Wednesday, May 18, 2011

U-Streaming Tech Tuesdays

I have been conducting Tech Tuesdays (or it's previous carnation Wired Wednesday) for the past few years. Slowly, bit by bit I have had lower and lower attendance. I wasn't completely discouraged, faculty would ask if sessions would be taped and available later, so I felt that the content was worthwhile. I just could never get the timing right. Last year I started Ustreaming my classes. This did several things for me. 
  1. I was able to record my class easily - you can stream and record. Not only that  it automatically posts. I didn't have to go through the extra hassle of getting my video internet ready.
  2. I was able to stream my class that may be of interest to faculty that can't be on campus, or others in education that are interested.
  3. It created an automatic back-channel through the Ustream chat (once we got passed the do not watch the video as you sit in class - created sound)
My graduate student would stream and record my sessions as well as man the chat to see if there were any questions. By the end of the Fall semester my number of participants dropped to one maybe two people and they were always the same people. I decided to be more economical with my time and this year decided to only Ustream. One of the downfalls of Ustreaming a live class is that it can be difficult to capture the teacher's screen. Another issue was that most of my classes are centered around discussion or activties - not really stream or recording friendly activties. I really wanted these videos to serve as a resource for my faculty. So I decided to focus on the quality of my Ustreams and to stream out of my office in a controlled evnironment.
I used the video camera I traditionally stream with (Sony Handycam - it is a miniDV cam, but has a Firewire port that I can connect to my laptop), and shared my screen as well. In effect creating a streaming screencast. It took me awhile to finally get my settings down, but by the third Ustream we were working well.
At first I was having screen resolution issues. My audience could not read the words on my screen, especially when I was demoing an application. I have an excellent Internet connection so I decided to transmit with "Best SD Quality 16:9" I also had to lower my screen resolution on my own machine to 800x600. I recommend you change your screen resolution and close all un-needed applications before starting a UStream. I found that the application Backdrop on a Mac is perfect for hiding your messy desktop!
Then I set-up a few input scenarios. I wanted to be able to change form a talking head to a talking head with a screencast (PiP - Picture-in-Picture) to a screencast only - all while keeping the same audio input from my camera. Luckily, Ustream Producer will allow you to create these presets and save them. However I did run into audio issues (especially in my first Ustream). I found that I needed to test these pre-sets every time. I also needed to mute the audio on my computer so I wouldn't get re-verb issues. Once you start a stream, in order to change your settings or add more inputs you have to stop the stream, fix your issues and then re-start.
Eventually, my graduate student Preference and I had a good groove going. Fifteen minutes before we started we would get everything set-up, I would practice streaming with all of my inputs and she would sit next to me with a laptop tuned in wearing headphones. She also ran the chat for me while I talked. I could only do so many things at once, plus it messed with my screencast.
Overall my attendance was better we had up to 16 attendees for one session and as low as 2 for another. However, now I also have some great resource videos that I can use at a later date.
First Ustream Screencast (audio issues)

Latest Ustream Screencast - much better :)

If you have any suggestions to make my Ustreams better or topics that would endear themselves to a Tech Tuesday - please let me know. Check out my Ustream channel at Who knows what I will do next year!

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