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E-Learning and Instructional Support.

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Enhancing online learning with technology

Wed Nov 25, 2020 at 07:48 AM

A University of Tennessee Knoxville professor recently spent tens-of-thousands of dollars to turn a room into his house into a virtual learning studio. With special cameras, lighting, a lightboard and a standing desk, the professor, Sean Willems, said he spent a lot of time and money on his self-proclaimed “crazy” set up. Special Lecturer Marty Shafer, has some advice on enhancing home set-ups for optimized audio and video for online learning, involving much less time and money. e-LIS certainly doesn’t encourage or expect faculty to create a home studio that rivals Willems, these tips from Shafer are suggestions for improving video and audio for those who are interested. 

Shafer’s background is in radio, audio production and digital media production. He teaches communications classes at Oakland University while also serving as coordinator of broadcast services for OU’s radio station WXOU, and also a station manager at Avondale High School’s radio station. He also has an interest in video production and has spent a lot of time learning about streaming, recording and producing videos. 

When it comes to making videos look better, one of the easiest adjustments, according to Shafer, is lighting. 

“It helps to have the light coming on you directly,” said Shafer. “Find a position in the room where natural light is going to come onto your face.”

Shafer uses a light on top of his camera. For those who want to spend money on their set up can invest in something as cheap as a small ring light or clip-on light. 

“Anytime we talk about film or photography, we want to make sure that everything is balanced,” said Shafer. 

For those looking for a little more light, Shafer recommends the Neewer dimmable and adjustable tabletop photo lights. He said this inexpensive light gives off a changeable hue that helps balance light, especially in low-lit areas. 

Shafer also recommends a tripod, even a tripod for a cell phone if it’s being used for streaming. 

“The tripod can help balance the camera, and you want to use it even with your cell phone,” said Shafer. 

Shafer has a set up that is more than the basic webcam-on-a-computer. He uses a Canon SL2 DSLR camera like a webcam, with a 24 mm lens that gives him a wider angle. He said to help keep his expenses down, he bought the camera refurbished. He said much of the technology equipment he purchases is second-hand or refurbished. 

Having an external camera as a webcam also requires him to use software to capture the video. He uses the software Sparkocam to utilize the Canon camera as a webcam but also to record videos. With the software, he is also able to adjust settings and enhance the video. 

While Shafer uses a special lens for getting a wide angle view, he said there are also small, affordable lenses that clip on to cell phones and give a wider view. 

When it comes to audio, Shafer said it’s important to move away from vents, ceiling fans and other things that could produce noise. 

Shafer said a USB microphone can greatly improve the quality of the audio. He said USB microphones typically run anywhere from $30 or even less, up to several hundred dollars. He likes the Fifine K669B, a metal condenser recording microphone for streaming or the Fifine K670B, which is a step up and includes headphone monitoring. 

“I recommend that everyone does wear headphones in a meeting,” said Shafer. 

Shafer said he hopes his tips provide some information for those looking to enhance their online presence, especially as more online learning continues into the winter semester.