Video Recording a Class
September 1, 2010 7:03 PM   Subscribe

We want to record students giving presentations and give them a copy of the video afterwards for later review. The camera would be fixed in some way to the room (either to the ceiling or one of the walls) and connected to a computer where the recording would be done. What kind of camera would work? Can this be done on the cheap (as in not in the thousands of dollars)? If not, what alternatives exist?

It probably can be done with a webcam but something with better quality would be preferable (unless I'm underestimating current webcam technology?).

The idea behind the direct recording by a computer is to avoid having to change media in between students, sudden lack of space, or having to get a ladder to change media.
posted by Memo to Technology (10 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
How long would you be recording for? Any decent digital video recorder (try the Flip perhaps) on a tripod should be able to do a couple of hours without "changing media" (I mean, even VHS can do 2 hours) and the mounting it on the wall or ceiling seems like overkill -- this is what a tripod is for.
posted by proj at 7:21 PM on September 1, 2010

Your best bet is probably to get a camcorder that records to DVD. You should be able to get a pretty good camcorder for $300 or less and the discs can be had for less than $1 each. Each disc should get you about 30 minutes though maybe you'll have the option of changing the recording quality to get more time. I don't really know but 30 minutes per disc for sure. You should be able to watch the video from the camera, on a laptop, or in any DVD player as soon as you stop recording.

You would need to change discs between recordings but you could do it between each presentation and then give the student the disc. It might not be ideal but I think it would the easiest to set up and manage.
posted by VTX at 7:27 PM on September 1, 2010

(Very very limited knowledge about this stuff, here)

I had to do something similar, for a project that required me to take photographs from a camera hooked up to a computer.

My only word of advice is...if you don't go the webcam route, make sure you get a Camcorder that has a firewire option. Apparently if you can only connect the camera to the computer via USB or another type of cable, the computer will only read it as a harddrive, not as a camera.

I could be completely misinformed was a really brief project, and we took the info we were given and made it work with that. As long as you've got a program on your computer that will acknowledge the camera and allow you to control it through the computer (maybe Camtasia does this?), I'd think it be pretty simple to do.
posted by Squee at 7:36 PM on September 1, 2010

Cheap and easy approach: get a Flip and put it on a tripod. Record presentations, being sure to start/stop recording between each presentation (so you don't have to split them up later). At the end of the session, plug the Flip into a computer and copy the files off (you could connect the Flip right to students' laptops if any have them). Drop the video files into something like DropSend or SendShack or MediaFire or any other free large file sending service (you could also use the school's server if you have this capability) and send the files to the appropriate students. Then erase the Flip and you're ready for next time.

Shouldn't take very long at all if you have the email addresses handy. You could scale this up to a better camera and better microphone if you have the budget. I'll note that Flip cameras do not have an external microphone jack. OTOH, if the camera isn't too far away, it should be fine for this use. The nice thing about the Flip is that you can connect it directly to any computer without needing special software, so transferring the videos is easy.

Flip also has discounts for education and there's a 2 for 1 deal for US schools, though my hunch from your profile is that this isn't for the US.
posted by zachlipton at 8:24 PM on September 1, 2010 [2 favorites]

I don't have any specific product advise but I will caution you not to over look the importance of good audio. Horrible audio in a recording is just painful to deal when you are watching something. Generally speaking the onboard microphones for most consumer grade camera is middling at best.
posted by mmascolino at 8:57 PM on September 1, 2010

I think you're underestimating the quality of HD webcams in good light ($45 on amazon). But a cheap HD camcorder could be fine too ($135 on newegg). Whatever you do, use an audio source closer to the speaker so you don't pick up all the other random noise.

Even better, most schools have libraries that rent audio equipment. The librarians will at least know more about it. Renting a shotgun mic at the least wouldn't be a bad idea.
posted by devilsbrigade at 9:33 PM on September 1, 2010 [2 favorites]

"Fixed to the wall"

Is there a "loss" issue where the camera might be stolen?

Webcams are still exactly that - webcams. I was in a class a couple of years ago that asked us to bring VHS tapes. What a joke.

Maybe ask for suggestions for the best (price/perfomance) digitalSLRs with movie-taking capabilities or camcorders (on a decent tripod) with SD (or some other flash media) card storage. Take video, pop out SD card, pop SD card in laptop, burn/upload/send media file to CD/DVD or server/mailbox. It's also easy to have a different video file/movie for individuals so you don't have to burn the entire day onto a single disc. All the equipment can fit into a lockbox, and lockbox can be put inside a secured office/room.
posted by porpoise at 9:33 PM on September 1, 2010

I think devilsbrigade is right - a decent webcam will be good enough for students to see and review their work, assuming it doesn't have to be production quality. Anyway, if you were teaching a film/media studies course requiring production quality video, you wouldn't need to ask this question. Most webcams come bundled with "grab to disk" capacities in the software, so just start it up, remember to save to a different file for each student, and then get the students to bring in memory sticks to take the files away on. If you throw in the cost of the tripod I expect you could still keep it under $100.
posted by handee at 1:45 AM on September 2, 2010

Nthing the rec's for a Flip on a tripod. Cheap, and the built-in mic is perfectly fine unless they're in a room next to some road construction. Just make sure the room has decent lighting.

Flip has it's own built in software; you just plug it in and it does the work as far as installing, grabbing videos. I use iMovie myself because that works better for me, but you don't have to do that. Downloading stuff to the computer takes about 10 minutes max.

It does add an extra step, but the sound/picture is going to be better than a webcam.

I will add one caveat; recharging the Flip can take four hours, and it only holds two hours of recording at a time. If you're going to be doing a lot of interviews in a given day, that might make it not as worth your while.
posted by emjaybee at 6:16 AM on September 2, 2010

Response by poster: I think I made a mistake by offering too much info in the OP. What I should have asked is "What kind of camera do I need to record directly to a computer (hopefully with better quality than a webcam)?"

The camera needs to be fixed to the ceiling because anything lower wouldn't get a clear view of the presenter due to the way the room is arranged. Changing media would be an inconvenience and a high tripod would just exchange that to having to lower it after every presentation instead of having to climb up.

I do appreciate your answers though, I hadn't thought about the sound problem or that HD webcams could be good enough.
posted by Memo at 12:11 PM on September 2, 2010

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