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Published April 27, 2016 | Electronic Data-processing

The Swivl: I Haven’t Lost Any Students So Far!

In 2015, I became interested in taping my lectures to make them available to students for review purposes or so that they could catch up on classes that they had missed. I remembered a Kickstarter project from a few years back called the Swivl motion-sensor camera dock and saw that they had recently begun focusing on the education market. I then set out on my trek to procure one and try it out in my classes during the fall semester of 2015.

Finding the Right Tool for the Job

I have some past experience with audio/visual equipment and had a pretty good idea about the type of technology that I needed to record my lectures. I didn’t want a fixed camera that would oblige me to stand in one spot at the front of the room, or to book an audio visual technician for the whole semester to film me. I also wanted the solution to be portable, so that I could take it to the different classrooms where I am teaching.

The Swivl C Series Robot is a type of robotic camera base that allows you to mount a smartphone, or tablet on top of it to use as the camera to record lectures. I looked at a few different solutions like SoloShot and Echo 360. SoloShot seemed feature-rich, but was more than I needed and didn’t quite meet my budget parameters when I first started looking. The Echo360 is a fixed setup that didn’t meet my portability requirement. It is also fairly expensive to purchase and install by comparison. At around $600 CAD, the Swivl seemed to do everything I needed. Thanks to some financial support from the SALTISE active learning community, I was able to procure the Swivl base for the college.

Ken Fogel demonstrates the pivot and tilt of the Swivl C-Series robot camera base with an iPad.

With the Swivl, I wear a lanyard around my neck with an Infrared sensor that helps the robot to track me. The robot pivots to follow me around the room based on the position of the sensor around my neck, which also includes a wireless microphone used to capture the audio from my lectures. The company that makes the Swivl also sells an adapter to put a small digital video (DV) camera on top if you prefer. After some initial tests with an iPad and a smartphone, I decided to purchase my own DV cam to use with the Swivl base. Personally, I think the results are better with these DV cams. The Swivl can rotate and tilt the angle of the capture device that is being used. I mounted my Swivl on an old tripod that I place strategically in the middle of the classroom.

Ken Fogel Swivl recording demonstration video for Dawson’s EdTech week with him descending a staircase.

Filming

I’ve become pretty proficient with filming my classes, and teachers are no longer surprised to see me walking through the halls with a large aluminum tripod in tow. The Swivl hasn’t changed the way I lecture. I just have to look over at the camera every once in a while to make sure that my whole head is in the frame, as sometimes the camera pivots a bit too low and misses everything from my forehead up. I do have one small problem with lighting when I am taping things that I am projecting on a screen. Most classroom LCD projectors aren’t strong enough to compete with a fully-lit room. The result is that with the lights turned down for the projector I appear dimly lit.

When I was a kid, I thought I would have a career on the stage. After recording several of my lectures, I am proud to say that I like the way I lecture, and that my childhood dream has made its way into my animated delivery style. The lecture recordings are a great tool for reviewing your own teaching style, and making any tweaks to your approach if you so desire.

Preparing and Storing the Videos

At first I wanted to edit all my videos down for the students, but then I ran into a problem. Time! I’m no Steven Spielberg, and I certainly don’t have hours to spend in a video editing suite, so I made the raw video from the lectures available immediately. So for now, all my videos begin the same way – with a close-up of whatever shirt I was wearing that day, followed by me walking away from the camera to get into frame!

I have recorded every one of my lectures from the time I received the camera in October of 2015 up until now. On average, each 75 minute lecture takes up about 1.5 Gigabytes of space. When I initially asked if I could store my videos on Moodle or somewhere else on the network at the college, I could literally see the beads of sweat forming on my technician’s forehead. I’m just one teacher doing this. Imagine if the hundreds of teachers at Dawson also started storing their lectures on the network! So I looked into another solution.

If I opted for YouTube or another public streaming server I would have another problem. As I roam around the classroom in the videos, inevitably there are students that come into the frame. The last thing I want to worry about is having all my students sign broadcast rights release forms. Since some of my students are still minors, their parents would need to sign for them. Instead, I went with Swivl’s private cloud service, which allows me to provide password-protected access to my students. The login and password are configured at the beginning of the semester. Once I enter their information, they receive an invitation by e-mail to sign on to the Swivl cloud. As it turns out, the video looks real good on their smart phones!

It’s All About the Students

The first time the students saw my camera setup, they all took pictures with their cell phones. It seems that I won some ‘coolness factor’ points with them. I was pleased that they would now be able to review the lectures throughout the semester or catch up on a class they missed.

Other members of the faculty had expressed their concern that students might no longer show up if they could just watch the lectures on-line. It turns out that students don’t want to watch a 75 minute lecture again if they don’t have to. It was only the odd student that had missed a class that ended up signing in to watch the lectures. I guess if you are going to watch a lecture, you might as well see it live!

What’s Next

As a CEGEP professor, I think it’s my responsibility to try different approaches to see what works for our students. This summer I am planning on taping some shorter lectures in a closed classroom without any students present. These videos will focus on specific topics and will probably run 3 to 10 minutes. I’d like to have 2 or 3 of those prepared in advance for every class. Since flipped classrooms or other active learning approaches take a considerable amount of planning and preparation, these videos will come in handy. I would much rather spend my time in class discussing code with my students rather than lecturing on small details.

I have also extensively used screen casting for procedural-based instructions and found that it works well. One of the screencasts that is really popular helps students to set up a development environment on their computers that they will be using for programming. I post the screencast videos (which I created with Screencast-O-Matic) on YouTube, since there aren’t any students in the clips.  They have become fairly popular. I will likely continue using both lecture capture and screencasts together with my flipped classroom pedagogy in the future.

Have you tried recording your lectures and had similar results? Please feel free to use the comments feature below to share your experience!

Editor’s Note: Ken Fogel recently presented the Swivl as part of the Ed Tech Week at Dawson College. For those who are interested in learning more, APOP has made this presentation available through their website.

About the Author

Born and raised in Montreal, Ken Fogel began teaching the C programming language and Novell networking in the Continuing Education department at Dawson College in the 1980s. He joined the day program in 1990 and has chaired the Computer Science Technology department for the last 14 years. Prior to this, Ken was in the private sector working on various freelance projects in the IT Sector. Ken is part of the Java NetBeans Dream Team, a select group of 80 international evangelists for this technology. He has spoken at the JavaOne conference in San Francisco for the past 2 years about the use of Java in Education, and has been published on the industry blogs DZone and JaxEnter. Ken also enjoys photography, is a skilled graphic artist and encourages start-ups by backing various Kickstarter campaigns.

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