Editorial

Lessons learned from recording my first class

I published my first video class, How to Write a Great User Story, something all programmers should know how to do. Even though the class only went live recently, there’s already a host of things I know I can improve upon. I’m not, by any means, unhappy with the class; I think it’s a decent introduction to the topic. But, as with all new experiences, I learned a lot. Before I forget those things, I thought I’d write them down.

First I’ll look the content, the numerous ways I could improve it, and how it contrasts to writing articles. Then comes the film production, an area still new to me. And of course, with filming, comes the dreaded task of editing. I don’t know if you dread it, but I do!

I’m sharing this as a reminder that we all start somewhere. You don’t need to be great the first time. You do what you can and then improve over time. Take my (mis-)adventures as motivation to try something new.

Here’s what I learned.

Content

I’m used to writing articles, not video scripts, so I’m not confident I got the right content mix. My pieces tend to be succinct and don’t labour a point. However, during the editing of my video, I realized my information is perhaps too compact. I should have explained some concepts more, and given more examples.

My class ended up on the short side, not because it doesn’t cover a lot, but because it’s dense. I give some information, an example, and then move on. I don’t take the time to explore those concepts. I should have known to do this from mentoring and presentations. Tackling the same point from multiple angles is good. Unlike an article, which a person can read, and reread at any speed, the video just keeps playing.

I also left a lot of angles less explored. By listening to myself, repeatedly, I could pull out a lot of ideas of what to expand on. Suddenly I had a nervous feeling, as all I was hearing was all the stuff I left out, rather than what I had in! I have to find a way to make this discovery before filming next time.

In the end, I’m satisfied I did a bite-sized introduction to user stories. It could have been more, but that doesn’t mean it doesn’t have value as it is.

Calls to action

One key thing I missed throughout the video is getting the viewers to participate. I know how important it is to engage people, and motivate them to follow along.

There is a project with the class: the viewer creates their own user portrait and story. I mention this at the start, and a few times later, but I don’t guide the user enough. I should be a lot more direct in my requests, and at every step encourage the user to write down what they’re thinking.

I’m more used to a presentation style, rather than a class. When I did Twitch streaming it was me talking about what I’m doing. It wasn’t intending as direct learning, but more of a play-by-play of my activities. In a class, however, the focus should be on interactive learning. I don’t want to be like those horrible professors that monologue their whole class. Good classes include a motivational edge. They encourage the user and bring them into the experience.

Getting this right is tricky. Go overboard, and it’ll feel like a cheesy sales pitch. That said, I think I’m on the light side and could add a bit more.

Lighting

I knew the lighting was terrible when I started filming. Alas, I live in a city where I could go weeks without much sunshine. As I was taking part in a teaching challenge, to get the video out by the end of the month, I couldn’t afford to wait weeks. So I made do with the lighting equipment I had, then increased the brightness during post-production.

My videos end up having an undesired gray tone. The colours are a bit washed out. In isolation, I think the video is okay, but when compared to others there’s clearly a lot to be desired.

Part of my issue might be the webcam I’m using for recording. I don’t think it’s good with poor lighting. I recorded other videos with it before, and they came out fine — provided the sun was blanketing my room with beams of light.

Getting the lighting right is hard. Doing it on a budget is even harder. I don’t like buying equipment until I’m positive I need it. Now I know for sure. I’ll need to get some sizeable diffuse lighting sources for my next videos.

Audio

I’ve been podcasting for a while now, and have done some music recording before. But filming is different. I can’t have a microphone positioned in front of my face.

I initially tried using my podcast mike as an overhead mike. The distance from my face required a high gain, which then picked up too much noise, and not enough of my voice. There are mic’s designed to work this way, but they weren’t within my budget. The mic would also work if I had an absolutely silent studio, but as an urban dweller, that isn’t going to happen.

So I went for a lavalier mike, the Comica CVM-V02O as a reference. This is a cardioid microphone that clips on to my shirt. It connects to a pre-amp that I already had. I didn’t try to hide the mic, but it blended with my shirt.

It worked well for the standing parts of my videos, so I assumed all was well. Then I forgot to check it while sitting. It picked up a lousy echo from the corner of my room. I cleaned it up a bit in post-production, but it’s definitely not ideal. I’m unsure as to why I didn’t use my podcast setup for that part.

Getting rid of echos is a challenge, but must be done. I have some more work to do before my next video.

Scripting

While rewatching the videos, I noticed my eyes dart about as though I’m watching an insect fly around my room. Perhaps it isn’t that bad, and I’m just focused on it now. It happens as I try to remember what I say, and glance towards the paper I have it written on. It doesn’t matter that it’s right beside the camera, it’s still enough of an offset to see my eyes move.

In any case, it is distracting, and it shouldn’t be done. There are a few options:

  • Don’t use a script: This is what I’m used to from podcasting and live streaming. It creates a natural, sincere feeling but has the problem of, well, going off script and not covering what I want.
  • Memorize: I actually did this. I took the effort to read some paragraphs, memorize the key bits, and then somehow proceeded to look at the damn script while recording anyway!
  • Teleprompter: This places the text directly in front of the camera. It’s standard in professional production of videos. It’s a bit outside my initial budget. It’s great for looking at the camera, but it ends up forcing you more on script, thus potentially less natural sounding.

I don’t fully script my material. I have only bullet points that I refer to. For me, this tends to work, as I can speak from notes, but sometimes I miss something important. For an introduction, I think it makes sense to either memorize or use a teleprompter. For the bulk of the course, bullet points make sense — for me, at least.

Trying to stay on script made it feel a bit more forced than it should have sounded. I’m uncertain what level of trade-off I should make here. Do I go for the natural conversational flow and hope I cover everything, or do I sound a bit stiff and ensure I cover my key points?

Editing

Editing video is a lot of work. I think the tools I chose ended up making it more work than it should have been, or more annoying that it should have been.

I’m working primarily on Linux, so used tools on that platform. I’ve been doing bits of video editing for a while and have yet to find a good solution on this platform. I ended up using Shotcut, but it has some significant deficiencies that prevent me from recommending it. Moving forward I’ll likely look towards the standard pro tools, like the Adobe suite.

I created my overlays in Inkscape. I like the program for vector illustration. I didn’t want to get too fancy with animations on my first go, so I limited it to static images coming and going from the screen. Of course, to do fancy effects, I’d need a better tool anyway.

I’ll have to bug one of my friends for animation help. They also recently finished their first class on animation in After Effects.

Off to a good start

Overall I’m happy with the class. I have to start somewhere, and I think I’ve created something of value. This shorter class gave me an opportunity to test out the process. I’ve learned a lot of lessons that’ll help me in the future.

I’m awaiting student feedback to see the other ways in which I can improve the content. This aspect is perhaps the most significant area where viewers can help me. I can’t judge from my own viewpoint whether it’s helpful. I have some areas for improvement, but I’ve most certainly missed something.

Film production and editing, on the other hand, is an area where I see the potential improvements on my own. It’s also my weak technical area — even if I notice the problem, I’m not clear on how to fix it. This requires more practice and a bit more equipment.

Let me know what you think.

Categories: Editorial, Skills

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