Monthly Archives: January 2016

The Script

As I mentioned in my last post, I make a ton of screen capture videos for my various classes.  Over that last few years many of my colleagues have asked about the tools I use and the basic workflow, so I thought I’d take this opportunity to talk about it.

Tools

First, let me say that there are many tools out there, and they range from very simple capture utilities (like the built-in QuickTime Player capture on the Mac) to full-blown video editors (like Avid’s Media Composer or Adobe’s Premiere Pro).  I use a very cool application called Screenflow, which falls somewhere in the middle of the complexity/features spectrum.  The best thing about Sceenflow is that it handles the capture AND the editing in a single application.  It’s amazing as a capture tool, with the ability to capture a computer display, a USB video camera, the computer audio, and a USB microphone all at the same time.  It’s not a pro video editor, and it can get very sluggish with HD video footage, but it has all the standard features and enough sophistication to get the job done.  Also, it will export directly to a bunch of media hosting services including YouTube and Vimeo.

I don’t generally use a USB video camera for my class videos, but I own and occasionally use a Logitech C615.  It can capture Full HD 1080P, and looks pretty amazing as long as the lighting is relatively bright.

My biggest recommendation gear-wise is to invest in a good microphone.  I did my first few YouTube videos with a Logitech USB headset, and they sound pretty terrible.  (I cringe whenever I go back and listen to them.)  But after about a dozen videos like that I worked hard to find something better.  I have several setups that I use now, but the best price-to-performance ratio is with dedicated USB “podcast” microphones.  My recommendation is to go with something like the Audio-Technica AT2020 USB.  This baby costs about $100, which ain’t cheap by “normal people” standards (IE – people who don’t regularly work with $5000 microphones in the studio), but will make a HUGE difference in that quality of your voiceover.

Workflow

OK.  So now that we’ve got the gear talk out of the way, let’s talk about workflow.  This is definitely a place where you’re going to have to figure out what works for you, but I’m happy to share my workflow.  It’s really pretty simple.

  1. I start by writing down a bulleted list of items that I want to talk about in the video.  Note that I do not write out any text that I’m actually going to speak into the microphone.  I just have the bullets.  I prefer to do this rather than writing out a full script.  It takes about one minute assuming I have a course book table of contents or my own lecture slides, etc.
  2. I set up the software project (for me that’s Pro Tools or similar software) so that I’m not doing silly things like launching applications while the video is recording.  Note that I don’t always get it set up perfectly because I don’t know EXACTLY what I’m going to say (see #1 above).
  3. I begin recording.  It’s awkward for about the first minute, but then I usually get into a groove.  Because I don’t have a written script I frequently repeat myself until I nail each phrase.  I’ll even pause the capture sometimes if I really don’t know what to say next, or if I discover that I need to modify my project because I didn’t anticipate where I was going (see #2 above).  I know this sounds tedious, but I’ve performed a completely unscientific study which proved (to me) that it’s much faster than spending an hour writing a script for a 5-minute video.
  4. I finish the recording.  Typically, I’ll have about 20 minutes of video captured.
  5. I beging editing the video.  I like to cut my videos very tight, with no filler and no “umms” and “ahhs.”  Hey, people watching can pause and/or rewind if they need to, right?  I’d rather give a fast and efficient 5 minutes than a bloated out video that bores people to death.
  6. I add a title card, zooming effects, and subtitles for sections that need it.  This often includes mouse effects and keyboard shortcuts and such which Screenflow can generate automatically.
  7. I export my video (typically to YouTube) and get the embed link to add to my online course modules.

That’s it.  Like I said, this may not be the ideal workflow for everyone.  It may make more sense for some people to just record lectures in the classroom.  But this is the workflow that I use, and it’s been working pretty well for me.  If you want to check out the result feel free to visit my YouTube channel.

Showtime

I just returned home from the National Association of Music Merchants (NAMM) show this evening before sitting down to write this post.  It’s one of several conferences that I try to attend every year (although the Audio Engineering Society conference is the most relevant to my field).  Anyway, in spite of the usual long-haired metal heads that seem to be living in a 1980s, Sunset Strip time bubble, there were actually several new trends at the show.  One of those trends was definitely a greater emphasis on education.

The influence of video training sites like YouTube, Groove3, and Lynda.com is starting to have a noticeable impact on the audio engineering industry (and on the media production industry in general).  You can see it in many of the booths at NAMM.  Traditionally, manufacturers would present a well-choreographed demonstration that made their product look fast and powerful, but was very difficult for novices to follow.  These days, manufacturers are actually presenting meaningful tutorials that are slower-paced and accessible to everyone.  They take the time to explain concepts, and they may even have the camera zoom in on elements of the software or hardware interface to make sure everyone can see what’s going on.  And the crowds are eating it up.  Don’t get me wrong, their primary goal is to sell product.  But the focus on education through accessible demos is a clear sign that the industry has shifted its focus to the current generation of autodidacts that make up their growing customer base.

And I chalk it all up to a generation of musicians and audio engineers that have learned most (perhaps all?) of their skills from online videos.  The value of video-based training is something that I recognized several years ago.  As a result, I’ve been making YouTube videos for my students for some time now.  And I just completed a game audio tutorial series for Groove3, a subscription-based video training site that specifically caters to musicians and audio engineers.  I personally believe that these videos are essential for my online course sections, and are also a nice “value add” for students in my brick and mortar courses.

I try not to duplicate course materials in my online lessons, and the videos are a perfect to way to expand upon the concepts presented in the course textbooks without simply writing a bunch more text.  It’s also a way for me to inject something of my personal take on various topics; this permits me to offer the online students an experience that is more similar to attending my classroom lectures.  I try to make the videos as concise as possible, with a quick pace and tight editing.  This may seem to contradict my previous statement about accessibility,  but you have to remember that viewers can pause, rewind, and replay videos at their leisure.  Also, cutting out the pauses and “ums” and “uhs” makes me seem smarter that I really am.  So that’s good…

Overall, I think the videos are some of the best and most meaningful work I’ve done in the last couple of years.  And recently I’ve stated asking students to create their own videos as a means for submitting class assignments.  It’s actually very helpful and enjoyable to see students visually present and verbally describe their work.  In addition, the skills they are developing by producing the videos will be useful not matter what they do down the road.

 

So Many Hats

3f73cfd153c420195053f3a09f833e03My wife offers zero sympathy whenever I’m stressed-out about my job. She loves to quote some unnamed study that (she says) scientifically determined that being a “college professor” is the least stressful job in the universe. My usual response, borrowed from a fellow music department colleague, is “not if you’re doing it right.” Still she remains non-plussed.

But in all seriousness, I do find my job to be somewhat stressful. Certainly more stressful than it may appear from the outside. And here I’m defining “outside” to mean anyone who has never taught at a community college. You see, we have a lot of friends who are tenured faculty at four-year colleges. And I guess they do seem pretty relaxed about their job. (The only time they ever expressed concern about their job was when the topic of tenure review came up.) Which is not to say that teaching at a four-year college is easy, but it certainly appears to be less stressful than what I do.

So, this week I’m trying to take a critical look at what I do on a day-to-day basis and figure out why I feel a lot of stress. And what I’ve realized is that we community college faculty wear many more hats (so to speak) than other individuals that work in education. There’s the obvious stuff like teaching classes, developing curriculum, and working on committees. Many if not all educators have to deal with that stuff. But show me a full-time instructor in any other segment of education that has to deal with the range of issues that we confront at community colleges on a daily basis.

For example, every quarter I’m in a state of sheer terror as I watch the enrollment numbers for my classes. Like most community colleges, we have an enrollment minimum of 20 per class, and it’s not always easy to hit that number.  I have some classes that do blockbuster enrollment, which makes my life a bit easier.  But several of my classes are either new or more specialized and struggle to hit 20.  As a result, I do a lot of marketing for those classes: Twitter, Facebook, Linkedin, an email list, and good old-fashioned networking. You can probably guess that I don’t really want to be doing all that stuff. But I feel that it reflects poorly on myself and my program if a class is canceled.  That fear of embarrassment is a pretty strong motivator.  At least for me.  It’s a bit frustrating to hear my colleagues at four-year universities discuss their upper-division classes that run with single-digit enrollment (not to mentioned graduate-level courses).  There are no upper-division classes in community college (with a few exceptions), so I simply don’t have that luxury.  Perhaps some day I’ll be able to run classes based on the average enrollment across all of my courses, but I don’t see that happening anytime soon.

Another hat I wear is to develop online curriculum for almost all of my classes. Even the classes I teach on-campus typically have an online-only section that requires a huge amount of time to design and manage. I don’t personally know any other educators (at least in the public sphere) who even teach online classes. When I mention it to my colleagues at four-year colleges they give me this dumb look that says “I can’t imagine why anyone would want to teach online.” The thing is that I’m proud of the fact the we offer classes (and even some degrees) online at Foothill. When you combine that kind of access with our extremely affordable tuition, you’re truly opening doors for a lot of underserved students to pursue a meaningful education. To make matters worse, we’re moving to a new online learning management system over the next year and I’m going to have to port about fifteen classes. Fun.

A third hat that we in the CTE (career and technical education) sector wear is to keep pace with our industry. I try to keep my finger on the pulse on what’s happening in the audio engineering, audio post-production, and game audio worlds. And in a CTE program I’m also tasked with steering our curriculum to keep it relevant in the industry. That means not just personally following trends (like in a traditional academic program), but modifying our courses and degrees to reflect those trends as quickly as possible. One reason I’ve been buried in work for the last two years is that I’ve written six new classes during that time. And to make matters worse, because I’m so dedicated (or crazy), I’ve had academic terms where I’ve taught TWO of those new classes for the first time.

Geez, writing all this down is really not helping my stress level.  But you can start to see why my wife thinks I make this job much harder than it needs to be. And she’s probably correct. But I love my job and I wouldn’t want to do it any other way.  Now if I could just get a couple of teaching assistants…