Teaching & Learning

Video, Audio and Animation

Various media types

Audio, video and animation

Audio and video are very helpful in introducing a human dimension to the course, demonstrating a skill or concept, illustrating unique situations and conveying emotions.  A number of technical factors such as accessibility, connection speed and device selection affect the choice of media and their file formats and delivery.

Think about your objectives and purposes of what you want to convey. It is easy to assume that an online lecture is to simply make a recording of your real-live lecture and upload it in a correct format for viewing. A better approach would be to examine the objective and purpose of the lecture and then decide on the best online tool available to transmit the information.  One might discover that a video recording might be too limiting in its delivery format, or be an overkill to illustrate a simple concept.


What is audio content?

Audio contents are usually voice recordings of a lecture, short clips of voice explanation, sound bites or music samples.

Why use audio?

Voice conveys more human personality and emotion than text. It can be interesting and inspiring to actually hear the instructor making a key point, or to know what a guest sounds like.

With minimal technological knowledge, instructors can quickly record lectures on their computers and upload them. There are also campus support units that record professional quality lectures and put them online.

When not to use it?

Consider who will be downloading the audio files, and how many. An hour of lecture is approximately 22MB in file size (48kbps mp3) and will take a little under an hour to download over a 56Kbps modem line, compared to 2 minutes over a 2Mbps DSL line. Use of streaming audio may provide an option for larger files.

When the target audiences are non-native speakers, they might find it difficult to keep pace with the lecture. One of the key benefits of online learning is that the students are able to repeat the lesson as many times as they want. However, care should be taken to enunciate and provide supplemental material, especially when introducing new terminology.

How to use it?

The typical home access to the Internet today is much better at carrying audio, or audio plus slides, than video. Technologically, audio can be saved in various formats such as mp3, Real Media, QuickTime, Windows Media Player, and Flash, to name some. Instructors can upload these files to their course space and students will need the corresponding free plugin to view the file.

  • Lectures: Structuring an online course in which students sit back and listen for an hour is not how we are accustomed to using a computer. Long audio puts students into a passive learning mode. Rather than long lectures, section off each sub-topic and interleave these short segments (a maximum of 15 minutes) of the lecture with activities. Also consider that there will be some students who prefer to listen to the entire lecture away from the computer -- provide them the option to listen to the whole lecture by making some of these activities elective. In addition, printable lecture outlines also help the students follow the lectures and stay focussed.

    MSU Example

    In Adapted Physical Activity, Professor Gail Dummer posts an outline of her lecture notes, with embedded short audio clips elaborating the concepts in the outline.

  • Interviews: Interviews and conversations with experts conducted over phone or online telephony may be recorded with prior permission. The interviews can then be used to provide diverse perspectives on the subject matter, with the interviewees acting as role models for the students. Sometimes conversations might become long-winded. Try to limit or edit these interviews into short and succinct clips.

  • Live Classes: Technology has improved to a point where live lectures can be conducted over various telephony technologies and even recorded. MSU maintains Adobe Connect Pro for faculty and staff to conduct live classes or meetings.



What is video content?

Video contents are usually video recordings of a lecture, interview, documentary, or demonstration. In our discussions, we separate camera-recorded video from computer-generated animation and slideshow with narration, which are explored in the separate topics "Computer Animations" and "Presentation Technologies" respectively.

Why use video?

Video adds a visual dimension to audio narration. Visual communication brings forth much more personality, facial expression, body language and emotion. Video can also provide a visual guide to skills and procedures which are difficult to explain in written words and audio narrations.

Videos are more difficult to produce than audio due to the addition of a camera. There are extra considerations such as lighting, focusing and positioning in addition to the volume control and clarity of audio. It is also more difficult to edit a video sequence and there are more delivery decisions to make when putting video online. Do not let the complexity deter you if you believe video is the best way to convey the idea to your students - there are campus units (IVS, LearnDAT) to help you through the technical obstacles or even help you record professional quality videos and put them online for you.

When not to use it?

Digital video over the Internet is more complicated to post and takes longer to for students to download and view than most other kinds of content. For these reasons it is important to use video only when and where it is most beneficial.

Consider who will be downloading the video files, and how many files they will be downloading. A 15 minute, slow-movement video (talking head, interview, demonstration) at the screen size of 320x240 is about 25MB (10fps mp4, AAC). It takes approximately an hour to download that over a 56kbps modem line, compared to 2 minutes over a 2Mbps DSL line. The perpetual trade-off for video file size is its screen size - a video with a screen size of a postage stamp (180 x 120) will have a smaller file size and thus load/download faster, but it will not be able to show details clearly since it is so tiny.

There are other technical solutions to enable the students to start watching the video sooner, but there are again trade-offs. The picture may not be as clear (pixelation), and the students may experience break-ups, pauses and skips in the video (buffering). Streaming may provide an option for larger files. Check the bandwidth to see if the quality is acceptable.

Depending on the format of the video files, students might also need to install plug-ins or players to view the video.

Given all that technical consideration, a better question to ask is, when do you absolutely need it? When you have to demonstrate a complex maneuver in surgery, sports, machinery, etc; when you need to show real facial, hand and body expressions; or when synchronized visual and audio is the only way to get your point across, are all good uses of video. Use video sparingly for all other circumstances. If these videos are key components to your course, you may even want to consider the option of sending out discs to students who are experiencing bandwidth or connection problems.

How to use it?

Home video, webcams and professional recordings can produce different quality source files -- the key advice is to make sure that the picture is clean, with minimal moving or distracting background, and preferably shot with a high contrast setting. No matter which source you start with, it must be massaged into sizes suitable for Internet delivery. Often, this means that the image size is shrunk, frame rate reduced and image quality compressed. After the reduction, these videos are then converted in various formats - MPEG, Flash, QuickTime, Windows Media, Real Media, etc. -- to be uploaded to the course space, and then students will need the corresponding free plug-ins to view the videos.

Since video is a bandwidth hog and the technology somewhat of a challenge for some people, include contingency plans for those who are unable to watch the version you put online - provide them with alternative file formats and also be ready to mail them CDs or DVDs as a course pack.

Campus support units like LearnDAT and IVS provide various help and expertise during any stage of the process.

  • Demonstration: A very effective use of video has been seen in short sessions of laboratory and surgical procedures, sign language, biology, kinesthesia and various physical systems too complex to be explained with mere voice or text. Laboratory experiments can be videotaped to show reactions or results without the need to replicate dangerous reactions, consume expensive chemicals or duplicate animal suffering.

    MSU Example

    In Surgical Nursing for Vet Techs, Professor Dawn Christenson videoed a series of surgical procedures to show the students the required steps, equipment, protocol and manner to go about particular surgeries. These sequences are usually less than 15 minutes but provide a substantial amount of pertinent information. Since they convey a lot of information and detail, these videos usually need to have a screen size of 320x240.

    AP Chemistry uses digital video of laboratory experiments to pose engagement questions. The experiment is set up and conducted. Reactions/results are shown. Students are asked to discuss why they think these results were obtained. Then they read the module content. Video can be a break from the normal mode of content delivery and used to make a special point. Videos can also be very short segments of a few seconds, to show something, such as how to form a sign language movement, or how a particular joint in the human body moves. They can even be slowed down or stepped-through for a better demonstration of the concept.

    MSU Example

    Kinesiology professor Gail Dummer uses video to demonstrate the body motions involved in jumping.

    Human Environment and Design Professor Jon Vredevoogd uses video segments to teach how to accomplish different CAD operations.

  • Recorded Lectures: It can be a pleasant way to start the semester with a short video clip of the instructor introducing himself or herself to the students. This helps create a mental model of the instructor and adds a human face to subsequent teacher-student interaction. If lectures are longer than half an hour, to ease the download problems faced by students, they are best spliced up into 10 to 15 minutes segments and compressed to the minimal size required for the lecture to be useful.

    MSU Example

    Nursing professor Patty Peeks produced humorous personal video introductions for each section of her course. She appeared in a different location each week (including Beaumont Tower and the MSU Children's Garden) to provide a 'teaser' introduction to the topic of the week.

  • There is generally not too much benefit to be gained by putting an entire lecture online. Students are usually watching the slides or taking notes, not looking at the lecturer. There are exceptions where the lecturer is so animated, expressive and lively that the students would lose the point of the lecture if they had't seen the lecturer in action.

    MSU Example

    Kinesiology professor Gail Dummer provided her lectures in audio format. She made an exception for a very compelling video lecture by master showman Professor Stephen Yelon, which was presented in four 15-minute video segments.

  • Interviews: Like guest lecturers in the classroom, experts can provide diverse perspectives and act as role models via video interviews. As with all video and audio, tighten the interview to be concise and succinct.

    MSU Example

    Social Work professor David Katz uses a two person interview format for his guest experts, adding visual interest by varying the camera angle and including professor-expert interactions.

Computer Animation

What is computer animation?

Computer graphics are picture images created and manipulated digitally on computers. Add motion to them and we get computer animation. They can be as simple as a 2-step depiction of a blinking eye, or as long as a condensed version of a planet's life cycle.

Why use animation?

Animations use motion as a powerful tool to provide visual cues and help describe processes. They boost visual interest and can simplify concepts to aid explanations.

Animations are helpful when you need a clear depiction of a process impossible or too difficult to capture on video, such as a DNA replication process, the insides of a gas giant, and an illustration of prehistoric animal life. Use them when you need to exaggerate and highlight certain features to help understanding.

When not to use it?

A major obstacle is that the detailed and extensive animations usually take a long time to create. Check to see if video or graphics can more easily present the same idea.

How to use it?

Animations come in a variety of sizes, details and speeds. They may be created in Photoshop/ImageReady, Flash, Director and 3D Studio Max, and then made available as animated images (.gif), shockwave flash (.swf), shockwave (.dcr), QuickTime (.mov), Windows movie (.avi) and MPEG Animation (.mpg) files. PowerPoint (.ppt) can also be used to create very simple animations, but they may have to be viewed outside a browser with the correct player.

Campus support units such as LearnDAT provide help and expertise in creating animation.

MSU Example

Telecommunications professor Robert LaRose uses Flash animations to explain different data transmission concepts like TV signals and mobile phone reception.

MSU Example

Entymology instructor Ryan Kimbirauskas uses 3-D generated animation to illustrate the life cycle of a maggot to be used for forensic investigation.

MSU Example

For Professor Syed Hashsham's MoBEE project, Flash was used to create detailed animations of cellular processes. The animations were used to vividly illustrate how animal cells work and how bacteria harm them.