Flipping the classroom: creating screencast lectures in Linux

I’m debating the idea (hype) of flipping the classroom for one of my classes next Fall where students watch lecture videos at home (or elsewhere) so I could spend class time doing more hands-on activities like discussing the art of data analysis and how to solve problems with statistics. I think Khan Academy, Udacity, and Coursera are doing a great service for humanity by offering high quality courses taught by excellent teachers online that are accessible to anyone with an internet connection.

I don’t claim to be a great teacher, but I think my own students might benefit from this pedagogical method. My main concern with this approach is that not all students will watch the lectures, just as how not all students read the assigned readings (guilty as a student). I guess I can give students short quizzes during lecture to push them to watch the videos. Also, I’ll give my usual challenging homework so that only students that study the material well could excel. By flipping the classroom, more material could be covered, students have access to the recordings in addition to my slides, and I could make sure everything I want to be said are recorded (as opposed to a live session where I could forget a few points). Lecture times can then be more interactive as opposed to me lecturing them for an hour.

I think most of the online education sites use Camtasia with a Wacom Cintiq to produce their videos. I use Linux and cannot afford such an expensive device. I plan on using a screencast software like recordMyDesktop or Istanbul to record the desktop screen and audio. For recordMyDesktop, I had issues with the encode on the fly option, which means recording very long videos could be an issue (1 minute of raw video takes up about 210MB, and 1 minute encoded video takes up about 8MB). Istanbul records on the fly without problem (I think). I haven’t tried recording for an hour and 20 minutes yet.

My plan is to create my lecture slides with LaTeX Beamer and use Xournal to annotate the slides as I’m lecturing; hopefully my Asus T101MT netbook is strong enough to do the recording as I utilize it’s touchscreen capabilities. I can just switch over to Emacs to illustrate data analysis in R when needed. My main concern now is where I could host these (large) videos…

Update 4/27/2012: Screencast with ffmpeg

After some testing, I think the best screencast software on Linux would have to be ffmpeg. First, remove ffmpeg and compile it from source based on the latest version per this post. Then, create screencast.sh:

#! /bin/bash
DATE=`date +%Y%m%d`
TIME=`date +%Hh%M`
ffmpeg -y -f alsa -ac 2 -i pulse -f x11grab -r 24 -s $(xwininfo -root | grep 'geometry' | awk '{print $2;}') -i :0.0 -c:v libx264 -preset veryfast -crf 22 -c:a libmp3lame -ar 44100 -ab 24k -threads 0 /tmp/screencast_$DATE-$TIME.mp4

For more libx264 options, see this page.

About Vinh Nguyen


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