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Video Podcasts
by James G. Lengel, Hunter College School of Education, 04/19/2007

Recent articles in this series provided instructions on developing homework assignments that students could listen to on their iPods. Audio Homework and Audio Homework 2 showed you how to create a simple audio-only podcast, and then a podcast enhanced with images that show on the screen of the iPod. This week you will learn how to make a video podcast, that can combine audio and moving video, and play on a computer or an iPod.

This week's article is also available as a podcast. If you'd rather listen than read, try this new form of publication.

(And you don't need an iPod to experience a podcast. Podcasts -- audio, video, or enhanced -- will play on any modern computer, Windows or Mac. In fact, many college students, big users of podcasts, tell me they listen (or watch) at least as much on their computer as on their iPod.)

To make a video podcast, you'll need a computer with video editing software. On Macintosh everything you need is built-in; on Windows you'll need MovieMaker and QuickTime Player Pro.

Why video?

Some ideas are best communicated through video. In Dan's Mathflix, a math teacher animates objects and numbers on the screen to teach number theory. The growth and structure of coral is taught quite effectively by Professor Steve Palumbi's video podcasts. And what better way to set up a language-learning situation than through live video of native speakers in real situations? Video can help students analyze dramatic scenes, visualize scientific concepts, and capture historic events. Or archive guest speakers.

Video can also bring the presence of the teacher to students far away from the classroom. The iPod is an individual listening device, and so can send a personal podcast featuring the face of the faculty and the voice of experience into the private space of students.

Types of video

A video podcast can come in many forms:

  • Talking head. "Welcome to PowerToLearn. My name's Jim, and I'll be your columnist for this session. Can I get you something to read?" This type of video may be the easiest to produce, and can provide a personal connection, but may not be the most effective for learning.
  • Animated slides. Take another look at Dan's Mathflix. This video podcast began life as a slide show. Dan added simple animations, then narrated it, and finally saved it as a video podcast.
  • Dissolving images. You can make a video podcast with no video at all, just a string of still images artfully combined with pans, dissolves, fades, music, and narration. As in a Ken Burns documentary.
  • Content clips. They might be scenes from Henry V, recordings of science experiments, or scenes from the street, presented for reflection and analysis by students.

Which types of video might be most appropriate for your subject and your students?

Storyboarding

No matter what type of video podcast you plan to produce, you need to think it through before you begin building it. The best way to do this is with a storyboard that shows the video and audio tracks of your video, along with approximate times. Each box in the storyboard represents a new scene, visual, or section. To learn more about storyboarding, see the article in this series called Creating Video.

Assets

Before you can build the video podcast you just planned, you need to gather the pieces that make it up. Each item in the storyboard -- video clips, still images, snippets of music, or sound effects --is called an asset of your project. Create or copy these assets as necessary, and save them in on your computer in the proper place. On Windows XP, save them to the My Pictures, My Sounds, or My Videos folders; on Macintosh save the images to iPhoto and the sound and video to iTunes.

Assembly

Now it's time to compose the video podcast. On Macintosh, you'll use iMovie; on Windows, MovieMaker. You'll assemble the visual elements first, effects (titles, transitions) second, and audio third. You can find good tutorials for iMovie and MovieMaker on the Web.

  • Visuals. Drag each still image or movie clip you want to use in your project into the visual timeline at the bottom of the screen, in the order you want them to appear. Trim the clips as necessary, deleting unwanted sections.
  • Titles. Once all the visuals are assembled, you can add any necessary titles. These can be self-standing titles on a black backgriound, or titles that appear over existing visuals. You'll find the title-building tool under the Edit tab in iMovie. Type the words, then drag the titles into the timeline. Use very large, plain type for the titles, and keep them short -- otherwise they will be unreadable on the small iPod display.
  • Transitions. These are optional. You drag the transitions into the timeline and drop them between the scenes. A cross-dissolve can soften the visual shift from one scene to the next. But avoid using the silly transitions that come with the software -- these add no value to your podcast, and may distract your students from the content you want them to learn.
  • Audio: Narration. Add narration after visuals, titles, and transitions are complete. In iMovie, the narration button is under the Audio tab. Move the playhead to where you want the narration to start, then click the red button to begin recording. Click it again to stop. Speak up when you record. Record your narration a sentence at a time -- don't try to record it all in one take.
  • Audio: Music. Drag the tunes you want from the iTunes Music Library (or the My Sounds folder on Windows) into the audio timeline. Delete the parts you don't need. Adjust the relative volume if necessary.

Perfecting

Seldom does a moviemaker get it right on the first take. Watch your movie, listen carefully, and make note of the things that can be improved. Go back and make changes as necessary. As you do this, save your project often. And preview it after every adjustment.

Publishing

It will never be perfect. But at some point you must declare your video podcast to be acceptable and ready for publication. If you are using iMovie, simply choose from the menubar Share --> iPod. This will resize and compress your video into a format that can be played on a video iPod -- or on any computer. The file will be saved into your iTunes music library, whence it can be copied to your iPod.

(Windows users will need to save the MovieMaker video file to their hard disk, and then open it with QuickTime Player Pro. From here you can choose File --> Export from the menubar, then at the bottom under Options choose Movie to iPod. Save it to your hard drive, and from there drag it into iTunes, and from there, copy it to your iPod.)

The video podcast file can also be copied to a recordable CD, or to flash memory, and transferred to others. It can also be sent to a web server and made available online.


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