Lecture Capture – technical issues

An announcement about the lecture capture pilot project on a University mailing list (learningandteaching-info) generated many questions about the choice of technology and its capabilities. This page summarises those questions and attempts to answer them. If you have any comments or further questions, please add a comment to this page.

Why not use narrated PowerPoints or Camtasia Studio?

See the Lecture Capture – technologies page for details of the recording options available.

Both these solutions can work well for dedicated tutors who are technically confident and willing to invest some time and effort. We can draw a parallel with the early days of e-learning; some tutors used HTML to create course web-sites but it was only the arrival of Blackboard with its simple user interface that enabled any tutor to do so. We hope that the lecture capture project will bring similar ease-of-use and encourage more widespread use by automating the capture, encoding,  uploading and linking of recordings.

See the page Lecture Capture – educational issues for discussion about why this might be desirable.

Where to store the recordings

Most people creating recordings using either of the two methods above simply upload them to Blackboard. There is plenty of filestore, so the file size is not a problem, but Blackboard’s performance will really degrade if lots of students start watching videos at the same time.

It would be better to upload the file to a proper media server and then  create a link. Part of the pilot project is to commission a new high-performance scalable media server and transfer resources to it from several small older media servers.

How many rooms will be equipped to record lectures?

In the pilot project, we aim to equip five rooms using a system like Echo360 (subject to a formal tender process). Based on current expressions of interest in using them, there are likely to be three at the Highfield campus, one at the Avenue campus and one at the SGH. Note that this is not a final decision and is subject to change. These rooms will have a hardware system that records whatever is displayed using the data projector (PC screen, visualiser, DVD) plus a video of the lecturn area, plus the tutor’s audio captured using a wireless tie-clip mic.

In addition, there will be a software-only solution (Camtasia Relay) that can be used in ANY room equipped with a bench PC. You will also be able to install the capture software in your office and on your laptop. The latter enables you to record off-line – for example at a guest lecture at another institution or even in the middle of a field – and upload the recording later. This system just captures what is on the PC (or Mac) screen and the tutor’s audio. A future version may capture webcam video as well.

Is it possible to record what is written on the board?

In theory, you could point the video camera at the whiteboard, but the resolution is low and your writing will be really difficult to read on-screen. It would be better to use the Smart Notebook software (if available) and write on the Smart Board. Alternatively, you could plug a low-cost graphics tablet in to the PC and use that to write ‘on the screen’.

Can I edit the recording?

The software solution will allow you to top-and-tail the recording (i.e. quickly adjust the start and end point) at the end of the lecture before you send it to be processed. In addition, Camtasia Studio can be used for sophisticated editing – but this takes time, effort and skill as well as the software. Our guess is that top-and-tail will meet most people’s needs.

The hardware solution has yet to be decided, but our tender specification includes the ability to edit the recording online (i.e. no special software required). This is likely to be limited to simple cut edits.

What format will the recordings be in?

Most systems seem to be able to output a recording in a range of formats. Our preferred options are:

  • H.264 video
  • MP3 audio
  • M4V video for portable devices such as iPods, smart phones and Sony PSPs.

If the system can output a rich-media format (e.g. screen capture plus  video plus slide navigation) then it should be viewable using common cross-platform software, such as Adobe Flash or Microsoft Silverlight.

What sort of automation is possible?

With the hardware system (five rooms) we want full automation, so the system can be programmed to start recording in room X at 10.00 every Wednesday for 10 weeks and finish at 10.55. The recording will be automatically encoded as H.264, MP3 and M4V and these files transferred to the media server. Links to the recordings will be made in the appropriate Blackboard course.  On-demand ad-hoc recording is also possible, but the tutor will need to specify the encoding later and manually make any links in Blackboard.

The software system, Camtasia Relay, is always ‘on-demand’ but the tutor can select a profile which automatically sets the encoding to be used and will place links in the specified Blackboard course.

How will the audio be recorded?

In the five rooms, wireless tie-clip mics will be used, probably kept in a small safe in the bench at the front, opened using a standard 4-digit code. Tutors will need to ensure that the battery is good and that is switched on before they start teaching, then switch it off and lock it away at the end.

The software solution presents more problems, since it is the PC audio that is recorded. You can get wireless USB mics, but they are quite expensive. Wireless tie-clip mics cannot be used without an intervening amplifier, so are not a good choice. Wired tie-clip mics on long leads (4m) are cheap and work reasonably well. In your office, a USB headset (£25) works really well. This is one area where the pilot project needs to find out what works best in practice. It may be possible to use the built-in lecturn mic, but you would have to stay close and not wander around.

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