particular technical prowess required. Just me, my computer and a microphone, and I was set to become the next Steven Spielberg.
But despite making a couple of short videos using Jing, I was quickly frustrated at the length, the lack of editing the programme allowed and the fact that all I could do was talk over the screen. My inner Tarantino demanded more. Which is when I discovered Camtasia Studio, another Techsmith product that was Jing but with bells and whistles. Or, to be more precise, editing facilities. I discovered the joy of panning and zooming, of using transitions, of adding text and images and of importing music and video – George Lucas step aside, there’s a new kid in town!
To be honest editing is a step up from simply capturing the screen, but as I produced more and more short videos, I realised that with a little bit of effort I could get some reasonably good results. The students to whom the videos were shown seemed appreciative, even if some of the Open University tutors I roped in to help were less than enthused.
So why video in education? First, in my view we are still largely wedded to pages of text to get our message across – why? The idea that a 5 minute video can replace a textbook seems to me to be a desirable outcome. Second, the short video is ubiquitous these days. Most young people spend an inordinate amount of time on You Tube (admittedly looking at cats playing the piano etc.), but shouldn’t educators use a technology young people are already very comfortable with? Third, they call for a level of creativity that is sometimes missing in lectures, despite what some lecturers might think. It is a fantastic discipline to condense a complex idea into a short video, and in doing so, makes us think about what are the essential elements of that complex idea. Finally, it is great fun to do. And, to return to the title of this post, it does not have to be perfect.


2 thoughts on “It’s got to be perfect, almost

  1. Brilliant blog Dave! Love the tone, and the message. I wholeheartedly agree with your ideas, with just one proviso: you suggest that a 5 min video could replace pages in a textbook – I think video is a fantastic adjunct to written material, and hugely enhances the processing and synthesis of information, but shouldn’t replace it. Look forward to exploring this new territory!

    • Thanks Lindsay. Did I suggest that? I suppose I did. What I meant was that it could be possible to condense a fairly boring chapter into 5 minutes that students will actually engage with rather than relying on them overcoming the boredom of trying to keep their eyelids open. Of course, the 5 minute video does need the source material. So academics should continue writing their boring textbooks, for others to convert into something interesting!

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