Video lectures as screencasts
Last year I participated in a project whose goal was to record at low cost my lectures on video and put them on-line. Since the most expensive parts of recording are having a camera man and manual post production, we set up a static camera and just uploaded raw video online at videolectures.net. As you can see for yourself, the sound is good (I wore a microphone) but the whiteboard is mostly illegible. In addition, it took about two weeks for the lectures to show up on-line because there were men-in-the-middle. So that got me thinking whether there was a better way.
This year I am performing a new experiment, where I record my own lectures as screencasts and I upload them on-line myself. You can see the results at vimeo.com and form your own opinion (the Talks channel contains recordings of my conference talks, which are in English).
Here is the tally of the costs:
- €250 for a Wacom A4-size tablet,
- $99 for ScreenFlow, a program for making screencasts,
- $30 for the CircusPonies Notebook note taking software,
- $60 for a yearly subscription to vimeo.com.
This sort of money is negligible in comparison with human work. I also had to invest time:
- It takes a bit of practice to be able to write on the tablet but look at the laptop screen.
- For each lecture I spent about 20 minutes on post-production, where I cut up the video in shorter clips and equip them with titles and descriptions.
There is just one thing I am not happy with. I cannot find an good program for writing hand-written notes on screen. I have tried a bunch:
- The Wacom tablet comes with EverNote, which however insists on hand-writing recognition, which does not work well, and it won’t work for mathematical notation in the foreseeable future.
- The Wacom tablet comes with the Bamboo paper app, which also exists for the iPad. The desktop version is too simplistic. It only allows export of single pages as images, and in fullscreen mode it insists on showing two portrait pages instead of a single landscape one.
- There is Jarnal, an open-source program, which I used on my Thinkpad tablet, but it’s too clumsy on my Mac. Also, the handwriting looks a bit ugly, and it does not have pressure sensitivity.
- Xournal is not a finished piece of software, as far as I am concerned.
- The French world produces Sankore, an open source program for electronic boards in education. I could use it on my Mac, but it is too baroque for my taste. There is always a lot of stuff on screen, and I do not really like programs that implement their own user interface from scratch. I want the buttons and the menus to look like the rest of my Mac.
- I used InkBook 2 for a while, but it is buggy. It does not let me choose pens and colors from the button on the toolbar, and it makes annoying lines when I raise the pen. Have a look at one of my early lectures, from October 2011, and you will see what I mean.
The Circus Ponies Notebook is acceptable, I suppose. It is annoying in several ways:
- It insists that every page have a typed title so I have to go for the keyboard. If I disable display of titles then the contents of the page moves up uncontrollably, and parts of it get obscured by the toolbar.
- It creates too many damn indices. Who wants an index of capitalized words?! I want to disable all the pages I do not need.
- It keeps switching the input mode to “default” when I move between pages, instead of leaving it in either “sketch” or “hand-write” mode.
- It insists on hand-written recognition in hand-write mode, and it keeps turning on “show recognition” on every new page, so I have to use “sketch” mode for writing.
- But at least it does not draw surprising lines across the page, as InkBook does.
I just want a simple notebook, without clutter, with empty pages spanning the entire screen, no hand-written recognition, and good-quality export to PDF, i.e., not as bitmaps. Is that too much to ask for?
A typical lecture lasts about 45 minutes, which is way too long for a single video. Thus I always split the lectures into separate chunks so that students can find what they are looking for. A good sized chunk is between 5 and 10 minutes, although sometimes a complicated proof makes a chunk 20 minutes long.
Vimeo.com allows people to comment on the videos. So far the students have not had a single comment. I attribute this to two factors. First, vimeo.com requires registration before a comment can be posted. Second, the students are afraid of me, the monster that I am. (That’s a wide-spread phenomenon at the central European universities.) What remains then is for me to figure out some way of getting feedback from students.
Comments are welcome! If anyone can suggest a good note-taking program for a Mac, I would love to hear it.