Free trial Camtasia software opens the door to the virtual classroom

In this final project for my Kent State multimedia course, the goal was to use a program called Camtasia to create online educational videos. We’ve all used online tutorials for how to find your files in Windows 10 or how to use a specific program, videos that show the computer screen actions while a narrator explains the process.

Now I feel empowered.

After learning to use Audacity to sound edit and to produce podcasts, then learning to use Premiere to video edit and to post videos, the final step was Camtasia, which captures the events on your computer monitor and turns them into video – while you can mix in sound or other images.

Through the years, I’ve created many Powerpoint demonstrations for my photo class, what we used to call “slide lectures.” I’d show images on the screen while I gave a lecture, explaining the point of the slide show. So I went through my old Powerpoiints and culled some material, then went through some newer photos that were fresh in my mind to make a pair of Camtasia tutorials.

The first tutorial on composition is a distillation of what was originally two different classes. I used some of the basic rules of composition, but the second class on using different angles (among other techniques) seemed so basic to kick-starting good photography that I included some of that. My photo class initially evolved from workshops I ran for the New England Press Association and the New York Press Association called “Photography for Reporters,” and the goal was to share techniques for approach, for actually working a shoot by anticipating the right techniques for the situation.

The second tutorial is a bit of reality TV, sharing the hits and misses of shooting news events that I covered. These were very routine scheduled assignments, so they provide common problems and solutions.

I had my share of difficulty working with Camtasia. The biggest was my inability to speak without my tongue getting tangled. The Camtasia timeline was just similar enough to Audacity and Premiere to give my courage, and just different enough to confuse me. It’s hard to believe that such a short recording could take me an entire afternoon.

Much like making a video with Premiere, in the end I was able to complete the task, but I look at all I learned from the experience and see all the details that I could have done better and all the potential for the program. In this era of online learning, it seems programs like Camtasia are as essential as Word.

Small is beautiful for videos

When last I shot a video, I was using an excellent Sony video camera with a lapel microphone. The job was recorded on a small digital tape cassette. When it came time to edit it, I sat at a Final Cut Pro workstation with an Emmy-winning videographer at my side to catch me when I started to fall.

That was about nine years ago, and things have certainly changed.

To make the “Queen Victorian” video, I used an Olympus EM10 Mark II camera, and the job was recorded on a 10-speed SD card. I edited the job on Adobe Premiere Elements, with the Adobe wiki at my side to answer my questions.  Some of these changes were great, some were difficult, and then, there was human error and the failure of my most low-tech piece of equipment …

 The good: Recording with Olympus was a snap. I found myself in some lighting conditions where I would have preferred to set the exposure manually, but I stayed in the auto video mode since this was my first real video with the camera. I found that Premiere does an excellent job of imitating Final Cut Pro – in fact, it seemed much easier without a loss of the functionality I needed.

Also, Premiere plays nicely with Audacity. I made the opening and ending slides in InDesign and imported those to my Premiere timeline easily. I set them both for what felt like the proper amount of screen time, then used Audacity to edit the free music clip to fit the slide timing. Premiere didn’t struggle a bit with either the slide (an InDesign PDF saved out of Photoshop as a JPG) or the mp4 file saved out of Audacity.

The bad: As expected with the in-camera mic, the sound was tough to control. For the sit-down interview, I ran a levels test first, and that sound is fine. But when I moved to shoot over Karen’s shoulder, the audio ambience changed completely, so the transition is pretty rude. Then, when she was making the bed and I wanted to show the room, I was so far away the road sounds outside were very loud. I adjusted that some by knocking down the treble on the playback, but the sound there is distant. That’s the biggest technical flaw, and if I proceed with videos, I’ll get a wireless mic for the rig. This abrupt change in audio ambience made me understand why so many long-form podcasts use underlying music to smooth the transitions.

The other major flaw came in the editing.  I had an afternoon to shoot in the house, which is two states away. I was under the impression that Karen would be receiving Airbnb guests and her husband would be around. Neither were there, so I tried to make the video her story of dealing with this huge house, as a B&B, as a rental and now as Airbnb. I wanted to keep this journalistic (or is it verité?), so it was unscripted and I stayed out of it. As a result, getting the convoluted tale out took three minutes … too long.

The ugly: I shot some exteriors first (on a rainy day) and then the sit-down interview. As I moved to shoot more B-roll, the toggle that torques down the camera on my quick-release Slik tripod gave up the ghost and snapped. That Slik was my old friend, and had served me well for about 40 years. But for about half the B-roll, I had to be a human tripod. Panning is never a great idea, but I could set the camera with the mounting plug into the hole for it on the tripod head and swivel it. So for one clip, I did what I could with the tripod: pan.

 In the end, I was pleased, pleased with the camera, pleased with Premiere and Audacity – and pleased I survived! I see the potential for using this fairly entry level equipment and software to complete high-quality online videos.

Sometimes you kill the robot, and sometimes the robot kills you

There’s a grim saying: The only reason you have a job is that they haven’t invented a robot yet that can do it. This week’s exercises – to prepare a map, survey and timeline – gave proof to that. There are some journalistic problems that robots can solve and some that benefit more from RI – Real Intelligence.

After successful forays into audio editing and podcasting, I dove into the assignments eagerly. And I immediately found that the online survey/polling site Polldaddy was slick and user-friendly. For no charge, you can set up all sorts of surveys, and the site collates the results for you. The questions can be multiple choice, or the survey-taker can rank as series of answers, or they can write in answers. It’s all very inviting, and the survey (it appears below) exported cleanly … with one problem: It’s butt-ugly – and that was the best-looking template they offered!

This typographic curse plagues all the free online graphics programs. They are configured to be quick, so leave the typography to them. But if you have a typographic style on your webpage (and you’d better!), the ready-made graphics are bound to clash.

It got worse with Google Maps. My first encounter with Google Maps led me to their developers page. There I saw reams of HTML coding. My blood runs cold at the sight of HTML. I took a walk. I did some yard cleanup. I made dinner. I slept. The following day, I found some good Google how-to videos, and the map went together quickly. It just didn’t do what I wanted. I couldn’t place type where I wanted, because as you zoom in and out, the type comes and goes. Having made umpteen newsmaps in Illustrator, I was less appreciative of the interactive quality than I was offended by its typographic fascism. I’m sure that Google Maps will grow on me, but they are journalistically weak, since they do not provide an avenue to story-telling through explainer type. If some robot decides to put the type in the wrong place, it is not my friend. Perhaps I will learn to tame the beast in time.

Our final project, to make a journalistic timeline, forced me to unplug the robot.

I searched the web for timeline sites and wasted a couple hours finding that a) they were clumsy and/or hard to decipher or b) you had to move up to the pay tier to get an embed code for your graphic. After a lot of thrashing around, I decided finally to bite the bullet and pay for Tiki-Toki … only to discover that the site accepts only PayPal. With apologies Mr. Musk, I do not have a PayPal account. A website called let me make a not bad-looking timeline … it just wouldn’t give me an embed code. It was, as we say on Cape Cod, time to stop bailing and start rowing for shore. I made the timeline graphic in InDesign and exported it. Yes, I know the type is not scalable … but life is short.

The final score: A win on making an ugly poll, a win by default on making an interactive map and, well, a learning experience about timelines.

A tale of a town, with graphics too

Chatham, Mass., is perched on the elbow of Cape Cod. A fishing community, the town morphed through the years to becoming primarily a retirement and second-home vacation spot. Its proximity to the major cities of the Northeast drew first tourists, then second-home owners, and finally, retirees settling down in the vacation homes.

Home contractors, such as landscapers and contractors, now outnumber commercial fishermen. The town has aged, with a median age of 54, as the population has swelled. The population went through tremendous growth, doubling in the 30 years from 1960 to 1990, before declining in the 2010 census, due largely to the high cost of living. The real estate site Zillow sets the median home value in Chatham at $608,000, making it all but impossible for the tradespeople who care for the homes to own one.

The graphics that follow help tell the story of the town’s changes.

Seldom does a newspaper designer get so much space! My lasting legacy at The Day: The nameplate I deisgned.