Trials and tribulations of recording lectures – what’s (not) worked

In these COVID times, I’ve been required to do all my lecturing online. LJMU have continued to give practicals face-to-face, but the lectures are being delivered via the internet.

In almost all cases so far, I’ve given live lectures over Zoom, and this has worked really well. Not only have the lectures been delivered smoothly (so far!), but engagement from students has been up compared to ‘normal’ lectures. I think the ability to ask questions in the chat window, either privately or publicly is a big part of that.

However, in the next two weeks the timetable requires me to simultaneously teach a practical (split into two sessions of 50 students) and give lectures at the same time, so I’ve had to pre-record them. This has been way more difficult simply because of the lack of interaction, but it’s also been a massive pain in the behind to find a good way of recording everything.

Most of my lectures rely heavily on animations and video clips, and that’s combined with wanting to use my Surface and the pen to annotate slides as we go along. Here’s what I’ve tried and what’s gone wrong. Usually this is less a problem with the method, and more a problem with my implementation.

Panopto

Panpoto is screen capture software integrated into our Virtual Learning Environment (VLE), Canvas. I’d never used it before. I was required to download an installer, install it, then I launched powerpoint and hit record.

I recorded my 2hr lecture (the lecture is actually about an hour and half because of the lack of interaction, and don’t worry, there are break points for students to consume the content in chunks).

It uploaded it.

Then I discovered it had recorded the slides as images, and none of the animations or annotations. This meant there were long parts of me saying “compare this to this” and no indication of what the this’s were.

Apparently, you can elect to record slides and the full screen view.

Rather than re-record with panopto I threw my rattle out of the pram and turned to:

Recording directly in PowerPoint

If you record in powerpoint, you can record your voice and webcam image in the corner. I’ve done this before, and I quite liked it. I wirelessly project to my Surface Go so I can use the pen and view the presenter view.

When you’ve finished, PowerPoint adds a little video from the webcam to the corner of each slide. I had to go in and move it around or resize it depending on what content was on the slide.

That was a minor pain, but the biggest failing was that embedded YouTube videos wouldn’t play back in the recording. As such, I had to upload it as a PowerPoint show, so that hyperlinks and YouTube videos could be clicked by students. I also uploaded the MP4 video file. However, both MP4 and PowerPoint show were very large files (nearly a gig) which isn’t great for students to download. I ended up uploading the MP4 to panopto directly so that students could stream it at variable bitrates over less than optimal connections.

It was a bit of a faff, so I tried something different for the next lecture:

Using a Zoom session to record the screen (+my webcam)

I saw this recommended on twitter, so gave it a shot. The advantage here is that you can set the presentation to presenter view, and share only the main-window of that view via Zoom.

It seemed to go relatively well until my phone rang. Then the presenter view started bugging out and reverting to full view, which meant only a portion of the presentation was being recorded.

I powered through with the intention of editing out the interruption in a video editor (I use Blender for this). However, when I was finally able to download the recordings (after waiting an hour for them to process in the cloud), I found Zoom had recorded at a low framerate, and all those animations I used were basically useless. Rather than record another 2 hour session, I brought the files into blender, then overlaid the original videos and animations. That took ages, and I’m now rendering out a 1hr 40 minute video from Blender.

I think there’s a setting in Zoom to optimise screen recording for video clips. I did not know this when I started.

So, for now I’m sticking with recording using PowerPoints built-in recording tools. I’m hoping the rest of my lectures can be given live though – it’s both a simpler experience, and a more rewarding one being able to interact with students.

3 thoughts on “Trials and tribulations of recording lectures – what’s (not) worked

Add yours

  1. Personally, I quite like big blue button for giving talks & also doing recordings (you can upload slides, annotate them live, or even allow other to annotate them e.g. if they have questions), which it displays nicely afterwards, including text which is still actually text and can be copied from the browser, and chapter markers every time you switch slides — on the other hand, you can’t really get those recordings “out” of bbb, since there’s not really a standard format which includes all that, and no option to just render it into a single video file (and I’ve also heard bbb doesn’t scale too well, though whether that also applies to recordings or just meetings I don’t know).

    Apart from that I can really recommend obs (https://obsproject.com/), which can record (and also livestream) basically anything (camera, screen, etc.) in any composition you like, though I guess it’s not as intuitive since it’s really intended as a general-purpose video streaming software and not specifically for presentations. On the other hand, it can handle everything from a simple screencast to professional event livestreams with complex camera setups (I’ve also used it for livestreaming conferences and the like) and isn’t too hard to use, either, so there’s that.

    1. Thanks, I might give OBS a try in future. The problem I’ve found with straight-up screen recording (I was using gamebar: https://peterfalkingham.com/2020/03/19/use-the-xbox-game-bar-in-windows-10-to-record-tutorials/) is it captures the full resolution of my monitor (1440p) which is then a massive file that I have to upload. I guess if I use OBS to capture the main portion of the presenter view, that’ll lower the resolution. Or I could just lower my windows resolution I guess.

      Thanks.

      1. Yeah, you can set an output resolution in obs, in which case you’ll have to scale down your screen video input — or you can just record a single window (at least you can on linux, not sure if windows supports it — it even continues to record the window when it’s not actually visible on the screen, which is pretty cool) and scale that to roughly 1080p, which then even leaves space for other stuff on your screen — I usually have a second monitor for that, since my main one is just 1080p, but it allows me to have any notes I might need and obs itself visible as well, which is pretty convenient in case anything ever crashes, since I’d notice it right away and not at the end when the recording is already broken.

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