Stop Dancing the Slideshow Browser Mambo

During the summer of 1995, I was hired as an intern at a company that provided training for some of the most popular computer applications of the day. They had several labs filled with Macs and PCs, and I was part of the team that made sure all of these machines were running smoothly and had the appropriate software installed. From time to time, we had an issue with one of the PCs that was so severe, the only way to fix it was to reformat the hard drive and reinstall everything from scratch. These machines were running Windows 3.1, which meant sitting in front of the computer inserting and ejecting whichever of the six floppy disks it needed to install the OS. Wanted Photoshop too? That was nine more floppies. Office? 24 floppies. There were a lot of floppies back then. A lot. In our office, this mind-numbing installation ritual became affectionately known as “The Floppy Disk Mambo.”

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“There were a lot of floppies back then. A lot.” Photo by Saulo Pratti is licensed under CC BY 2.0 and has been modified.

Fast-forward to today, and thankfully no one dances The Floppy Disk Mambo anymore (when was the last time you even installed something from CD?). But there’s a similar dance that has plagued us since the mid-90s, which I’ll call “The Slideshow Browser Mambo.” Anyone who has given a presentation using Keynote or PowerPoint has experienced this: you’re discussing a web page that you want to show to your audience, so you include the URL on a slide and click on it at the appropriate time. What happens? Your slideshow goes out of presentation mode and a browser window appears. After talking about the web page, you go back to your presentation program (which is now in editing mode), reenable presentation mode, figure out if you’re at the right slide in the presentation, and resume your talk. Whether you’re standing in front of an audience or recording a screencast, this is an unwanted interruption that temporarily throws you off track.

Thankfully, the same people who developed the audience polling software Poll Everywhere have given us a reason to put our dancing shoes away (or at least save them for actual dancing). Their free program, LiveSlides, allows you to insert a slide into a Keynote or PowerPoint presentation that is actually a full-screen browser window displaying the URL of your choice. When you’re done with the web page, just press the advance button on your remote control, click the mouse off to the side of the page, or touch the right arrow on your keyboard to move on to the next slide. The web page acts just like any other slide in your deck and you never leave the presentation program.

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I used LiveSlides for the first time back in March at a presentation I gave at the University of Delaware Educational Technology conference. In this presentation, I was able to mix in multiple web pages from seven different sites among my regular Keynote slides without any problems. On my Mac, the LiveSlides application had to be open while I was presenting, but it was happy to stay hidden and out of the way. PC users will discover that the program installs as an add-in for PowerPoint.

Whether you’re presenting at a conference or recording a screencast for your online or blended course, I highly recommend this application. Not only will it save you time, it’ll also improve the flow of your presentation.

Want to Create a Great Instructional Video? Start with Great Audio

As an Instructional Designer, part of my job is to help our faculty learn how to construct various components of a Blended or Online course. Typically, this means they need to learn how to create their own instructional videos using a screen-recording program like Camtasia. We offer several bits of advice when starting this process for the first time, such as ‘the instructor should appear in the video’ and ‘limit your recording to 10-15 minutes’, but one of the most important pieces of advice that we give is to use equipment that will ensure a high-quality video. This includes high-quality audio, because there is nothing that will ruin a video faster than poor audio.

We’ve all come across these videos – there are probably tens of thousands of them on YouTube. They’re the ones where you hit the Play button and the video starts but you don’t hear anything. So you turn up the volume on the video, then the volume on your computer, then maybe on your speakers too (if you have external speakers), and now you can hear what the person is saying but there’s also a lot of white noise, which is distracting. Of course later on, after you’ve forgotten that you cranked your volume all the way up, you’ll scare the daylights out of everyone in a 20 foot radius when you go to play something else that was recorded properly and it comes blasting out of your speakers. It happens to the best of us.

What can you do to ensure that you’re recording high-quality audio?

Find a quiet area to make your recording

In a higher education setting, this is sometimes easier said than done. Your typical faculty office has a lot of background noise: loud air-handling systems, ringing telephones, conversations in the hall, students knocking on doors, computer chimes from incoming emails, etc. Find a place in your building or somewhere on campus where these noises and disruptions don’t exist. These sounds will distract your students when they watch your video just like they distract you.

Use a USB or Bluetooth headset

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Marc’s Logitech H540 USB headset

The microphones built into most computers record low-quality audio and pick up a lot of background noise. The microphones on headsets can help to reduce a lot of the background noise, plus the arm keeps the microphone at a constant distance from your mouth, which allows you to maintain a consistent volume level throughout the entire recording.

You can find a good headset for around $30-$40 from companies like Logitech, Sennheiser, and Koss.

Take advantage of a recording booth

Many universities have recording booths dedicated for tasks like these with all of the equipment you need. They’re usually found in a library, media center, or teaching and learning center, and were probably setup by staff with AV and technical expertise. WCU has a recording booth in the Office of Distance Education available for faculty use.