Tuesday, September 15, 2015

Presentation Recording, Posting and Webcasting – Simple and Cheap, yet Slick and Powerful.

For many years I have been involved in technology applications in the classroom, including the development of, now sold, LectureTools (absorbed in Echo360’s Active Learning Platform).  The functionality became ever greater, but so were the environment’s complexity, and equipment and room demands.  Time to return to the early 2000's when we used off-the-shelf equipment, such as inexpensive Linksys units from BestBuy to create our own, restricted WiFi network, and to control the process.  

My primary target in this post is recording and sharing of lecture presentations, so that students have post-class access on as-needed basis (like excused absences) or simply open-access, without the need of room-installed hardware and tech assistance.  Secondly, and the underlying motivation for this project, is ready access to lecture material in order to encourage greater student responsibility for the learning experience.  The latter is short for paying-attention and note-taking, and will be something for a later write-up.  Here it is about personal setup and steps for sharing a presentation without tech-savvy help or an IT-enabled room.

A Laptop

Since most presentations are or can be run from one’s personal laptop, my efforts involve the Windows PC (though it'll be similar for Mac).  The three central needs are (1) sound and projected image recording, (2) their synchronization, and (3) presentation sharing.  There is an absolutely perfect program for that, called Camtasia Studio.  It has been around for a while, so offers a trouble-free product.  First the hardware.

Record Sound

I ordered a cheap (really cheap) wireless microphone set to record my voice without being tethered to the laptop.  It was less than $20 when I ordered it from Amazon.  The device is known on campuses and board rooms as the lavalier microphone that booms one’s sound through speakers.  Not here.  The receiver (on the left) is plugged into the laptop’s microphone jack (with a not-included converter; probably 3.5mm to 1/4"), so that sound can be recorded.  Many laptops have a shared microphone/headphone jack, so make sure the converter works (multi-wired), usu usually through a software setting.  Probably a $500+ industrial strength unit is a good idea, but the cheapo works very well for my purposes and use so far.  I’ll probably upgrade down the road when monetary donations from this write-up arrive :-)
Update (9/28/15):  I have tested a high-end lavalier device (Sennheiser) that gives slightly better sound quality, but not meaningful for voice compared to the cheap system.  As a backup, I have a 25ft extension audio cable that connects sound port and microphone, which produces crispest sound of all options.  Using a microphone boost of 20dB makes this long connection indistinguishable from a short direct connection with 10dB (default) boost.  So cheapo lavalier and wire are good options, unless you have a fancy system available.  One final test is a better microphone, which I'll try soon, but the system works well so far.

Presentation and Recording

Get and install Camtasia Studio (currently v8.6).  The program may already be licensed to your institution or costs ~$250.  This is the most expensive part of the project, but worth it when we get to functionality.  When installing the software, the program asks to be an add-in to PowerPoint, which is key functionality #1; so, say yes.  When done, it’ll show in PowerPoint Add-ins as:

When clicking on <Record> the presenter function of PowerPoint starts automatically, with a little Camtasia panel in the right corner:

Clicking on that panel’s button starts recording voice and whatever shows on the screen simultaneously (key functionality #2).  I use PowerPoint presenter view, which works the same for this, except that the start panel appears on the projected screen.  It’ll go away once clicked. Note the Pause and Stop options.

Now do your thing.  Talk as usual and move slides as usual.  Going back and forth in slides is no issue and any animation on the screen are captured just fine too.  When done, press <Esc>, as usual, and a Save... window appears that asks you to store the recording, with the obscure extension.trec.  Type a name (and other location) if the .pptx file name is not welcome, and a very large .trec file is saved. That’s the raw product from which a recording is produced.

Posting and Webcasting

I expect that other programs can do what I’ve described so far, although the PPT add-in is pretty slick.  Camtasia becomes key (functionality #3) to the effort of sharing a sophisticated end-product.  The .trec file extension is Camtasia’s and opens the program.  Lots of options are available to you, but ignore them all.  Highlight the file icon just opened (Camtasia's recording file) and right-click, and then select <Add to Timeline at Playhead>.  The file shows at the bottom and is now ready for production.  You can also edit at this stage, but it is not necessary for our purposes (unless some rough or boss-unfriendly language crept into the lecture that you want to remove; Camtasia>Help explains how to do that).

Click on the <Produce and share> tab and select from the drop-down list.  Use <MP4 only> for just a flat recording, but we will use <MP4 with SmartPlayer> for reasons that will become obvious.

Click <Next>, complete any file info and <Finish> to let the program do its thing.  Once done, which may take a while, a set of files are created in a single folder with the title you used earlier.  This folder contains all the info to allow powerful webcasting.

Instead of sharing a flat MP4 file or uploading it to some site, copy the entire folder to a web server to allow access to a final product that has powerful functionality.  If you don’t know what posting to a webserver is than ask your IT person for access to the server.  Such access should allow you to transfer files.  You’ll need to learn this too, but FTP programs (like WinSCP) are readily available for that.

The copied folder contains several files and subfolders.  Don’t touch anything.  Just remember the file address that looks like http://name.name.extension/yourspacename/foldername/filename.html.  You picked the folder name and (same) file name; the rest is standard for your server.  If all went well, that link opens a browser page with your recording.

The magic remains hidden until you click on the screen and an automatic, hotlinked Table of Contents appears that allows the user to jump to named slides in the presentation.  These automatic bookmarks are the titles of the PowerPoint slides when using a theme or its default layout.  Users can scroll the contents and, importantly, directly jump to the slide of interest.  They can revisit a part that was complicated or interesting, or unclear, without having to listen to the whole presentation or blindly slide the progress bar.  While presenting, you should briefly pause when switching slides so that these jumps offer a natural start in the posted product, but most of the time that is the case anyhow: “… on this slide we see ….”, or “… wait, there is more …”

You cannot get all this functionality without a lot of coding and very patient software support in your institution or company.  Instead, buy Camtasia (I get no kickback from them, yet).  The entire production process asks only minutes from the presenter, although the conversion and production of files by Camtasia takes a while.  No operator attention is needed during that process, except that the laptop should stay active. Lastly, web-posted presentations can be also be played back at slower speed (say, 0.75x), improving the experience with lecturers that seem to go (too) fast.  I tested normal and lower speed with speech-to-text software and there is on obvious improvement.  Different-rate learners/listeners will surely benefit from this extra functionality (#4).
[note: I copy the .trec file to the cloud and do subsequent processing on a desktop at work or at home, which are more powerful and offers faster file transfer]


Doing all this creates a powerful online presentation that even beats pre-installed systems you’ll find in today’s lecture rooms.  Yet, all that from your little laptop, a cheap wireless microphone and modestly-priced, off-the-shelf software.  One challenge may be folder uploading to a webserver and its permissions, but this is standard fare for local IT help, as no coding and editing are required.  Only server access for copy-and-paste of a folder.  

Enjoy and enrich the world (or local students, in my case) with your presentation.

1 comment:

Sabin Zahirovic said...

Hi Ben! Thanks for sharing! I've been making video tutorials recently, and we are going to need to find a way of recording visiting lectures/seminars. We struggled with the voice recording when using a GoPro (has a poor microphone for such requirements), so will definitely look into the lavalier microphone you suggest. Thanks for sharing some of the slides and textbook sections on FB as well! Greetings from Sydney!