Edit Your DVD Movies for the Classroom

Trim DVDsWhen I was a freshman in high school my English teacher (yeah, it was still called English back then) decided to show us a movie version of Romeo and Juliet. However, the movie had one nude scene that my teacher tried to fast-forward through. But, just as you might suspect, her finger on the controls slipped and the whole class got to see a side of Romeo that we did not expect.

Today we can avoid problems like this by ripping and editing DVDs. Ripping is the process of copying audio or video content from a CD or DVD to your computer’s hard disk. Once it is on your computer, you can trim and edit the DVD’s content down to something more appropriate and meaningful for the classroom.

As a physics teacher, I’ve done this when I wanted to show several clips from several different movies in one class period. It would be impractical to spin up each DVD (especially the ones that have previews that are almost impossible to get around). Instead, I put all the clips I want on one disc.

To get started, you’ll need to first BUY THE DVD. Seriously, don’t steal movies. If you use it for class, then buy it for class. If you copy DVDs that don’t belong to you, then you’re basically telling your students that it is okay to plagiarize, cheat and steal.

Cut out Ben Stein with DVD ShrinkNext, you’ll need to find software that will rip your DVD. Tekzilla, a technology question and answer show, did a round-up and review of DVD ripping software. (Fast-forward to 7 mins and 29 sec to learn more.) I’ve been using DVD Shrink to rip my DVD’s. Not only does it allow you to copy the DVD to your computer, but DVD Shrink also lets you change the size of the files by recompressing the video or removing the extra audio tracks. It even has the option to trim video clips. So when an actor like Ben Stein does something nutty, you can just cut him out when you make a backup copy of your favorite movie. Ahhhh, now I can watch Ferris Bueller again.

Lastly, you’ll need to burn the new files back to DVD. For this you’ll need a computer that has a DVD burner. Of course, you could also put your clips on a USB flash drive and just play them with something like VLC Media Player.

Happy ripping!

Build a periscope; stream video to the web

This weekend I had a chance to attend Darwin Day at our local university. It was a fun event and a chance for me to try out Ustream.tv. This site allows you to broadcast video to the web instantly. All you need is a webcam and an Internet connection.

My Wi-Fi connection at Darwin Day wasn’t as strong as I had hoped but I was still able to broadcast the event and Ustream.tv even stored the video for later viewing. Below you can see Brian Bartel (from explodingsink.com) kick-off the event.




I mentioned that you can use a webcam to capture the video. My MacBook has an iSight camera built in however I wanted to look at the screen while it was recording. Using a Cheez-it box, a mirror and the directions found here, I made a periscope for my webcam. Below are a few pictures from the process. I suspect with a little trial and error, you could make one of these for any laptop.

mirror p1010926.JPG p1010928.JPG
p1010934.JPG p1010933.JPG

You will need to use software to flip the image since the mirror creates… well, a mirror image. I used the trial version of iGlasses from Ecamm.com. For only ten dollars, iGlasses will also allow you to zoom and pan, adjust brightness and change the colors.

If you’re not in the mood to build your own brackets and cut up mirrors, Ecamm sells the Huckleberry. The Huckleberry has durable plastic mounting brackets and an acrylic mirror. It sells for twenty dollars and comes with iGlasses. (I would have purchased this myself if it wasn’t out-of-stock when I needed it.)

Many camcorders will work with Ustream.tv too. A camcorder will give you a high quality video and it’s perfect if you’re planning to broadcast regularly from a fixed location—like a classroom! Below is video stream from Brian Bartel’s class last week on what he calls Combustion Day.




Lastly, I should mention that Ustream.tv lets users chat with other users who are watching the live video. This would be great for an evening event that only the teacher can attend. The teacher could broadcast the video while the students are watching online and holding a discussion via chat.

Create stop-motion videos and learn physics

Inspired by the most recent Sony Bravia commercial, I decided to have my physics students create stop-motion videos for a Halloween themed project.

Students were asked to create a video that:

  • was at least ten seconds
  • contained at least two seconds of constant acceleration
  • had a Halloween theme

I gave the students a handout with guidelinesrubric and some suggestions for a successful project. Students created the videos using Windows Movie Maker and uploaded them to Brightcove.tv (YouTube is blocked at our school). I used Jing to provide students with screencasts that explained how to use Movie Maker and Brightcove.tv.

After the videos were created, students used a video analysis program (LoggerPro) to analyze and confirm the acceleration.

I wasn’t sure what to expect when I assigned this project but I was truly shocked by all of the amazing videos that my students produced.

Here is an example:

See all the videos here.

More than one way to share your presentations

Last week Brian Bartel and I presented at NSTA’s National Congress on Science Education. We discussed the basics of online communication. There were about 25 people at the session but I love the fact that I can still share the information through a variety of ways online.

  1. plain old html outline
  2. video of the presentation at Google Video
  3. presentation slides at SlideShare
  4. video synchronized with slides at Zentation

Zentation appears to be the best tool. Synchronizing was a little quirky at times but the final product was worth the effort. They provide a variety of ways to embed your presentation on your own site. I choose their small Flash-based version below.

Play YouTube Videos at School

From time-to-time I find videos online that are perfect for the classroom. At school we can look for online videos via Google Video.

Now that Google purchased YouTube, you can find YouTube videos in Google’s search results. YouTube is another online video website that is becoming more and more mainstream. For example, some of the 2008 presidential hopefuls are using YouTube for major announcements.

Unfortunately, our school district blocks access to YouTube. Perhaps this is the right decision for our students but I have ranted in the past that it is wrong to block teacher access.

So, if you find a YouTube video that you’d like to use in class, here’s a work-around:

  1. Copy the URL displayed in the search results of Google video

    Figure 1

  2. Visit Vixy.net and paste in the YouTube URL
  3. Figure 2

  4. Choose “MOV for Mac” in the drop down (this is the video format that will work at school)
  5. Click Start and Vixy will convert the video for free
  6. When the video is converted, you’ll be prompted to download it

Disclaimer: YouTube has had its share of problems with copyrighted material. Please consider copyright and fair use when using Vixy.

My Video Podcast Trek

I’ve been tinkering with video podcasts the past few weeks. My goal is to use the podcast so students can review:

  • notes from the past week
  • the practice problems at their own pace
  • demonstrations and lab activities performed in class

I started off by writing out my notes with GE’s Imagination Cubed and then did a screen capture with Windows Media Encoder. It works but the video of the Imagination Cubed came out choppy and the Windows Media Encoder does not give you many options when outputting the video.I really wanted the video to be available as a Flash video— similar to what YouTube does. The best video converter I found for this job was the free version of Riva FLV Encoder. It was easy to use, provided many options and converted the files quickly. If you have several videos to convert, you make want to download the trial of Riva Producer. It does batch converting and allows you to edit your videos in a timeline.

To play the videos, I chose the Flash Video Player. This free player is easy to configure if you read the directions. I had one snag with the slider but I solved this by using the proper metatags in my flv files. To fix the metatags I used FLV MetaData Injector. Again, this was explained in the installation directions. To host Flash video at your site, you’ll also need to update your webserver’s MIME types to include the flv extension.

The best piece of software I encountered on this trek was Camtasia. It is not a free program but they do offer a fully functional trial version for 30 days. Camtasia is primarily a screen capture program (used to produce screencasts) but I found it does so much more.

Here are just a few highlights:

  • edit and trim your video
  • add zooms, pans and transitions
  • add a second audio track
  • insert captions and overlays
  • export to a wide variety of formats

Camtasia was easy to use and provided timeline style editing. After I finished editing the video, I was able to produce a Flash version and an iPod friendly version in just one step.

There is something weird about seeing your lesson on an iPod. What’s even weirder is seeing students use it!

The last step to any podcasting adventure is the most crucial—create the rss feed. Your media can not be called a podcast without it. The rss feed is a text file that contains specific information about your show and describes each episode. You update the feed each time you create a new episode. I used several templates as an example to make my feed. (examples: 1, 2, 3) If you want to be iTunes friendly, you’ll need to follow some of their special formatting rules. You’ll also want submit your feed to Apple so users can search for your podcast right inside iTunes.

Here is my final product. I welcome feedback, questions and comments.

VLC Plays it All

vlc Sometimes I get video or sound clips that won’t play in Windows Media Player. To get around this, I use the VLC media player. The VLC media player “…is a free media player that supports a large number of multimedia formats…” without any special updates or other huddles.

You can download (not at my school) the player for just about any operating system (Windows, Mac, Linux, BeOS…); they even have a portable version of the player that can be downloaded and installed onto a removable USB flash drive.

Mix your video with the community

eyespotIn a hurry to edit your video clips? Try EyeSpot. Similar to the online video sharing services that I reviewed a few weeks back, EyeSpot has the following unique features:

  • editing— trim and mix clips; add titles, transitions and effects
  • use other people’s clips in your video
  • download your final video

The service was a little slow. It took a while to upload files and trim clips. However, the ability to use other people’s clips is really neat. For example, I don’t have any clips of an explosion but the EyeSpot community had several.

EyeSpot is a fun tool and worth a look.

Which video service is best for you?

Flash based video has been popping up everywhere in the past few months. With popular sites like YouTube and Google Video giving this format lots of exposure, I’ve decide to do a mini roundup of what is out there.

First things first—what is it? Flash based video uses Macromedia Flash to play video clips. Several websites have created services that allow you to upload, view, and share your clips. None of these sites will display great video quality but because of the Flash format, your videos can be easily embedded in blogs and other websites.

I’ve uploaded the same clip to each of the following websites:

Take a look at the results.

Google Video: Despite Google’s new web-based uploader, the process was slower than I expected. Also, there is something just ugly about the whole Google Video experience. However, Google’s popularity may give your video clip more exposure.

VideoEgg: You’ll need to download and install the VideoEgg Publisher before you use VideoEgg. Once installed, uploading the video was a fast process. The publisher does give you a few extra features. You can trim your video’s start and end times. VideoEgg will also capture video directly from a camcorder, webcam or mobile device. These are nice features but anyone who is serious about video is going to have their own tools to do this and much more.
YouTube: Again another popular site— perhaps too popular. Uploading video to YouTube took the longest. Like Google, YouTube will give your clip more opportunities for exposure. However, YouTube has had a history of hosting copywrited material. Others claim that YouTube it running out of money due to huge bandwidth bills. I question how long YouTube will be able to stay in business.
Vimeo: This is my top pick. Vimeo was the easiest experience of them all. The upload time with Vimeo went quickly and the whole process was a snap. I also think Vimeo displays their clips the best.