Thursday, September 25, 2008

My 100th post! (A training-by-technology rant)

According to the numbers posted on my Dashboard, this will be my 100th post. Considering that I started my blog just a little over four years ago, that means I average about 25 posts per year. While not exactly prolific, I'm not sure that the world needs to read much more than that from me, at least not in this format.

What compels me to write today is bad videos (and audio) that people create for training purposes. I am now on my second online class, and I have stated before, I really enjoy taking classes this way. While many (but not all) people (in most aspects of life, not just this) seem to be getting more competent with presentation software in terms of design, readability, and so forth, I wish people could be prepared more carefully to make video presentations that are not so painful, and sometimes pointless, to watch.

The worst problem with some of them are that they are incomprehensible. Some people speak so quietly (especially in videos that feature multiple speakers) that you can't hear them. Some people drift off mid-sentence while they are trying to explain something to you. (I am guilty of this in life, and even sometimes when I teach), but I would be more careful in a video because unless it's in real-time and specifically set up for it, there is no opportunity for interaction.

Some people speak so quickly (and this is a problem out in the world too that I will write about in the future) that one can't comprehend sentence one before they have moved on to sentence four, which is very bad in an instructional video. They don't seem to understand that they are giving people new information (or at least they should be) and there needs to be time for it to sink least a few seconds.

I just watched two videos in which a a soon-to-graduate, very competent MLIS student,explains technology concepts for a student orientation. As she explained the differences between computer operating systems, I had to slow down the first video in order to grasp anything she was saying (creating the effect that speaker was drunk or otherwise chemically impaired). In the next one, explaining Mac features, she drifted off in the middle of at least a quarter of her sentences and sprinkled the presentation liberally with "like" and "you know" (particularly before she would cut off a sentence, never to return.) No, I don't know; that's why I'm watching the video.

Another one I watched, just out of curiosity, was faculty introductions. Faculty stepped up one-by-one in front of a green chalkboard, looking very much like they were about to have a mugshot taken. Several of them had that deer-in-the-headlights look. One was completely inaudible. Some spoke in comprehensible sentences but were very stiff. I'm pleased to say the most animated speaker was the professor I have now, but I may be prejudiced. Even though I have never met her, she conveys warmth and affability onscreen, even though she's kind of goofy (in a fun way, making her pleasant to watch).

That leads me to the next thing, though. In our current lesson (Excel spreadsheets, which give me fits) she is telling us what to do, and ostensibly showing us. However, I can't see what she's doing. It's very difficult to comprehend visually. I thought it was just me, but several people posted to the discussion board and mentioned it.

In live presentations like the one with the Mac lady, speakers sometimes ask for questions from the audience. Apparently not realizing the questions are inaudible to the video audience, many speakers do not bother to repeat the question before they start answering it. They should be doing this anyway for their live audience.

I'm not posting this just to be bitchy, but it's a problem. There has been a lot of movement to online classes in the program,for a variety of economic reasons, and I benefit from this in many ways. I assume other institutions are moving this way too. If this is going to happen, though, the people who put these together need to familiarize themselves with some basic production values. For example, why not have the faculty sitting at a table in front of a pleasant background, introducing themselves in a very natural way? The live audience could still see them (and the live presentation should be enhanced with some kind of projection). You can't use old-style presentation techniques with new technology. It's painful to watch, at best, and incoherent, at worst.

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