Build a $150 Studio

IMG_4533  Our $100 studio gets $50 worth of lighting.

If you’ve been following along, you’ve already read about the $100 studio we built in an old office to record better audio and video resources for our students. We’ve recently installed $50 worth of lights to get the studio ready for video production.  Here’s what we used:

Item  #  Cost  Total
4′ two-light shop light  2 $14.98 $29.96
8 1/2″ clamp light  2 $7.85 $15.70
CFL bulbs – daylight (2 pack)  1 $9.98 $9.98
Total:  $55.64

Again, we did come a few dollars over our target of $50, but we’re in the neighborhood. Our list does not include bulbs for the shop lights (I brought in four bulbs from a twelve-pack I had in my garage) or the power strips we plugged the lights into because we scrounged those from around the office.

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The installation was relatively straightforward. We hung the shop lights as close to our green screen wall as possible in order to wash the wall with light evenly. An evenly lit green screen is easier to replace with another image or video in postproduction using iMovie or a similar application. We attached a paper baffle using magnets to try to keep the light from the shop lights from backlighting the subject. Green paper was not necessary, but it was readily available so we used it.

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We hung the clamp lights from the ceiling at approximately a 45-degree angle from the subject. The goal is to light the subject from just above her eyes, which means these lights may be a little high, but the ceiling was an easy way to hang them and keep them out of the way. We used binder clips to attach parchment paper over the bulbs to diffuse the light, making it less harsh. In the photo, you can see that we have added a second light (for two on each side). We did this to make sure there was plenty of light on the subject. Although the CFL lightbulbs do warm up and become brighter after about five minutes, they still have to compete with all of the light reflecting off of the green screen. So, we added the second set of lights to be sure there was plenty of light, though these may not be absolutely necessary.

Each set of lights, left and right, are plugged into a power strip on the wall. None of the lights have switches, so the switch on the power strip becomes an easy way to turn them on and off without having to plug or unplug them. Finally, the last critical detail was to get “daylight” bulbs rated at 6500K. This is the best light temperature for most cameras. Fortunately, daylight bulbs were easy to acquire and not any more expensive than other temperatures (warm, cool, etc.)

So, for a few bucks at your local home improvement warehouse, you can find plenty of lights to outfit your studio on a budget. Our next step is to test a few camera / microphone combinations to see what will fit our budget and be quick and easy to use for anyone in our program who wants to make a video. Stay tuned.

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Tips and Tricks for DIY Educational Videos

Screen Shot 2014-07-11 at 11.53.47 AMScreenshot from Wistia.com/learning

Now that we have our $100 studio put together, we have to figure out how to use it. After a little Googling, I came across Wistia.com’s Learning Center, a “hub to teach, learn, and discuss video marketing.” Don’t let the term marketing trip you up. The tips on this site are categorized into video strategy and concepting, video production, and video marketing. The first two certainly apply to creating your own educational materials and parts of the third might also be helpful.

Not surprisingly, all of the tips are presented in well-crafted, short, edutaining videos. The overarching goal is to get you up and running quickly, cheaply and easily, so a wide range of options are presented — from $600 microphones to squeezing decent videos out of a camera you may already have — an iPhone.

Some highlights for me include the Down and Dirty Lighting Kit, which explains how to setup good quality lighting for under $100; Choosing a Microphone, which advocates for a shotgun mic over a lavalier, but anything over what comes with your camera; and Shooting for the Edit, which has lots of great ideas for recording that will make your life easier in post production.

There have been a couple of videos that don’t really apply to what I want or need to do (like Get Creative with Lenses, because we’re not planning to shoot with a DSLR camera) but even those are well crafted and interesting to watch. I’d recommend all of these videos to anyone making their own videos, with or without a studio.

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Serious Games by Lucas Pope

Screen Shot 2014-07-07 at 10.14.26 AM (2)

Welcome to The Republia Times.  You are the new editor-in-chief.

The war with Antegria is over and the rebellion uprising has been crushed. Order is slowly returning to Republia.

The public is not loyal to the government.

It is your job to increase their loyalty by editing The Republia Times carefully. Pick only stories that highlight the good things about Republia and its government.

You have 3 days to raise the public’s loyalty to 20.

As a precaution against influence, we are keeping your wife and child in a safe location.

So begins this simple, engaging, Flash-based game by Lucas Pope called The Republia Times. The first time I played it, I was charmed by the simple graphics, which reminded me of games I used to play on my Apple IIe. When I learned that the game was created in a 48-hour game-making competition, I was impressed that there were any graphics at all.

As described in the initial instructions, above, the player begins as the editor of The Republia Times, which is pretty clearly the voice of the government’s Ministry of Media. Your task is simple enough; choose from the stories that roll through the news feed and choose how much prominence to give them in the newspaper layout at right. (See the screenshot, above.) You quickly learn from playing the game that your decisions affect the number of readers and their loyalty to the government, both of which are important to your faceless supervisors and, therefore, the well-being of you and your family.

This task is simple enough, but a more complex story of Republia soon bleeds through the game and your decisions quickly become more complicated. I won’t give away the details of the plot — the game is quick and easy (and free!) to play so try it yourself to get the full story — but just when you think you have learned to play the game, it hits you with another twist, which is a nice metaphor for life when you think about it.

The advantage that interactive media like games and simulations have over traditional media like newspapers, magazines, and television is the variety of possible user experiences. Everyone who plays The Republia Times will have a different experience. Some will quickly deduce the effect their editorial choices have whereas others won’t make the connection as easily. Different players will choose different sides and follow their own path to the end. And because the game is replayable, players can try different strategies and make different choices each time they play to test different strategies and hypotheses to explore the entirety of the game. All of this can add another layer of interest to classroom discussions.

I haven’t yet used this game with students in a classroom, but I would like to. Although government manipulation of the press could be a sensitive topic for some international students, this game is based in a clearly fictional country, which can make the topic abstract enough to make conversations more comfortable than, say, news articles about specific countries that students may have personal ties to. Additionally, the game and story are ripe for discussions like What is the author of the game is trying to communicate? Where does he stand on the issues described in the game? and What can you learn from this game, if anything?

The Republia Times is a good, quick, and free introduction to serious or art games. For a deeper dive into the genre, consider some of Lucas Pope’s other games: 6 Degrees of Sabotage (free), a game that explores the concept of six degrees of separation; The Sea Has No Claim (free), like Minesweeper but with more varied and limited resources; and Papers, Please ($9.99), a dystopian document thriller (watch the trailer here). Just because these games are serious, doesn’t mean they aren’t fun ways to begin some challenging conversations.

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Building a $100 Studio

panorama 3a_small

Like many educators, we find ourselves producing more and more online content.  Currently, to record audio, we try to find a quiet room and record directly onto our laptops, which makes for pretty lousy audio.  For video, the process is the same, including stacking furniture and books to get the webcam in our laptops to the best possible position.  Far from ideal.  As we move to more and more audio and video production, the lack of a dedicated studio space is becoming and issue.  So, we decided build a dedicated studio.

Like most educational organizations, cost is big a factor.  We just don’t have thousands of dollars to throw at the latest 4K cameras.  We also don’t need a full-blown Hollywood studio to make materials for our students to view on the web.  We started by looking at acoustical foam as a way to insulate our space, but this quickly added up to hundreds of dollars for our 10′ x 12′ room.  Our search for other options led us to Justin Troyer, OSU’s resident media services expert and author of Medialogue, who showed us a studio on campus that he had insulated with mover’s blankets.  This looked to be a solution to some of our biggest audio issues because they would both help to block out external noise and reduce the echo within the room.

We had also been struggling with what sort of background to use for video production.  We were leaning towards a velvet or velour curtain in a neutral color because it would help to further absorb the echo within the studio.  But that fabric is expensive and it would lock us into a single background for every video, which is not ideal.  Justin suggested a green screen, which can be removed digitally and replaced with almost anything.  He has several different-sized pop-up green screens which are easy to put behind the video subjects.  But in the end we decided to got with another option he suggested: paint a wall green.  This saves both money and space because the wall does not have to be set up or stored when not in use.

So, after starting with an empty office space, we used the following items to create our studio:

Item  #  Cost  Total
Mover’s Blankets – Harbor Freight  6  $7.99  $47.94
Light-Duty Ceiling Hooks – Home Depot (4 pack)  4  $1.49  $5.96
Gallon Behr Premium Plus Ultra Interior Latex Paint – Sparkling Apple  1  $30.98  $30.98
Assorted painting sundries (roller covers, masking tape)  $15.87
Total:  $100.75

We came in just over $100, which is pretty close to our target.  Included in the costs are items that got used and disposed of while we were painting (roller covers and masking tape) but not items that I already had at home that I brought in to use (paint roller, roller tray, brushes).  I also filled in a few holes in the wall with my own putty and putty knife.  You may need to factor in additional costs if you don’t have access to these basic tools.

In the end, we incurred one final cost which was to purchase a short curtain rod and rings to which allow us to slide the mover’s blanket out from in front of the door, which makes getting in and out much, much easier.  The rod and rings cost just under $22.

Now the real fun begins.  You can see from the picture that we already have a small table, chair, microphone stand, and camera tripod.  The table will be used for straight audio recording, which is why we wrapped the end of one mover’s blanked around it to enclose it on three sides.  We still need to find a microphone or two, a video camera, and some lights.  Stay tuned as we work on acquiring these items to complete our studio.

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The List of Lists

dictionaries

I’ve been tinkering with AntConc, Laurence Anthony’s free concordancer, which has led me down a bit of a rabbit hole of lists generated by corpus linguists over the past 60 years.  I’ve listed a few that I’ve used, sometimes within AntConc, to analyze students’ writing.  If you’ve taught students to investigate their linguistic hunches via the Corpus of Contemporary American English (COCA), you might also consider teaching them to put their own writing into a tool like AntConc to analyze their own writing as well.  By including the lists below a blacklist (do not show) or a whitelist (show only these), students can hone in on a more specific part of their vocabulary.  Most of these lists are available for download, which means you can be up and running with your own analysis very quickly.

The lists (in chronological order):

General Service List (GSL) – developed by Michael West in 1953; based on a 2.5 million word corpus.  (Can you imagine doing corpus linguistics in 1953?  Much of it must have been by hand, which is mind boggling.)  Despite criticism that it is out of date (words such as plastic and television are not included, for example), this pioneering list still provides about 80% coverage of English.

Academic Word List (AWL) – developed by Averil Coxhead in 2000; 570 words (word families) selected from a purpose-built academic corpus with the 2000 most frequent GSL words removed; organized into 9 lists of 60 and one of 30, sorted by frequency.  Scores of textbooks have been written based on these lists, and for good reason.  In fact, we have found that students are so familiar with these materials, they test disproportionately highly on these words versus other advanced vocabulary.

Academic Vocabulary List (AVL) – the 3000 most frequent words in the 120 million words in the academic portion of the 440 million word Corpus of Contemporary American English (COCA). This word list includes groupings by word families, definitions, and an online interface for browsing or uploading texts to be analyzed according to the list.

New General Service List (NGSL) – developed by Charles Browne, Brent Culligan, and Joseph Phillips in 2013; based on the two-billion-word Cambridge English Corpus (CEC); 2368 words that cover 90.34% of the CEC.

New Academic Word List (NAWL) – based on three components: the CEC Academic Corpus; two oral corpora, the Michigan Corpus of Academic Spoken English (MICASE) and the British Academic Spoken English (BASE) corpus; and on a corpus of published textbooks for a total of 288 million words. The NAWL is to the NGSL what the AWL is to the GSL in that it contains the 964 most frequent words in the academic corpus after the NGSL words have been removed.

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Raw. What is it good for?

students vs teachers-1 cropped

When I first came across Raw, a free, online data visualization tool, I channeled my inner Edwin Starr and asked, “What is it good for?”  It turns out the answer is “absolutely everything.”  Or pretty close to it.

Raw is extremely user friendly.  It’s built on D3.JS, which is pretty powerful.  If you, like me, haven’t had time to explore D3 in depth (or if, also like me, you’re not sure you have the skills to take it on,) Raw greatly simplifies the process.  And all of the data is processed in your browser, which means your data is never copied and stored on their servers.

So, what can Raw do for you?  Well take your favorite data set and paste it into the text box (or choose from one of the four example data sets provided).  Then choose from one of the 15 chart types and drag components for your data into the axes or other options for the cart type you have chosen.  You can do this as many times as you like to get the data to try on different options.  Finally, customize your visualization by adjusting the size, scale, and colors of your visualization before choosing how you want to export your results.  It’s amazingly easy!

I created the visualization at the top of this post by feeding in some data on teachers (left) and students (right).  The lines connecting them represent classes that the students had with each teacher with thin lines for one semester and thick ones for the next.  I wanted to explore how students move through our program.  Here, it’s easy to see that most students move up from one level to the next, but there are some that skip levels and some that repeat levels.  The students and teachers are not arranged in order from lowest to highest level, though this would be possible and might make it easier to see these trends.

There are lots of other options within Raw and, depending on what your data include, some may be more useful than others.  But the beauty of Raw is that you are only a couple of clicks away from any of them, making it very easy to try several visualizations until you find one you like.

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The Largest Vocabulary in Hip Hop

turntable“technics sl-1200 mk2″ by Rick Harrison / Flickr

I spent much of my youth listening to hip hop, or, as it was called back then, rap music.  This was long before MP3 players and long before you could Google your favorite song lyrics.  It was also long before I knew anything about textual analysis, let alone before I thought about using unique words per n words as a measure of variety in vocabulary.

So, when Matt Daniels published this piece called The Largest Vocabulary in Hip Hop last month, it was both a flash back to the music of my youth and a flash forward to some of my current interests in corpus linguistics.

Daniels does a very nice analysis, so I won’t repeat much of it here.  Just follow the link and scroll down to see the details.  Be aware that some of the analysis incorporates a bit of slang that may not make it completely kid friendly.

Most noteworthy in the analysis are the two baselines of comparison:  Shakespeare (5170 unique words per 35,000 words) and Herman Melville (6,022 unique words in the first 35,000 words of Moby Dick).  Of the 85 rappers analyzed, 16 use a wider vocabulary than Shakespeare and 3 are above Melville.  So, if you ever thought all hip hop was a simplistic art form, you may want to take another look.  It’s amazing what an analysis of the data can show us.

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