Upgrading the TV studio

July 27, 2015

I wrote this original series of articles back in 2010, based on the TV studio I set up in 2008.   Well, the march of progress or time or whatever has begun to catch up with the equipment.

warning-obsolete-meme

The trouble with a TV studio is that everything works with everything else.  I couldn’t just replace the SD cameras (and not just because they still work), but the Vision Mixer only works with the SD footage.

HD or not HD

I’m not a huge fan of HD for school studios, the quality and file size have always meant SD is perfectly fine, but time does move on.  One of the Vision Mixers was starting to fail and I realised that if the camcorders did stop working, they couldn’t be replaced with a similar model.  All camcorders available now are HD only.

The conclusion was unavoidable: It was time to move to HD

vMix

Deciding to switch to HD forced the decision to replace the video mixer.  I knew about one option, the professional NewTek Tricaster – a product I have coveted from afar for a long time.  The trouble is, last I looked, the Tricaster retails at around £6000.   I put in the entire original TV studio for that amount!

acb

That’s when I called Planet eStream, they supply Cramlington with their video streaming system and are really nice guys.  I explained:

  • I have a small amount of money in the budget
  • I need to be able to record, stream and edit the videos before uploading
  • Premiere Pro will not capture USB, so I can’t buy an SD adaptor
  • I have a spare HD 3MOS camcorder

Their solution – vMix

vMix's interface.   Note: that's not me

vMix’s interface. Note: that’s not me

vMix is a free and/or cheap “studio in a download”.  It can take almost any type of image source from cameras and files to PowerPoints and screen captures and allow you to mix, merge, chromakey them in a bunch of different combinations.

Before we upgraded we had 4 PCs in the TV studio, now it’s a little different:

Before upgrading After upgrading
  • Capture and streaming PC
  • Background PC
  • Captions PC
  • Teleprompter PC
  • vMix PC
  • Teleprompter PC

Four PCs also meant 4 heat sources in a small room.  It’s really surprising how much difference only have 2 has made.

In the end, we did spend a bit of money.  I bought an i7 PC with a Magewell capture card.  This capture card takes 2 HD inputs and passes them over to vMix.   We’ve also spent $60 on vMix HD so that we have more flexibility with output images.

Virtual Sets

We’ve also been playing around with the virtual sets in vMix which adds an extra dimension and bizarrely, we’ve found we only need one physical camera to act as a two camera studio.

bear-with-me-en-ffffff

We have an HD camera, outputting at 1920 x 1080 pixels.  We stream to whiteboard PCs around the school site, so we stream in SD to avoid bandwidth issues (actually output size is 800 x 480).  This means that an HD virtual set can have multiple views which don’t have to even overlap!

Still from the fascinating exposé we did into the private life of the traffic light's Green Man.

Still from the fascinating exposé we did into the private life of the traffic light’s Green Man.

So, from this single camera, I get:

  • A wide, establishing shot
  • A close up on the first presenter
  • A close up on the second presenter

Being able to cut or zoom-in/out so we’re not always on the same shot makes the video assemblies more interesting and having a locked off camera has reduce pressures on the team.  It no longer takes three of us to run an assembly.  One member of staff can do the whole thing.

I’m a huge fan of vMix.  It’s made filming so much easier.  The chromakey is very easy to set up and you can even save your set up so you don’t have to do much more than load it in each time.  It doesn’t hurt that it’s running on a top-spec PC either.  At one point last term we streamed an assembly from the computer running the Planet eStream encoder, vMix and vMix’s desktop capture.  I don’t think the fan even kicked in.

vMix seems to have a strong online community to who are frequently requesting changes and importantly, it seems those requests are being listened to and acted on.


Google Email Content filtering

May 20, 2015

At Cramlington, we use Gmail for our student mail.  It’s a good system that ties in with the devices we provide to our students through 1:1 schemes (Android tablets and Chromebooks).

Chuck Norris Gmail

Modding Gmail

There can be some issues using a third-party external email service.  For instance, we made the decision to prevent students having external email access.  They can’t email anyone outside the school.  If you are an administrator for your school’s Gmail system, you can control this access through the Routing section in the Advanced settings of the Admin Console.

Outbound Routing Settings for Gmail

Outbound Routing Settings for Gmail

Stop swearing!

Swearing meme

The other side of student email is teaching responsible use.  If we don’t prepare students for interacting appropriately with others online, then we have failed as educators.

Students are like everyone else.  I’ve used swear words in personal email, but I don’t think I’ve ever sent an email which included profanity from a professional account.  It’s just not professional.   I don’t think kids are unique in not understanding the difference between personal and professional, but at least we can help teach kids the differences.

Gmail has content filtering possible.  If you go into the Advanced settings of the Gmail Admin Console, there is a section marked Objectionable Content.

Objectionable content settings

Objectionable content settings

I’ve no idea where it came from originally, but here’s a spreadsheet of inappropriate words, alternate spellings etc which can be uploaded to the Objectionable Content:

Banned_words.xls
(Don’t judge me on the contents)

Any email that comes through containing one of these words gets re-routed to my email inbox.  One additional aspect that was a bonus is this also works if a student shares a document or comments on a document which also contains inappropriate word.

Side effects

I’ve already touched on students using their emails for (very) personal communication.  Spelling mistakes and abbreviations have also caused emails to be blocked.  I generally scan the email to see what the problem word was.  I’ve removed a few words from the list (e.g. job) which is only inappropriate in certain context.

I do wish our teachers would stop shortening ‘Assessment‘ documents to ‘Ass‘!

There have been a few instances of party invitations being blocked because kids insist on using text speak:

Will you cum to my party?

For some reason, we also get quite a few copied-and-pasted rap lyrics emailed round.

The content filter has led to a few detentions and highlighted some bullying issues.  In the few instances parents have been called in to discuss their child’s email language.  Seeing the email printed out has never failed to produce an appropriately annoyed response. :)

I don’t like having this access.  On one occasion an email was re-routed due to a mis-spelling.  Scanning the email, I saw it was a student talking about how upset they were as their pet had died.   I was really tempted to let her tutor know, so they could be supportive.  In the end, I didn’t.  It was an invasion of privacy and while accidental, there was nothing I could do which would make that invasion appropriate.


Creating a ‘FrogLearn Widget’

April 24, 2015

First things first.  You can’t actually create a FrogLearn widget and have it appear in the sidebar, but this hack lets you come close in terms of functionality.

meme_morpheus

What it is

In a nutshell, I built a webpage which allows users to set up a date countdown.  Pressing the submit button generates a URL which can be pasted into a FrogLearn Embed a Website widget.

Frog's Embed a Website widget

Embed a Website

What you need

In this example, I created a webpage with jQuery embed and code to run a date countdown.  It’ s not my countdown code.  I got it from trulycode.com.   I’ve just adapted it into a form so that anyone can quickly set up an event countdown.

You can download the web page here

When you first open the page, you’ll see this form, with instructions:

Form to add a date

Filling in the form, adding  title, date and time and clicking Create a countdown sends you to the same page (with  few variables added).  The page now looks like this:

Countdown display

And that’s it!

If you copy the address of the webpage and paste that address into the Embed a Website widget, you’re able to create a customised, easy to edit “widget”.

Summary

Hopefully you can see the potential for this kind of hack.   It’s not limited to just this one resource.   By creating a simple form which generates a URL, we can start to add some Frog3 type customisation into FrogLearn.

Notes:

I’ve adapted this quite heavily so that the page will run locally.  All the CSS is on the page and it points to Google’s hosted jQuery.  This means it needs to be connected to the internet.  If you have your own server, then I’d suggest installing jQuery and repointing the links.

Feel free to adapt the code, although if you’re going to put it on your own blog, then a link back to here would be nice.


IT Support Geek Meet – North East

April 11, 2015

So… for the past few years (pathetic I know) I’ve been talking about organising a GeekMeet.  Like a TeachMeet, but with a focus more for school IT Support.  Teachers with an eye towards ICT would of course be more than welcome.

For those of you not familiar with TeachMeets. Congratulations.  :)  The events are made up of 2- and 7-minute presentations where volunteers stand up and share good ideas / concepts.  There’s a few minutes for questions after each presentation and an interval for a chance to chat properly.  For those of you who use Frog, it would a bit like their Meet-Share-Learn days, just not only about VLEs.

I think realistically, there’d be a few differences between a GeekMeet and a TeachMeet.  In the couple of TeachMeets I’ve attended there was a clear drive to avoid specific products and to refer more to techniques.  While this makes sense in a teaching context, I don’t have an issue with an IT professional saying: “this product is really great, because …”.

I also think that some people have issues with public speaking.

Socially Awkward Penguin understands

Socially Awkward Penguin understands

I think we could look into offering Presentations-by-Proxy (PbP?).

Your voice

What do you think, is this something you’d come along to?

I’ve set up a Google Form so you can register interest and I can get an idea of what you’d want a GeekMeet to be like.

I’ll email out this link to everyone I know, but please forward it to your colleagues as well.  This will definitely be a case of the more, the merrier.

 


FIXED: Printing sites in FrogLearn

November 11, 2014

Not so much a fix as a hack, but it works, it’s quick and it solves a problem.

Bagel holder  from a CD spindle

This is an AWESOME lifehack!

At Cramlington, we switched on FrogLearn in September 2014 and it’s been a great success so far.  Our teachers have loved the control they have and the flexibility of editing anywhere.

Issue

What they haven’t loved is the frustration that comes with trying to print a lesson plan.

A Cramlington Lesson plan

Pictured: A pretty lesson

Print view

Pictured: a not so pretty lesson

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Due to the way FrogLearn generates sites, you end up seeing all layers when attempting to print.

Why print?

One could ask the question: “if all your lessons and materials are online, why do you need to print at all?”

Let’s just say, there are certain bodies out there who like the concept of a printed lesson plan and leave it that at.

I should also add that Frog are aware of this issue and I believe are working towards a fix.

The Solution

I’ve outlined the solution in the video below:

 

  1. Drag to select all the text you want to print
  2. Go to the Print settings in Chrome
  3. Choose Selection only

And that’s it. At least it worked for me. Hopefully it will help you as well.


ShowPlayer

October 27, 2014

I’ve built an app in Adobe AIR for Windows which allows me to display images and videos on a projector.  The app is designed with theatre performances in mind.  I suppose it could be used for presentations, but it is built around the concept of a playlist.

The ShowPlayer interface

The ShowPlayer interface

Features

  • The app plays Mp4, JPG and PNG files.
  • Videos play with time remaining displayed and can be set to loop.
  • There’s a BIG stop button which is easy to find.
  • It’s a full screen app, so I also show the current time.
  • The display resolution can be set manually, so if you’ve prepared HD videos but use a smaller resolution projector, they resize.
  • You can leave yourself messages / reminders

Unlike some of the things I’ve talked about in this category, this app is standalone so if you’d like to use it, you can download it here if you’d like to give it a try:Mediafire downloadI’ve included a README.txt file with instructions on how to set up the playlist.

Once installed, all you need to do is copy the showplayer_content folder to your C: drive and place any videos in there (along with the playlist file)


5 things you should do at the Cramlington conference

June 8, 2014

In the last Friday in June, Cramlington Learning Village hosts its annual conference, the Festival of Learning.  Each year around 300 heads, deputies and other decision-makers from schools all around the country (and a few other countries) trek up to Northumberland for a day of sharing, tips, workshops and networking.

40+ workshops on leadership, teaching and learning (including one on the VLE involving yours truly) and this year, it’s not just Cramlington’s own, but other teachers from other schools within the Teaching School Alliance.

OK, enough of the advert.  The day is intensive, busy and if you’re not careful, you’ll miss the best bits…so without further preamble, here’s 5 things I think you have to do:

1 – Go to the TeachMeet the night before

It’s become a tradition to host a Teachmeet the night before the conference.  This is a chance for everyone to jump in with their own tips and tricks.  Presentations are 2 or 7 minutes, drinks are donated by RealSmart (including their own brand beer, I believe).  If you’ve travelled up the night before, and don’t want to sit in a Travel Lodge all night, it’s a great opportunity to chat with like-minded people and get an idea of what CLV is really like.

I have to confess, I don’t go to the Teachmeet, but only because I’m shattered from running round all week getting things ready for the big day itself.  But the teachers running the Teachmeet are all completely fresh, having only had to teach off timetable projects for two weeks straight.    Please, please….that previous sentence was to be read with a touch of irony.

2 – Ask questions at any time

OK, maybe not during the keynotes, but any other time, really.   We’re running workshops not presentations.  Yes, it may interrupt the flow, but chances are you’re asking something others in the room are thinking.

There are no stupid questions

Personally, I prefer to be interrupted for questions rather than waiting for the end.  Breaking from delivery generally improves my pacing and gives me a chance to gauge the room properly:

  • “Are people looking interested?”
  • “Do they have lots of notes in front of them?”
  • “Is that one guy asleep or unconscious?”

Also, there’s its kinda awful to end on a PowerPoint slide which says “Any questions?” and…nothing.  And you’ve deliberately built in 10-15 minutes of a 75 minute presentation.  This year, I might get a tumbleweed prop ready.  Just in case.

If you see us in the refreshment bit, don’t be afraid to ask us then either.  The shutters don’t come down the second the workshop ends.  You’ve paid a chunk of money and travelled a fair way to visit Cramlington, I don’t think its unreasonable that you get all your questions answered.

3 – Split up

I talked about this in my previous post regarding the Frog conference, but I think it’s worth mentioning again.  There are 40+ workshops running over three sessions.  Split up and go to more than 3.  I find it surprising just how often schools will pay to send 4+ delegates <commercial>Group discounts are available</commercial> and two will come into my workshop.  Hey I’m a good speaker, but I’d understand if you didn’t all come to in.

4 – Speak to the Exhibitors

We have a policy of only allowing exhibitors who have products we use in school.  So if you see a stand at the Festival of Learning conference, you know it comes with our recommendation.  Speak to the people on the stands, then come find one of the workshop presenters.  They’ll back up what you’ve been told, because we use them.  Every day.

5 – Save room for dessert

This sounds silly and hardly ‘CPD-y’, but sometimes, you’ve got to just say “who cares”. The catering company we use always goes full-out for the food.  On arrival, the coffee / tea with sausage, bacon (or veggie alternative) sandwich starts the day off, followed by refreshments after the keynote and a really excellent lunch buffet.  I love our school kitchens, but this catering for this event is some of the best food I’ve ever tasted on a mass catering level and certainly puts school dinners to shame.

But all of that is nothing compared to the sweet treats.  Last year we had an ice cream tent, the year before popcorn and pick-and-mix.   Trust me, save room for dessert.

Bonus extra point

If you read my blog, come say “Hi” and say “I read your blog”.  I’m hardly in the top 100 bloggers or anything, but some people are reading this.  I know from the stats.  They can’t all by my mum.  In fact, the number of visitors I get is often what pushes me back to the keyboard.  There’s nothing more annoying than a dead blog.


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