Saturday, January 21, 2012

On Your Mark!

The online film class launches on Wednesday and I've been a busy li'l film bee getting ready for it.  One of the major challenges has been figuring out just HOW the class was going to see the films that are the central text of the class, since we don't do "group viewings" in an online class.  (There's also a textbook, but that's used more for vocabulary and extra examples.)  I'm still working the details and I'm pleased with what's coming together - I'm hopeful that all the films will be digitally available through a digital service my college is testing and/or through some additional streaming services of the school (not all the films I intend to use are available through the digital service - copyright and contract issues there).  Still, my advice to my students is to set up an outside account (I'm suggesting Netflix and not the video streaming service, as several of the films are not available in Netflix's streaming catalog, but all of them are available through their DVD service.  Not everything is available through Amazon's instant rental service; I don't know about iTunes.  And Netflix is free for the first month and you can cancel at any time).  I've set up a list of "what films when" on both an embedded Google calendar and a separate Word document so the students can go ahead and get their queues set up.  I'm hopeful that this will make things run smoothly, but in my experience, online classes can be great and they can go frustratingly wrong due to tech issues.  If students don't read carefully (or at all), it gets worse quickly.

To wit:  I've been struggling mightily to get some orientation material set up as short (10 - 15 minutes) videos that I then embed into the Blackboard platform used by my school.  It's a multi-step process - set up the Powerpoints, save.  Narrate over them, save.  Convert to wmv, save.  (This part literally takes hours.  I'm always amazed at how impatient I get at this stage.  The trick is to set it up to run overnight and just go to bed.)  Take the resulting wmv file, import into Camtasia and save as an swf file.  Now embed that into Blackboard and constantly remind your students that they have a free Shockwave download so yes, they can play it.  (Now pray that they have a fast Internet connection and aren't dealing with *yike* dial-up.)

To repeat - Yike.

Hours it takes.  HOURS - and that's if you know what you're doing!  (I'm slowing getting into that camp, but I'm still a little bit in the woods.  I have an appointment on Monday to find out if there's a reliable shortcut to all of this.  But it seems that when tech needs to talk to other tech, sometimes there are limitations and roadblocks.)  In a way, this is good.  I need to know how students feel and I know how I feel when the tech doesn't work as advertised.

Still - I'm determined to make a solid go of it.  But yeah, it'd be so much easier to just show the films in class and do a basic orientation lecture.  Don't be fooled - distance learning works (and it can work very well), but don't confuse that with an online class being less work than a traditional class.  It's not.  Not if you're doing it right.


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