When in class capture mode, one of the smart boards turns off, but the Accordent system captures everything that happens on the other board at approximately one frame per second. Simultaneously, it fires up the camera and starts recording video (30 fps). The resulting presentation, which is viewable in Real, has two screens: the smart board and the video of, presumably, you or the class. This is nice because it allows those watching a presentation to see not only the documents, spreadsheets, or PowerPoint/Keynote presentation but also the speaker's facial expressions, hand motions, etc. You get a better sense of what it might be like to watch such a presentation in real-life. What's more, we now have a dedicated space made for video capture so faculty at Emory no longer have to worry about getting a video camera taken to their classroom. The headaches saved by this feature alone probably make it worth thinking about using.
In order to test the system and think about its capabilities, I recently had the chance to record a med school lecture on the heart in the space. Even better, this last Friday I spent an afternoon filming my own presentation on--you guessed it--timelines. Essentially, I discuss the basic features of the interactive timelines I've been playing with this year and demonstrate how easy it is to add information to such a timeline within Google Docs. You can watch the presentation here.
Now, it just so happened that I recorded a presentation on timelines that was more or less identical to this one I made for my Timeline Tutorial using Camtasia. Having already made one presentation was helpful in the sense that I more or less knew what I wanted to say when I got put in front of a camera. More importantly, it gave me the chance to think about the relative advantages and disadvantages of both systems.
And there are plenty of disadvantages to the Accordent class capture system.
- In my mind, one of the main reasons to make a video recording of a class in which you use a presentation on a computer screen is to capture faithfully what you put on the screen. Unfortunately, because the Accordent only captures a smart board image once every second, the presentation side of things is not so much a video as a rapidly advancing slideshow. You can lose a lot of important information if you don't have a perfect capture of what's on the screen, as I learned in making the med school lecture, which used a PowerPoint presentation with a lot of movies. The value of watching the heart in action was lost as motion was eliminated. If a presenter is made aware of this limitation of the system, he or she can move the mouse and/or screen more slowly and compensate for this time delay. I think I actually did okay with this in my presentation, but there is a definite loss.
- Camtasia, on the other hand, captures exactly what is happening on the screen and does so at an adequate frame rate that the full motion of the mouse or videos your are displaying is preserved.
- The camera on the Accordent has a limited range in which it can recorded. This means that instead of calling it a "class capture" system, the Accordent should more properly be called a "lecturer capture" system. There are zoom and pan controls on the Crestron for the camera as well as 5 presets for the camera. But the range of the room that can be captured effectively is smaller than I would like. While recording myself, I had to mark where on the floor I could stand to be sure that I was within the camera frame. If someone else had been working with me, they could have used multiple camera angles. But the process for doing so is more complex than it should be: it requires watching a computer screen while simultaneously positioning the camera using the Crestron unit. Of course, the Crestron is touch-screen only so you have to look at it to use it. This results in shifting back and forth between two screens. Add to this the fact that the camera controls are on the herky-jerky side, and you have a situation in which the best production results from keeping the camera and the lecturer planted in one place.
- Of course, with Camtasia you are similarly rooted in one place if you want to record video of yourself as you're talking about what you're showing on a screen as you are dependent on a webcam.
- Still, in Camtasia I don't have to look away from the screen as I narrate what I'm talking about. This means that I can use a stationary mic and avoid similar problems.
- With Camtasia, on the other hand, when you hit "record" you are going immediately. Once you hit "stop," there's a bit of a lag as you wait for the encoding to wrap up. But it's nothing like the time required for the Accordent to wrap up its recording.
- Of course, Camtasia is explicitly designed to allow you to edit your screencasts. You can go back and rerecord your audio commentary. You can cut in title screens (you'll notice that I had to use PowerPoint for titles in my Accordent presentation), and zoom to different parts of the screen. And because you can use a webcam in conjunction with recording the screen, you can also have a recording of the speaker (albeit, seated at computer) that plays simultaneously with what you have captured on the screen.
Of course, the Accordent is a new tool. We're still trying to figure out how to best use it, what sorts of presentations play nice in the space, and how to get faculty and grad students to make use of it. Still, the gauntlet has been thrown and for the moment, I know which way I'm leaning.