My First Video Course

You are reading an older blog post. Please be aware that the information contained in it may be technologically outdated. This text may not necessarily reflect my current opinions or capabilities.

This is an English translation of a blog post that was originally published in German.

October 24th, 2011

As some of you may already know, I'm running a tutorial on LaTeX for students in the Computer Science department this semester, half of which is a video tutorial on YouTube (or as downloaded video files).

The need for a LaTeX tutorial was probably identified by the student office and Jan von Soosten approached me to ask if I could take over. I had never before conducted a complete course independently and on my own responsibility, the freedom of design beckoning to me ultimately attracted me more than my semester workload could deter me.

Concept and Inception

For some time now I've wanted to do a video tutorial along the lines of Khan Academy, but I've always lacked the time and the occasion. This opportunity provided me with both.

The basic idea of Khan Academy is the following: The time available to teachers and learners together is finite and valuable. In the traditional model of university teaching, consisting of lectures and exercises, knowledge is imparted during the attendance time, and students do the practicing and applying of the knowledge alone at home or in small groups. Pedagogy has long preached that the application of knowledge is at least as important for the learning process as listening and absorbing. So why not try the experiment of letting learners do the knowledge transfer in the form of videos alone at home, and apply the knowledge and work on tasks together during the attendance time?

We live in a time when audio and video data can be made accessible worldwide without insurmountable technical difficulties. After overcoming a few technical hurdles, existing lectures can be easily bundled and audiovisually preserved. This is already happening at the University of Hamburg and is very well received by students. Asynchronous knowledge transfer can work well in this form and complement things like textbooks in a meaningful way. This encourages me to simply turn the old world around 180° and let my knowledge transfer take place in the form of videos. Does that necessarily work better than the tried and true model? I don't know, but it's definitely worth a try. As a side effect, a worldwide freely accessible video course for LaTeX beginners even outside our department will be released.

Let's Learn!

However, the concrete design of my videos is significantly different from typical Lecture2Go recordings. The thing that's visible almost all the time is my LaTeX editor and the PDF viewer that goes with it. I don't have a camera pointed at me, but I do speak into the microphone and comment as I work. There is an intro/outro and a catchy theme song thanks to Creative Commons: (A) in Mono – Cube-shaped. These design patterns and elements come from the “Let's Play” metacommunity on YouTube. For those to whom this means nothing: you take a PC or console game, play and comment on it, and record the whole thing. This then results in lots of videos that are combined into series and seasons. Many Let's players go to incredible lengths to captivate and entertain their viewers.

It's probably something that can be very entertaining for some people, while some others will grab their heads and wonder how anyone can find it fun. Personally, I follow a handful of Let's Players on YouTube and have been able to pick up a few tricks there for creating my own videos. However, the similarities are not limited to the design tools, but also extend to the approach: My videos deliberately don't have the character of a movie or a meticulously planned tutorial, but I have at best a rough idea of what I want to do beforehand, then – like a Let's Player – I just get started and edit things later as needed, including my mistakes and problems and situations where I have no idea what's going wrong. This makes the whole thing look very authentic and also saves me additional work in post-production.

By the way, another source of inspiration are the software development lectures by Axel Schmolitzky. If you've ever attended them, you know how Axel uses live code demonstrations to show things off. There are strong parallels between these episodes and my videos.

What Now?

There was a considerable amount of feedback to my announcement email, a date was set and we will meet for the first time this week. By the way, that'll be on Friday from 12:15 to 13:45 in C-101, if someone wants to join spontaneously. If so please watch the first two lessons beforehand and bring your own laptop or a similar device.

At the moment it is too early to evaluate the viability of the concept. Technically, I can already say that the bit of video editing on my Linux desktop works great after some familiarization, see my blog entry “recordmydesktop and OGV.” Is anyone interested in details on post-processing with Kino?

YouTube also seems to work sufficiently well as a channel to reach virtually anyone interested. I have also looked into the “Community Video” section of and will sooner or later also offer the videos there in various file formats, in order to include those people who do not warm to YouTube for technical, ethical or other reasons. I haven't asked the Lecture2Go team yet this time whether they might also want to host the videos. Let's see, maybe something will work out.


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