MOOCs and Videos

​MOOCs and video


I’m rather excited by the rise of the MOOC.

For those of you who haven’t come across the acronym MOOC, it stands for Massive Open Online Course. MOOCs allow anybody with an internet connection to sign up for free online courses, mostly provided by Higher Education Institutions. The classes are usually scheduled so that modules are released in specified weeks.  So as well as receiving short video tutorials from the course providers you can elect to join lively discussion forums, from participants all over the world.  Tens of thousands of people sign up to the most popular MOOCs, although the completion rate is quoted at around 9%

So far I’ve signed up for an Introduction to Philosophy from the University of Edinburgh, and the Fairness and Nature Course from the University of Leeds.  My primary reason for doing so was to look at the video components of these courses.  Academic enlightenment was a welcome by-product. There are numerous pedagogical debates on the value of MOOCs. Their potential to bring education to those with limited resources ticks the democratization of education box.  On the other hand, surely this disruptive technology can’t compete with the immersive experience of face-to-face teaching? Or is the real value of MOOCs the flipped classroom experience, whereby you watch a video before your class, so the classroom becomes a place for discussion after you’ve nailed the basics?

Distance learning is, of course, nothing new. The Open University has been at it for years. Army information films have long been a feature of military training; as far back as 1920s US radio stations were broadcasting university lectures to the masses. So what’s so different with MOOCs? I would argue that the biggest advance is the opportunity for data collection.  Course providers can see when, where and how much of a course you’ve consumed. They can also rate a MOOCs success by the volume and quality of debate it generates, and assess the education level of their audience through questionnaires.

But what to do with all this data? You could use it to see if you’re reaching your target audience such as high-school kids from non-traditional backgrounds rather than graduate retirees.  You could assess whether foundation course students who take a MOOC perform better in subsequent exams. Or you could interpret it as a popularity contest to see which lecturers attract the most attention to your particular brand of education. As a video producer from a TV documentary background I’ve seen how ratings information can have both positive and negative effects on the commissioning process.  Bad ratings can kill off dull, indulgent shows. Good ratings often spawn a raft of low-risk uninspiring clonesthat are the enemy of innovation.

My hope is that course providers don’t become ratings slaves, but they are respectful of the figures. Figures such as the optimum length of a video module, and whether a bigger budget graphic rich MOOC engages people better than a simple talking head based one.  It would be naïve to think anybody has the answers at this stage, but I am willing to predict one thing. The most successful MOOCs will feature the very same academics who already blow their students' minds in tutorials. Yes, you can mix things up with fancy graphics to explain concepts or have them presented by a media-savvy young post-grad, but for a knowledge hungry audience nothing beats the privilege of having the finest tutor talking to you directly, even if it is through your tablet.  It’s the highbrow equivalent of a celebrity tweet directly to your phone, and the cerebral thrill that’s one of the great joys of higher education.  

Capture that in your MOOC videos and the audience will definitely becoming back for more.  


Subtitles or closed captions for your video, what are the options?

​Over the last year, we've had increased requests to add subtitles or closed captions to videos, and there are two main reasons for this. 

Firstly, take our education clients. They are keen to make their videos accessible to people with hearing difficulties. There's also the added benefit that if English isn't your first language, or if an accent is unclear, subtitles ensure that the meaning still gets through, and specialized terms can be easily referenced. I think people who speak British English sometimes take it for granted that an RP accent can be understood. However, as somebody who got much more out of 'The Wire' by sticking the subtitles on when the US dialect was particularly strong, I'm always grateful for the option of having it spelled out on the bottom of the screen.

Secondly, our customers may wish to target overseas clients, by providing subtitles in their own language. Our most requested languages are Simplified Chinese, Russian and Arabic. Subtitles are a great first step to show potential clients you're serious about doing business with them. If you want to go even further in courting new business, you can also record a new voiceover in the tongue of choice.

So how do you go about sticking words on your video? There are three main methods:

1) Let YouTube do it for you. Not recommended. Voice recognition just isn't that good yet. To test this, pick a YouTube video that has the captions icon in the footer of the player window (it's the rectangle with two lines in it). I chose the Annoying Orange. If you choose English with automatic captions you can get some very bizarre results, good for a laugh, hopeless for business.

2) Create .srt files. This is a standard file format that you can use for uploading specially created subtitles to YouTube or other platforms of your choice. They are also known as closed captions, the type seen on BBC iPlayer that you can turn on and off. The Annoying Orange YouTube video has these too, because somebody has taken the time to create them. You'll find them by clicking the 'English', rather than the 'English with automatic captions option'. To create .srt files we use specialist subtitling software that imports a quicktime version of the finalized version of a video. This allows us to transcribe small sections of script, and link them piecemeal to specific timecodes in the video. It's a fairly straight-forward process, and you could learn it yourself, but it is very time-consuming. There are overseas companies that advertise that they can do it very cheaply for you, but in the same way you can go very wrong with a bad translation, you can go even more wrong with subtitles, where spacing, timing and accuracy are crucial. As with many things, it's an equation involving time and trust. 

3) Use 'burned-in' subtitles. Closed caption subtitles appear on top of your existing picture, which is fine for many applications, but may obscure vital information, or look messy, especially when platforms like YouTube give no choice about their size or positioning. Bespoke subtitles are created by placing text scene by scene onto a video, in a re-editing process. This allows their position to be altered depending on the picture. For example you may want to avoid obscuring a name caption, or logo or remove old captions and replace them with tailor-made ones. These captions become integral part of the picture and can't be switched on and off. However they may be just what you need if you are making a DVD version for a specific territory, and you want the film to play easily without a client having to muck about with menu options. Alternatively you could embed this type of video into your website without worrying about having to get your web developer to provide closed-caption buttons, as long as you're happy to have the subtitles appear all of the time.

I hope this explains some of the mysteries of subtitles. Next time you watch a foreign language film, have a look how they do it. There are rules about the number of characters per line, and not all words are translated. My Danish sister-in-law tells me that there's much more bad language in 'The Killing' than gets translated. Fortunately I believe all our films at Beeston Media are profanity-free. I'm pretty sure I trust the translation companies we work with...

Mercedes Benz World

As well as offering a full video service direct to clients, we also white label for other video companies, delivering all or part of a project. In this case, we provided a film crew for Drive Smarter, who were commissioned by Mercedes Benz World at Brooklands, Weybridge, UK to produce a road safety film.

In just one day’s filming we covered all aspects of basic road safety with an array of personnel and toys including actors, pro driver trainers and the Brooklands race track and skid pans. As the light disappeared early (it was a very chilly January day) we continued inside the Mercedes Museum with interviews and pieces to camera. A good shoot.

Video above of a few typical skid pan shots pulled from the rushes, showing the benefit of those modern video cameras which have a built-in slow motion facility.


​A long-standing client of ours, Skyquest, has recently been bought by USA technology company Curtiss-Wright Controls Defense Solutions and the call came in to us for a fast turnaround film to showcase Skyquest’s Video Management System products to the USA market. It’s a great example of how a client’s existing video archive can be re-used in a fresh way for a fresh market.

We’ve already made three c08’00” corporate videos for Skyquest, filming first with London’s Metropolitan Police to showcase their Standard Definition kit and then with Greater Manchester Police for the High Definition version. The brief now was to combine the two systems for one overview Skyquest film for the USA police air support market.

There was no need for further filming (thus keeping budgets down) although we did buy in a little commercial archive video of military aircraft to illustrate the full range of CWC Skyquest’s client base. Combine this with some stylish graphics and an American voiceover (recorded down the line from Hollywood!) and you have a new, slick corporate video, turned around in just 3 weeks from script sign-off to delivery.

And in case you’re wondering, the “Wright” in CWC is indeed the Wright Brothers, Wilbur and Orville, aero pioneers from a bygone age.

Slick stills video

New client SWS Certification Services asked us to produce a promo film to showcase their aviation interiors design / certification services. The film was to play at an upcoming trade show and also on their website.

The schedule was tight and the client keen to use existing assets, so we proposed a simple, classy video, made from still images. This we duly delivered, taking a tight factual brief and coming up with a visual treatment that the client loved on first viewing!

This is good example of how existing (and already paid for…) stills imagery can be re-used and form the basis for a video.​