Raising the Humble Slide Presentation to New Heights
To raise the presentation to cope with online presentations in Zoom or MS Teams, some designers have added different programs into the mix, Prezi being one, and my favourite, Google Slides, that make it easier and more entertaining, and providing links and import of existing material in the Google drive. But there can be no hiding the fact that whatever program you prefer it’s not easy to lift it to new levels, I try when in front of students, by just being me, adding all that I can by walking, arm gestures and often samples and paper handouts, but with online lectures, this is not available. So I have been looking for alternatives, different ways of presenting but with that added zing to keep the lecture alive and cope with the enormous level of global lockdowns facing us all.
As a start, videos added to the slide set as a whole and for individual slides proved a worthwhile starting point, meant mainly to allow students to view my presentation offline, it works to some degree, but it’s not what I was looking for. Adding directly embedded youtube videos allowed a little visual media but no interaction of notes unless I added them.
Talking to some of the Gamer lecturers at BCU, they introduced an alternative medium that is tried and tested, comes with a huge user base and therefore online help forum base, became apparent, in the form of a free multi-platform broadcast piece of programming called OBS, or Open Broadcast Software. There are many alternatives, both stand-alone programs that are cross-platform, ie Mac, Windows, and Linux, Chromebooks lack a Chrome app and relies on Linux, and a growing list of web-based sites that allow OBS style creation and a good deal of sharing, but at a cost, OBS is free, and has massive support and what I call support programs that add very useful, and often specific functions to an already packed program.
To put it simply this is what gamers use to show their screen experience to their YouTube and Twitch audiences. But it’s really a lot more than that, OBS is a platform for controlling steams of information, often from multiple sources, you might well see a really sophisticated version of OBS in any television centre, and as I stated in the opening abstract, TV production is hugely more sophisticated and a darn sight more expensive, producing content such as Blue Planet, OBS is meant for the like of you and me to collate say two or three live screens into one. Its free just download to a Windows, Mac or Linux machine,
Easy to Learn
Like many computer programs there is a learning curve, but I managed to get up and broadcast within a day, and by day two, I was refining the content and from just one feed on day one, to a three feed broadcast to at least two different outlets by the end of day two. The help on YouTube and the online OBS forum is immensely good and just takes a little time to watch, and put into practice the tips given. Do you need a sophisticated machine to achieve this, not really, I am still using an aging 5-year-old MacBook Pro., but a decent wifi and internet feed is an obvious need,
Practice makes perfect, and the more I watch and rewatch the help videos the better I understand the program, and what’s achievable, but gizmo and flash highlights, with spinning objects, will not make a better delivery, content, and high quality links to backup material will.
Not one but may digital sources
For the simplest sharing of a web feed to my students, I need nothing more than a decent laptop, with a built-in WebCam, and good sound capture, my Mac provides this in abundance, so I can achieve at least two feeds on to a simple screen, my presentation and WebCam, this is in effect, my normal lecture, but lacking in my personal showmanship, of walking and arm waving, and my sketching on a whiteboard, plus any handouts I want to give, although I wonder how effective the latter is, a link on moodle should be more effective, or better still, a link on the area under the Youtube feed. The main feeds here need very little beefing up, they are what they are, my presentation captured as a new window, sized and cropped as required, and my video webcam, again sized and cropped, now add my third dimension in the use of a desktop Visualizer, a third video camera, a posh way of saying a small camera mounted on a flexible pole that’s pointing back onto the desk to capture live any drawing I might want to make.
I lecture construction technology, so for me, most of my lectures are on detailing materials, and the live freehand will be of me drawing the detail live. A camera on a tripod is just as good, I used my Nikon D7500 for testing, a bit of an overkill, but nice. The point is I now add to the presentation to lift the information above and beyond my live lecture at the university, where students would often want to take photos of my sketching, nice to see their interest, but lacking in any continuity, now my lecture slides are linked to both my webcam and my live sketching.
Scenes or Different views of my presentation
So suddenly I have advanced the lecture, from a simple screen of my lecture to a screen showing all three components together, with one being a live drawing. I can, because I am controlling all of this on my third screen, flip between different scenes, my opening screen, the all in one screen, and if I want, just the live drawing, to fill the screen. I can make others so easily. and add text, pictures or other media easily. I suddenly enter the realm of the TV studio, and my presentation becomes specific and very focused, I do not need to have a lot of knowledge to do this, as all this can be achieved beforehand, and all I have to do is practice flipping my presentation screen,
Sharing in multidimensional a Sequential Videos
Sharing is also multidimensional, I can share straight to YouTube live, or just save as an mpg4 or Mov file or add a video feed or just as a screen share to MS Teams, zoom or google meet. I now can consider sharing as not just as a one of event, but as a multidimensional series of events that begin with my live presentation and my first choice is where should I place the live link, Twitch is the gamers preferred choice, but it’s very specific, my own favourite has to be YouTube, the live link setup is as easy as any other feed platform, and so easy to view, with almost no limit on viewers. The multidimensional aspect comes from the interactive part that YouTube can give in collecting videos together in a playlist, and how marketing can now pay a part in your lecture to promote not only the subject matter but the University as a whole.
The playlist is relatively new, but the power of pulling a sequence of videos together, and defining the order is very powerful, especially as you can add videos not used in the slide presentation. Some of our videos are singular in that they are not linked to any other video, either by the content or are part of a bigger subject. But so many of my videos are part of a bigger picture, and should therefore be linked. Traditionally this is done by adding shared links within a presentation in the hope they will be seen and followed.
Universities and manufacturers, in particular, might not want such an open platform such as YouTube but would like it kept in a more private environment such as MS Teams, in which case the use of a video feed specific to Teams might well be the more interesting output. This is provided as an app downloaded from the OBS site to give that specific function.
OBS is just underneath the Professional
Typical of so many open software, OBS has a very lively Forum that has a lot of help and discussion, (OBS Forums, 2020)1 this enables updates on a rather frequent basis, adding new features as suggested by the user base.
There are other portals and software that provide a similar service and program, but they require a subscription, ok the online versions overcome that one sticking point for Chromebook users in the lack of a package, although OBS is available on the Linux side of Chromebooks, and mostly it’s the same as the Mac and Windows version, but not everyone feels comfortable playing with Linux. So the online web versions do offer a great alternative, if somewhat limited in the way they can be added to by very specific apps, that OBS allows programmers to add specific functionality that aids a particular need.
One specific section is that of presenting to audiences on programs like MS Teams, Zoom and Google Meet. These programs require a video feed, OBS out of the box does not have this feature, but there is an app that gives this. For Web-based versions of OBS, adding another screen share of the feed via YouTube overcomes this.
Lectures become conferences — Chat becomes the Norm
Suddenly it becomes quite clear, a simple lecture can become a lot more with links to presenters feeds being fed into OBS and multi viewport viewing being the norm. Part of this new world is the constant chat, Lectures often control the student feedback asking for questions at the end, in which a lot of students have forgotten the question after an hour of lecturing,
But chat windows allow questions to be stored, and in some cases answered by other students. Chat windows are not just plain text, they offer links and portals, adding to the already blooming multidimensional facilities that OBS can give. Shy students not wanting to voice an opinion or ask a question, not have a very familiar format in Chat to ask questions/
Analytics of Viewer Chat
I mentioned earlier the power of Feedback in the form of chat windows. Live comments are the same as we see in Zoom or MS Teams as available from an online OBS community that add features to a really powerful program. and a heap of YouTube videos to help understand the basics of this easy to learn program. But do you want multiple chat windows, not really, I tend to see YouTube Live as being the best, but I am thinking that as lecturers we do not want to share that much, so a private chat linked to the OBS platform is a far easier area to control and there is an app for it?
The software OBS might be free, but they need to carefully list and spec your equipment is paramount. I might have mentioned earlier, I run my version of OBS on a Mac or a MacBook Pro of about 5 years maturity, it’s got a lot of memory and I tend these days to keep most of my storage online in Google Drive, so disk space is currently ok. But a good spec machine is always desirable, and more importantly, so is your home office WiFi, I use BT, but the second Virgin gets in striking distance I will swap to get the fast Broadband, and if Google ever gets to the UK, and offers 1gb upload and 2 gb download, well you can see where I will be heading.
My personal Screens for what it’s worth are not state of the art, both HDMI fed through a small little HDMI dongle that allows two screens in addition to my laptop screen. Real estate is king in this new world, so add as many screens as you need and can power.
I say power, in my small study, or smallest bedroom, I have just two double gang wall sockets, this is hardly enough, so I purchased a rather useful extension cable with a power surge, and also USB power outlets plus an overload button, and almost all of the day to day equipment runs of this extension unit.
Desk space is also important, I have at least one notebook open at all times, together with two screens, my laptop, the Visualiser, and mouse area, plus phone charging and general paperwork, not everything can be digitised. So plan your desk space.
External Live Site Recording
So far we have only discussed one area of the many that OBS offers. The use of live broadcasting opens up so many possibilities for recording so many aspects of our industry from factory manufacturing is so many different materials and discussing trades applying their skills to say brickwork whilst students watch online, and can ask direct questions,
Going onsite with a laptop, and a simple webcam is going to open up OBS to site visits and more, add a decent camera like my Nikon D7500, fed into OBS via a HDMI cable and a voice-over adds another dimension to the presentation, live chats can ask direct questions to both the contractors or surveyor. Saving recordings to YouTube offers expanded viewing
OBS to CAD
It does not take a lot of imagination to extend this new way of presenting into the real world of CAD and exploring how we might use it to show how a detail might be better explained than a simple 1:5 detail in Autocad, the ability of a cad program to use features already in place in Sketchup will be lifted to new heights by adding slide notes, a voice over and the video of eaves detail slowly coming to life.
Covid 19 may have decimated the economy, and killed many thousand innocent victims, but it has forced open an alternative presentation and lecturing methodology onto both students and Lecturers alike and helped lift the humble slide presentation to an almost TV quality status. Bringing new ways of working that opens up lecturing into the modern digital age, and solve the need for more informed online lecturing.
I mention in the last section that OBS may well burst it’s boundaries as we see and find more ways to use this technology. Drawing a detail and hoping it is good enough to show how why and when a material should be applied, is difficult enough, but adding a slide presentation, live sketching and a Voice over to a CAD detail is something else and has yet to be explored
Is this method of presenting limited to the construction industry, not a chance I can easily see this method being applied to so many different industries, all wanting to lecture to students, but this can easily be applied to training or keeping office staff updated.
What’s next, Google is at heart a marketing organisation bedded in the search industry. We should now pay attention to marketing our videos as part of any Universities advertisement of its courses.
Are we heading into more online courses MOOCs or massive online open courses are already with us, do they show the way? With less in-person Campus visits limited to specific personal tutorials, and universities being seen as research establishments with limited lecturing.
- OBS Forums. 2020. OBS Forums. [online] Available at: <https://obsproject.com/forum/> [Accessed 16 September 2020].
- OBS Forums. 2020. OBS Forums. [online] Available at: <https://obsproject.com/forum/> [Accessed 16 September 2020].
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