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Mar 10 2009

Making a Training Video

Screen shot of YouTube video

One of my recent projects (one of several that seem to be taking me a little ways outside my “comfort zone”) was to create a training video documenting our new registration system, which will be opened up to students on April 6, 2009. Since I had never made a video before, I was a little nervous, but I was able to come up with a pretty snazzy video in a relatively short time. Read on to find out how I did it, and to see the finished product!

Getting Started

I have precisely zero experience working with video anything, so I felt it would be worthwhile to put in some time learning the product I would be using. I installed Camtasia on my PC and viewed TechSmith’s rather brilliant sequence of training videos; armed with what I had learned, I was pretty certain even I could produce something that might resemble a video.

The next step was to develop the content. I’ve been working closely with the people who are implementing the new system, so it was pretty simple for me to walk through the process on our test system and note down the steps. I sent my initial draft of the document to the group and incorporated feedback, giving us a solid, up-to-date script.

One important thing I made sure to cover in the script: the new system displays “error” messages when trying to register for:

  • a course without having taken a prerequisite course
  • a course requiring admission to a program of study without having been admitted to it
  • a lab without a corresponding lecture, and vice versa

and I made sure to include class sections that would demonstrate these messages, since most students will probably encounter them all at some point.

Once the script was ready, I found myself faced with a technical decision: do I try to capture the video and the audio at the same time (Camtasia 6 lets you do this), or should I create a video and lay down a narration track later? I decided that in order to get the timing correct on the video, it made sense to speak the script as I went along, and if I would be speaking anyway, I might as well record it.

One other hurdle remained. I needed to demonstrate logging into the production system, but the production system isn’t live. I didn’t want to waste video time explaining that “you login like this, but I’m going to go here” so I decided to pause the recording and switch systems on the fly – I would login to production, but switch the video to the test system and record it from that point forward. Only one person has noticed the “blip”, so I think it worked.

Capturing the Video

Well, all the groundwork had been laid, and there was nothing to be done but to do it. So, I took a deep breath, hit the big red button, and promptly got a server error on the test system. It took me about four attempts to get a capture I was happy with; what with the test system giving me the occasional error, me losing my place in the script, or my own tendency to hit both mouse buttons at once, resulting in pesky popup menus that obscure the screen, I had to stop and start over more than once. The second full run-through was pretty solid, and I was pretty sure I could edit out or live with the quirks.

Editing the Video

Most of my edits involved cutting out sections of video I didn’t need. The raw file was about 9:45 minutes long, and I snipped out little pieces here and there where I paused too longwhile speaking, where the system chugged while loading, or where I blundered the narration (luckily that only happened once). I ended up rerecording the last minute or so, because I had managed to get a right-click pop-up menu in the way, and couldn’t just cut it out, since I had important audio there. Note: It’s very important to position the microphone exactly as it was before; otherwise, the audio quality will change mid-video; I actually rerecorded the ending twice for this reason. Camtasia makes it easy to import a new clip and splice it in, so it took me next to no time to replace end of the main video with the new clip.

Overall, editing took maybe an hour, and the final cut runs 9:11 minutes.

Producing the Video

Camtasia offers a number of “production” options; I chose to use custom settings and create a Flash file for demoing to the group and to my bosses. Once it was clear the video was exactly what was desired, I created a .MOV version and sent it to the Office of Web and New Media, who uploaded it to our YouTube channel (here) and iTunes U site (here). YouTube compressed the video, so the clarity is not great, but the iTunes U version is full quality.

The Verdict

Total time spent: roughly eight hours, including installing Camtasia, prepping the script, capturing the content, editing it, and producing the final video. The end result was very well received, and is already in use in training sessions.

And here it is:

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