Tuesday, 14 August 2012

The Screencast-Audio Myth

Mic image CC-BY Flickr user AV Hire London
I've seen endless amounts of blog posts and guides recently related to the importance of audio quality when recording screencasts or podcasts. They typically stress the importance of a high quality mic, which can end up costing over £100. I thought I'd write this short post to somewhat fly in the face of such advice, because fundamentally, I disagree with it. So I have 2 key reasons to highlight;

1) High quality mics are simply not required for 95% of screencasts or podcasts. I regularly record screencasts for both my students and for staff. In doing so, I tend to use either the built-in mic in my Macbook Pro, or the mic from my iPhone headphones. As I have these devices, the mic is essentially free. If you have a different brand laptop or smartphone, I'm sure the mics included will be equally sufficient. Unless you are producing something for TV, or other particularly high-stakes content, I wouldn't worry about professional equipment. Actually, experience and anecdotal evidence would suggest students prefer more relaxed video/audio from staff!

2) I have worked in an eLearning support capacity for a number of years now, where I/we encourage academic staff to engage with such approaches to enhance/benefit teaching and learning. I believe emphasising high quality mics has a negative impact on the take-up of such approaches, because academic staff will think they can't/shouldn't engage if they don't have the high quality mic. Now I'm sure the bloggers don't mean to discourage the average academic from pod/screencasting, and I'm sure they're trying to provide useful advice, I'm just concerned it has an unintended negative consequence.


I've created a lot of screencasts over the past few years, and I would really only insist on a couple of points for good practice related to screencasting. For me, far more important than having a high quality mic, is the process and environment for recording audio/video.

1) A structured and planned recording, using regular equipment is much better than an unstructured, unplanned recording using high quality equipment. Every time! So take a few minutes to prepare. If you can't script out exactly what you want to say in your screencast, at least have an outline or plan rather than improvising completely. Indeed a personal approach is important, but too many urms and erms can be off-putting (which often occur subconsciously as our brains try to catch up with our mouths).

2) Record in a quiet place - I'm not suggesting getting sound proof and insulated rooms, but just try to record in a quiet office - I've tried in the past, unsuccessfully, to record screencasts in an open plan office, when mid-way through the phone would ring or colleagues would burst into the office in full discussion. So of course, I'd have to start from scratch. Now, I have my own office so it's not such a difficulty, but I would always recommend finding a quiet room where you can have a bit of piece and quiet to record. Close the windows so traffic noise doesn't interfere, and crack on.

Screencast.com have a much more in-depth set of tips and good practice suggestions if you want to head over to their help pages.

This advice reminds me of what my 6th Form teachers used to say; 'Failing to prepare is preparing to fail'!

What do you think about  my comments above? Do you have any tips for recording screencasts?

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This work by Peter Reed is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial 3.0 Unported License.

Sunday, 5 August 2012

Why MOOCs are not the future?

Power Searching with Google MOOC

I feel a tad self-conscious about putting my head above the parapit on this one, as I am talking against what many of my peers are 'bigging up', but what follows are some of my thoughts about MOOCs and why they are not the panacea their excitement might suggest....

Any 'free' and/or 'open' education offering is a great thing. Self-learners can engage with MOOCs to develop themselves, and even without accreditation, a lot of people just love to learn. I'm one of them. However, when it comes to the crunch, many people want to know their investment reaps tangible rewards. Now I know a lot of people will say the reward is in the fuller and broader understanding of the topic areas under consideration, which might then influence practice and ultimately see career progression. To which I fully agree, however a lot of people want to see a piece of paper at the end so they can prove they have successfully completed the course of study. And with many of the MOOC business models in existence, that often means a cost (although there are examples of accreditation - see MITx).

I am fully committed to furthering my own knowledge, skills, etc, and always look to engage in opportunities to do so. To this end, I've tried to engage in MOOCs in the past, starting with the Siemens/Downes 'original' a few years ago. I found it difficult to dedicate so much time to it (even more so as employers are unlikely to allow teams of staff dedicated time to 'study' MOOCS). I found it difficult to maintain motivation for something I felt would have little impact. The same can be said for many of the other MOOCs around. I also quickly lost interest in the Udacity (CS101) 'Building a Search Engine' course. [Perhaps this says more about me than it does the MOOCs in question ;-) ] In fact the only one I have enjoyed and importantly, stuck with, is the 'Power Searching with Google' course recently.

I don't think I'm much different to many. Whilst in one hand, we hear of the Massive (capital M) participation figures, we hear less of the massive drop out figures - this Bostinno article suggests in one course, of 200,000 participants, 160,000 dropped out.). I wonder if this will prove a critical challenge for the MOOC going forward.

Other challenges

Along with the massive drop out figures, I think the current lack of sustainable business models might provide a key barrier to more institutions developing MOOCs. So to, is the problem of accreditation. I've already ranted about my rejection of the child-like metaphor of the Badge [ooh yippee, a badge. I want one Mummy ;-) ]. I've created my Mozilla Open Badge Backpack, but I just don't see how, as more and more badges are created/awarded, that they can be recognised by employers if there is no benchmarking (for want of a better word). I might create an activity to award a badge in advanced Javascript, but a) that doesn't mean you're actually any good at it, and b) is the badge equivalent to other Javascript badges? I don't think I'm alone in thinking this - whilst I was discussing MOOCs with one of my colleagues Catherine Wasiuk, she commented;
"I think that they are great for informal learning and maybe as a bit of a marketing tool for Universities. Not sure if I would want someone who has completed a MOOC in brain surgery to perform an operation on me though!!"
So what's your point of view on MOOCs? Great for personal development or the future of (online) education? I personally don't think they will be the death of education, but what do you think?

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This work by Peter Reed is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial 3.0 Unported License.