How do you make these videos?

I felt the first post should be about how I make these videos. Over the year, my process has changed. Each has its benefits and problems.

Using a Laptop, Graphics Tablet, Microphone, Screen Recording Software and Drawing Program

When I started, I used my old 2008 MacBook, a USB Microphone (Snowball by Blue Microphones), a graphics tablet to write upon (Wacom Bamboo), screen recording software (iShowU HD) and a program within which to write (Adobe Illustrator). This video came from a presentation I gave at the CORD Conference in 2012.

This had some strong benefits. The power of Adobe Illustrator let me do a lot of things over other programs. For example I could scroll across a large canvas and zoom in and out as needed. Using a vector program let me use the huge library of open source image files available at Wikimedia Commons. Files of the Scalable Vector Graphics (SVG) type were editable, so if I found a picture of a heart, I could easily add an ischemic area. I could even make a normal chest x-ray look like it had a pneumothorax or break bones on normal x-rays. Brutal! If I added images that had protected health information that I needed to mask, it could easily be done. One of the biggest benefits was the use of graphics tablet and pen. This is how we’re already accustomed to writing – putting our palm down on a surface, holding a pen and scribbling.

The main drawbacks were the amount of computing power this required as well as the time it took to edit. Running these two processor hungry programs (iShowU HD and Adobe Illustrator) would quickly tax my aging MacBook’s resources. When this happens, all the fans turn on and they are not quiet. You can hear these fans in many of my early videos. Also the videos would often require extensive editing. In addition to the time spent preparing the and recording the material, I spend another hour or so cutting out errors and dead air. All in all it would take me about 2 hours to record a 10 minute piece.

Pen and Paper

That same year I enrolled in a massive, open, online course (MOOC) in Artificial Intelligence given by Sebastian Thrun and Peter Norvig, professors at Stanford. With work and teaching, I wasn’t able to keep pace with the material, but they way they presented it was compelling in its low-techy-ness. These are two luminaries in computing presenting the material with one of the oldest technologies: pen and paper.

Screen shot 2012-12-01 at 2.20.52 PM

Within that introduction video, you can see Professor Norvig’s set up.

I tried to imitate the same thing using some things most of us have already: an iPhone, a pen, paper and an easily obtainable tripod and iPhone tripod mount/clamp. Professor Norvig’s camera is certainly looks much more powerful than my phone, but the results are similar.

This method is fairly accessible to most: since we all know how to write and use a camera. The one downside is the time it takes to edit out any dead air. I’m sure the professors had graduate students to do that for them.

iPad Apps

Then along came the iPad. The first program I found was one called ShowMe which allowed you to write directly on the screen while recording your voice and actions. This eliminated the need for a camera, microphone, graphics tablet, drawing & screen recording programs and computer. Now all you need is an iPad and a stylus.

The upside is the decrease in the amount of equipment needed. You can also pause as you go, eliminating the need for most post-production editing. The downside is the horrible handwriting I have on an iPad. You see, you cannot rest your palm on the iPad’s multi-touch surface. If you do, it interprets that contact as another place you’re trying to write. So it’s kind of like writing on a dry erase board (where your palm floats freely). With time, my handwriting improved, but it’s still no better than my 5-year-old’s writing, leaving all doctor-handwriting jokes aside.

Programs I’ve found are Educreations, ScreenChomp, Explain Everything and  Doodlecast Pro. There is a fifth, Doceri, that uses your iPad as a graphics tablet and pairs it with your laptop. In another post, I’ll explain the differences I’ve found between using these different programs, but in short I prefer Doodlecast Pro. Explain Everything is certainly more powerful, but has one big dealbreaker for me.

I’m sure that the newly released tablet-stylus combinations by Samsung (Galaxy Note II 10.1) and Microsoft (Surface) both of which use styli with palm suppression technology may bring some new ideas to the table. If I ever get my hands on these, I’ll review them here.

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