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The brief given to me early last year by my boss, Professor Phil Long, here at the University of Queensland, was not one I’d heard before.

“We’re making four edX courses. We need to produce a large number of short educational videos across a wide range of topics. All the videos have to be engaging but also easy to make, with tools that are familiar to educators, not production experts. Voice over powerpoint is not enough. The process also has to be sustainable so that if we make more courses, the production costs won’t skyrocket”.

After I had composed myself, I set to work designing a different kind of recording environment. We called it µStudio.

In what I hope will be the first of a series of posts around educational video production, in this piece I’d like to briefly introduce µStudio, and explain how your institution can build one.

Without labouring the detail, µStudio is a small, inexpensive, easy to operate, easily replicable recording environment, that could fit inside a shipping container…. or that awkwardly shaped room in your faculty that no-one seems to like using.

Using widely available components from the “new breed” of production hardware offered by the likes of Blackmagic Design (yes, the same folks who make the groundbreaking 4K production camera), this unassuming facility allows to academics and their teams to record high quality educational video, using the familiar tools of Powerpoint, Keynote or Prezi. Think of a cross between a live TV studio and a fancy photo booth and you’re on the right track! Presenters, using a standard drawing tablet attached to the presenter computer, can also draw, highlight, resolve formulas, and annotate graphs in real time. By having our presenters large in the frame, with content alongside, I am trying to give our students a “front of room” experience, combining the best of classroom teaching with the pace and excitement of images, animations and live examples.

In the spirit of edX, the design of this studio is freely available to anyone who asks under a CC BY SA license, and a bill of goods has been prepared so that you can source the equipment in your home country. That way, you can tailor the studio to your own needs, make substitutions where you see fit, and feed back your successes (and inevitable failures!) to other interested parties on these pages.

I’m certainly not suggesting there is no other way to shoot a fantastic edX course, as my colleagues Jason Tangen and Matt Thompson proved with their course Science of Everyday Thinking (shot exclusively in the field). Indeed, we try to incorporate a percentage of interesting field vision, animation and interactive activities in every course we produce. But if your institution doesn’t have access to an in-house film school, or you just need a facility to do the “heavy lifting” recording, then µStudio might be for you.

As a producer, the key questions I’m trying to answer here are: what is the optimal video style for engagement? Does the answer vary from discipline to discipline? Does the size of the presenter in the frame have an impact? Is it better to show images and graphics sequentially, or alongside the presenter. How do students best understand the workings of formulae? I have my suspicions, based purely on anecdote, and I’m hoping that the clickstream data either supports them or sends me in a new direction.

This short video introduces the basic features.


If you’d like to know more, drop me a line at matthew.petersen@uq.edu.au. Until next time…

Matt Petersen is an Educational Media Product for the University of Queensland. Currently working on supporting UQx, he previously worked at The University of Queensland School of Journalism and Comminication developing online presences for student learning structures. 

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