#63 My first video
I recently endured a harrowing, horrifying, humbling, even humiliating experience. That’s right: I recorded my first video.
My first-ever online teaching experience begins today, September 14*. In preparation, I thought I’d record a brief video to introduce myself to my students, hoping to begin the process of establishing a bit of a connection even though I’ll probably never meet these students in person. I wanted the video to be brief, about five minutes or so. I’ve never followed a script in class, so I did not write a script for the video, hoping that non-scripted spontaneity would make it more appealing. But I did prepare some PowerPoint slides, partly to remember what I wanted to say, and also so the slides would occupy most of the screen with my face appearing only in a small corner. I wanted to use Zoom to make the video, just because I like to keep things simple. I’ve already used Zoom a bit, and I’ll be using Zoom for live sessions with my students this fall.
* This is the same date that was selected first and received draft number 1 in the infamous 1970 draft lottery. In post #9 (here), I describe a class activity that illustrates statistical thinking by analyzing those lottery results.
So, I entered the room that now serves as my home office, started my computer, opened Zoom, launched a new meeting, shared my screen, put my PowerPoint file in presentation mode, looked into the camera, pressed the record button, and started talking to myself …
I finished about seven-and-a-half minutes later, only 50% beyond my target time of five minutes*. I waited for Zoom to produce the recording, and then I eagerly pressed the play button. This is when the experience turned harrowing.
* Post #28 (here) pertains to my pervasive pet-peeve involving student misunderstandings of percentage differences.
I really don’t like watching myself on a screen, but I understand that many people feel this way about themselves, and Zoom use over the past six months has somewhat inured me to this unpleasant feeling. That wasn’t the harrowing part.
Those of you who know me, or have heard me give presentations, can probably anticipate that I found the horrifying part to be listening to my voice. For those of you who have never heard me: I have a very unusual and peculiar* speaking voice. It doesn’t sound nearly as odd to me in real life as it does on a recording. After listening to just the first few seconds of the Zoom recording, I was overcome by a desire to apologize to everyone who’s ever had to listen to me – students, colleagues, friends, wife, cats, … I only hope that this is something that you get used to and barely notice after a while.
* Friends use the word distinctive here to spare my feelings.
To be more specific, my voice tends to rise rather than fall at the end of sentences. This vocal pattern is sometimes referred to as “upspeak.” This is apparently a serious topic of research inquiry among linguists, and a Google search will provide a lot of information, references, and advice about upspeak. My favorite anecdote about this phenomenon is that novelist Richard Russo invested one of his characters with upspeak in his delightful satire of academic life Straight Man. Russo’s main character, the reluctant chairman of a college’s English department, describes the speaking voice of the department secretary as follows: Most of Rachel’s statements sound like questions. Her inability to let her voice fall is related to her own terrible insecurity and lack of self-esteem. To emphasize this aspect of her speaking voice, Russo uses a question mark at the end of Rachel’s sentences throughout the book?*
* Yes, I used that punctuation on purpose to demonstrate Russo’s technique.
In case you’re wondering whether I’m exaggerating about my own upspeaking, I’ll point out that during conference and workshop presentations, I often ask those in attendance to guess where I’m from. Just asking the question is usually good for a laugh, as people realize that I am acknowledging my unusual vocal inflections, and they’re often curious to know the answer. Common guesses often include Ireland, Scotland, Scandinavia, Canada, and the upper Midwest. None of those is correct*. I believe that my peculiar voice is more of an individual quirk than a regional dialect.
* I will reveal the answer later in this post.
After I overcame my revulsion at hearing my own voice enough to get back to work on my first video, I made and discarded several attempts due to mis-speakings and awkward pauses and the like. Then as I went through the fifth take, I thought I had a keeper. I successfully avoided the mis-speaking and pauses. I was saying what I wanted to say in a reasonable manner. As I got to the end, I was almost looking forward to playing it back to confirm that this would be the final take, the one to be posted for my students. It probably would have been, except for one flaw: I realized to my horror that I had been sharing and recording the wrong screen! I was sharing and recording my laptop screen rather than my monitor screen*, which was the one with the Powerpoint presentation!
* I’ve actually used just a laptop for the past 20 years until recently. Seeing that I would need to teach online in the fall, my wife very kindly bought me a new monitor a few months ago. As this story reveals, I’m still getting used to it.
A few takes later, I again thought I had a keeper, and I was certain that I had shared and recorded the correct screen this time. I was feeling very proud of myself, downright excited as I got to the last slide, in which I thanked students for taking the time to watch my first video. But then … My brain completely froze, and I couldn’t find the button to stop the recording! I don’t know whether the Zoom control bar was hidden behind the PowerPoint presentation or behind some other application or what, but I flailed about for a full 30 seconds, muttering to myself (and, of course, to the microphone) the whole time. I know this should be no big deal; it can’t be hard to edit out those last 30 seconds, but I didn’t know how to do that*!
* Now I wish that I had kept all of these outtakes. But I didn’t realize at the time that there would be so many, or that the experience would make such an impact on me that I would write a full, self-indulgent blog post about it.
I know that none of this was Zoom’s fault, but at this point I decided to learn the basics and record the next few takes with Screencast-o-matic. These actually went fairly well, and it only took a few more takes to end up with the final version that I posted for my students. All together, I spent many, many hours making a 7.5-minute video.
Just for fun, let me show you some of the slides from my first video presentation. I start by telling students where I’m from and pointing out that I slowly ventured a bit farther from home as I went to college and then graduate school and then my first teaching position:
I also wanted to let students know that while I am a very experienced teacher of statistics, I am a complete novice when it comes to teaching online courses:
To reveal a more personal side, I told students about some of my hobbies, along with some photos:
I have mentioned before (see posts #25 and #26 here and here) that I give lots of quizzes to my students. I plan to do that again with my online course this fall. In fact, I suspect that very frequent quizzes will be all the more useful in an online setting for helping to keep students on task, indicating what they should be learning, and providing them with feedback on their progress. I even decided to give them a quiz based on my self-introduction video. This is an auto-graded, multiple-choice quiz administered in our course management system Canvas. I expect this quiz to provide students with easy points to earn, because all of the answers appear in the video, and they can re-watch the video after they see the quiz questions. Here are the questions:
- In which state did I live for the first 39 years of my life? [Options: Arizona, California, Hawaii, Mississippi, Pennsylvania]
- How many states have I been in? [Options: 1, 13, 47, 50]
- What kind of pets have I had? [Options: Birds, Cats, Dogs, Fish, Snakes]
- Which of the following is NOT the name of one of my pets? [Options: Cosette, Eponine, Punxsutawney Phil, Puti]
- What is the name of my fantasy sports teams? [Options: Cache Cows, Domestic Shorthairs, Markov Fielders, Netminders, Sun Cats]
- For how many years have I been at Cal Poly? [Options: 2, 19, 31, 58]
- How much experience do I have with online teaching? [Options: None, A little, A lot]
- What was my primary project while on leave from Cal Poly for the past academic year? [Options: Playing online games, Proving mathematical theorems, Reading mystery novels, Starting a business, Writing a blog]
- What is my teaching philosophy? [Options: Ask good questions, Insist on perfection, Learn by viewing, Rely on luck]
- Am I funny? [Option: Well I try to be but I may not succeed often]
So, how did you do? The correct answers are: Pennsylvania, 47 (all but Arkansas, Mississippi, North Dakota), Cats, Punxsutawney Phil, Domestic Shorthairs, 19, None, Writing a blog, Ask good questions, Well I try to be but I may not succeed often.
P.S. If you would like to watch my first video for yourself, please bear in mind my warning about the peculiarity of my speaking voice. But if that does not dissuade you, the video can be found here.