First posted: Feb 12, 2001
Last update: Feb 12, 2001
Video for Online (Enhanced) Courses
[This is a sequel to Audio
for Online (Enhanced) Courses and I recommend
to read the piece on audio first if you are interested in the practical
Challenge #1: Bandwidth (Internet connection speed) limitations
In comparison to (voice) audio, creating and distributing video material
poses greater technical challenges. This is particularly true for the distribution
of video material via the web. Here, the "bandwidth" limitations of telephone
modem connections can be a major obstacle in putting such material to pedagogically
meaningful use. Careful consideration should be given to what kind of video
material is suitable for at least 56K modem connections (which renders
about 40K actual bandwidth under average Internet traffic conditions).
Computers bought during the last two years are likely to have 56K (V.90)
modems, but older computers may have slower (28.8K) modems, many of which
can be upgraded by installing new software (driver) for the modem. Before
making video materials an essential component of an online (enhanced) course,
it is necessary to ascertain whether all students have access to appropriate
hardware -- or to specify such hardware requirements before students enroll.
As there is no difference in CD distribution of audio and video material,
I will discuss only web distribution of video here and I will concentrate
on distribution to students with 56K modem connections. It is also important
to understand that the speed of an Internet connection depends on several
factors, some of which can be influenced by the user (student); see this
A few years down the road, fast Internet connections (via DSL or cable)
may be common among students, but this is certainly not the situation at
CUNY right now. On the other hand, quite a bit can be done under the current
bandwidth restrictions -- and claiming otherwise simply reflects ignorance.
Challenge #2: Copyright and Fair Use
Given the far greater complexities in producing video (rather than just
voice audio) material, using video material produced by others -- and most
likely subject to copyright protection -- rather than producing such material
yourself may be the more common scenario. I will not discuss copyright
issues in any detail, but these issues need to be taken seriously. What
constitutes "fair use" in the era of the Internet and course web sites
has not been determined with any authority, and I don't expect that clear
cut rules will emerge any time soon. A moderate position is to consider
the following scenario as fair use: An instructor can use copyrighted material
without obtaining prior permission as long as the material is only available
to the students enrolled in a particular course and only for the duration
of this course. This implies that such material must be stored in a password
protected area of a web server and that the password(s) are only available
to the students during their enrollment in the class. However, the nature
of the material thus used may also make a difference in determining whether
this is "fair use" or not. Using a commercially produced educational tape
without expressed consent and without paying a per student fee may easily
be a copyright infringement while using a self-taped news show may not
be. Length of a video clip is another important factor: a short sample
of 5 or 10 minutes from a one hour tape may be "fair use" while putting
the complete tape on the course web site may be an infringement. Use your
own judgment and err on the side of caution.
Sources and types of video material
I don't intend to present a comprehensive typology. Rather, I will discuss
a limited number of possibilities available to the average instructor requiring
only modest additional investments.
Conventional video (VHS) tapes. Such tapes can either be self-produced
(by taping TV programs using a home video recorder or by using a camcorder
for original shoots) or bought from various sources.
Digital (computer) cameras. These are small cameras directly attached
to your computer (via a video capture card) which allow to record an instructor's
"talking head" (example).
In my view, the pedagogical value of this approach is rather limited.
Slide shows. Series of still images/photos possibly with text captions
and a music or voice audio track (narrative). Using already digitized images
(possibly produced with the help of a scanner), such slide shows can be
produced with a variety of software including the popular MS Powerpoint
Screen movies. These are particularly valuable in teaching the use
of a specific software product (like how to use "comments" or "track changes"
in MS Word documents, how to produce a chart with MS Word, WordPerfect,
or SPSS, etc., etc.). Rather than just taking isolated "screen shots" (not
a bad alternative and easy to do, here
is how) and putting them in a standard web document (example)
or even in a slide show (example),
special software allows to record what appear on your monitor screen continuously
and to add voice explanations. Such software includes Lotus Screencam
and TechSmith's Camtasia.
The latter is preferable as it offers the option to produce such movies
in either .avi, .wmf (Window Media Format), or .rm (Real) format, so students
don't need to have another special viewer in stalled on their computers.
Conventional video (VHS) tapes
To turn regular VHS tapes into video material for a course web site, you
need one piece of additional hardware: a video capture card. Such
cards range in price from just $100 to $5,000 -- offering, of course, a
wide variety of functions and features. Doing your own research in this
area can be rather confusing; at the least, it is time consuming. But,
if you are up for it, this commercial
site is a good point to start.
When I started my
experiments in this area in late 1998, I went for a shortcut making
use of one of those promotional "creation kits" which RealNetworks always
offers though details change over time. My kit included both a video capture
card (Osprey 100) and the RealProducer Plus plus a simple computer camera.
It is worthwhile to look into such kits not just for money savings but
also for insurance that hardware (capture card) and software (RealProducer)
will work well together.
Installation of a capture card is easy, at least not more difficult
than installing any other card (a new sound card, an Ethernet card, or
an SCSI controller card for a scanner) into a free "expansion slot" of
your computer. The somewhat trickier part is to connect your standard VCR
to your computer: You need to connect the video channel from your VCR to
the video capture card in your computer and the audio channel from the
VCR to the sound card. This may require different cables/connectors than
those that typically come with a home VCR. So finding the right cables
may be a challenge; I got great help from Greg Crosbie at Hunter's
AVS (Audio-Visual Services).
The video capture card comes with some software which allows to view
whatever you connect to the card (camera, VCR). This is useful to test
the initial installation of the video capture card and maybe determine
base level settings for tint, brightness, contrast. The RealProducer has
two viewing windows, one for input, one for output. Once connected, you
play your VCR via your computer monitor; as long as you don't record, the
output window will remain empty.
Producing streaming video files with RealProducer is not more difficult
than producing streaming audio. As I assume that you are familiar with
document on audio, I will restrict my discussion to additional considerations.
All what is said about audio applies here as well -- with the possible
exception that a video file should be produced directly from the analog
input (VHS tape) without creating a digital file (e.g., in .avi format)
In general, you will want to produce video material which also includes
sound (audio) not just a silent movie. As a consequence, the bandwidth
requirement for the video part comes on top of the requirements for the
audio part. A conservative strategy like the one recommended for voice
audio of using just 16kbps will likely lead to rather disappointing results.
For video material, use of a special server, like the RealServer, becomes
much more important. The main reason is that then material can be produced
as "multi rate SureStream". This means that the bandwidth needs of a specific
file are dynamically adjusted to the actual Internet connection:
So, I recommend to use "multi rate SureStream" for video files and to select
several "target groups" like 28K, 56K, and maybe 256K (example: documenting
anthropological fieldwork, scroll to bottom of target page). The resulting
file will be quite large because the different versions are all packed
into one file, but no single user would get the whole file, so this affects
only the onetime upload to the server and the storage space on the server.
A student using a 56K modem connection gets a higher quality file when
the Internet connection is good allowing for say 40 or 45kpbs and he/she
gets a more compressed (lesser quality) file when the Internet is congested
allowing for maybe only 20 to 25 kbps.
The few students who have cable or DSL connections get much higher quality
files making use of the additional bandwidth available; and the same holds
for access to these files on campus (in a lab, in a smart classroom).
Digital (computer) cameras
On one level, not much difference to using a VHS tape except that a different
device is connected to the video capture card. But getting the lighting
right is not easy and may require special lighting equipment for decent
quality. In addition, audio is recorded live at the same time and this
may be a bit much for an instructor to handle it all by him/herself. As
I said before, I don't see much pedagogical value in "talking heads". For
genuine online courses, with no face-to-face meetings between instructor
and students whatsoever, it may be worthwhile to produce some greeting
or welcoming clip in advance. For these situation, however, I recommend
to tape an "address" or welcoming speech on videotape first -- using proper
lighting and sound recording. As an example, here is a welcoming
note by former Hunter President David Caputo, which was professionally
taped by Greg Crosbie and his crew. I then produced the streaming
version from a VHS tape.
This type of video material does not require any additional hardware, no
video capture card. The still images are assumed to be already digitized,
and this preliminary step may require a scanner, but this step (scanning
photos) is outside the scope of this document.
The most popular "slide show" software is possibly MS Powerpoint (part
of the MS Office suite). In contrast to Powerpoint 97, Powerpoint 2000
comes with much improved web support, i.e., Powerpoint presentations can
be easily converted to html though some care is needed in putting such
an html converted PP presentation on a web server especially into a Blackboard
(Bb) course site (step-by-step
instructions). Conversion to html is highly recommended as PP powerpoint
presentations easily result in large files (5 MB for 25-30 slides is not
unusual, but of course there is quite a bit of variation) and thus extremely
long download times from a course web site (especially over a 56K modem
connection). While the html conversion does not necessarily reduce the
overall file size (one .ppt file gets divided in a large number of smaller
files), the individual files get downloaded as needed and the first slide
can be viewed as fast (or slow) as any other web page.
Most instructors use PP as a visual aid accompanying a live oral presentation.
However, a narrative (audio track) can be added to a Powerpoint presentation,
thus making it more self-contained. This is an attractive feature for genuine
DL as well as hybrid and web-enhanced courses. In addition, the narration
can be turned off. So, an instructor may produce a PP presentation with
some basic narration, turn the narration off during initial presentation
in class, but have it available for students when they revisit the presentation
on the course web site. However, narration and other sound files are treated
as "embedded objects" by Powerpoint (and other MS Office products such
MS Word2000) and tend to increase file size considerably.
RealPresenter provides a solution to this problem: it allows
to record a PP presentation (including a narrative) in streaming format
so that the whole presentation can be viewed with the RealPlayer. As most
Real products, RealPresenter comes in a free basic version and a Plus version
(as of February 2001, the Plus version sells for $99.95). However, while
the earlier version of RealPresenter (version 5.0) was basically a plug-in
for PP allowing to add a narrative in streaming format, RealPresenter G2
(now branded as "8") is much more and can be used independently from PP.
It offers the opportunity to add a "talking head" (in a small frame) to
the slide show (in a larger frame) and was designed for virtual business
presentations. Of course, from a technical point of view, there is no difference
between a business presentation and an academic lecture.
A less costly alternative is RealSlideshow (as of February 2001,
the Plus version sells for $69.95) -- especially for instructors who don't
have access MS Powerpoint (which rarely comes pre-installed on new computers
as it is part of the "Professional" version of the MS Office suite only).
RealSlideshow lets you built your slide show from scratch, using existing
images, adding text, and adding a narrative. However, slides in PP are
often just text rather than genuine images (photos, charts, graphics) and
RealSlideshow is better suited for genuine images with relative short text
Again, no additional hardware needed here, no video capture card, no nothing.
But you do need special software to produce such screen movies. Camtasia
appears to be best product on the market at this time. A single user copy
sells for $150. SnagIt which is TechSmith's screen shot program includes
some limited screen movie capability (feature
comparison provided by the vendor), but it is possibly best to go for
the package deal and order the Camtasia / SnagIt / DubIt bundle for $169.95.
This is a savings of $19.95 over the individual prices. (DubIt is an .avi
video movie editing tool.) I have only limited personal experience with
this software based on a free trial evaluation -- as I had bought software
with similar functionality (Lotus Screencam, ScreenShot) earlier. So, I
have not much to offer in terms of concrete practical advice.
The drawback of Lotus Screencam is that students need to download another
viewer; it's free, but it is another piece of software to worry about.
ScreenShot, though less fancy then SnagIt, has served me well and so I
am sticking with it because I am used to it.
Multimedia for course web pages can mean a variety of things. Some such
material can be produced very easily and without much experience; other
material requires some additional hardware (video capture card) and a bit
more experience. But individual instructors can produce a lot of pedagogically
valuable material suitable for web distribution to students with just a
56K modem connection. There is no reason to wait. Of course, it would help
if colleges set up "laboratories for instructional and learning technologies
(LILT)", units directed by someone with extensive experience in both academic
teaching and technology, offering non-standard hardware and software for
instructors to try out as well as ongoing advice and consultation. Given
proper direction, computer-savvy students (hired as college assistants)
could make up most of the staff and could provide effective service to
faculty. As so often, a lot could be achieved with very limited funds.