Gas station without pumps

2010 November 6

Teach like a Champion in grad school

Filed under: Uncategorized — gasstationwithoutpumps @ 00:06
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I have previously posted on Doug Lemov’s Teach Like a Champion (and a critique of his “Name the Steps” as applied to math). But the book seems practical enough to be worth exposing students to.

I teach a how-to-be-a-graduate-student class to first-year grad students in my bioinformatics department, with the intent of preparing them for careers in research and teaching. New faculty members in many fields complain that they were never taught anything about how to teach, and so I thought it would be worthwhile to have the students learn something about teaching. This course is also the only training they get for being TAs, and we have students TA in several courses that require real teaching skills (for example, the Bioinformatics Tools course, which is taken by biologists with no understanding of computers, and the Bioethics class, where TAs have to run discussion sections in which students discuss difficult ethical questions).

This year I have instituted a new assignment, which takes up one of our nine 105-minute class periods:  each student is required to select one technique from the book and present it to the class.  I recorded the presentations with a video camera and will review them with the students individually.  This serves two purposes: getting the students to do some reading and thinking about teaching techniques and giving the students practice and feedback on presentation skills.

I bought a new video camera specifically for this assignment, an Everio HD620BU, a fairly low-cost HD camera that supposedly has good low-light performance.  Low-light performance was important to me, because I also want to use this camera for recording my son’s plays.  What I had not realized is how long it takes to download and process HD video.  The download from the camera to my laptop ran at about half real time (45 minutes for 90 minutes of movie), and exporting the video from iMovie into a low-resolution (640 × 360) format that can be shared takes about real time.  The movie took up 10 Gbytes on the camera, expanded to 47.7 Gbytes in iMovie, and exports in low-resolution format to about 1Gbyte. After verifying that the low-resolution movie is watchable, I’ll have to delete the HD version—47.7 Gbytes is too much disk space on my laptop for me to be comfortable keeping.

I found the user interface for iMovie rather unintuitive—nothing like other Mac tools I’ve used.  You can’t click and shift-click to select a region, the precision editor doesn’t scroll, everything has to be dragged (a pain with a touchpad), … .  I did finally manage to get titles in the upper left corner for the first 30 seconds of each clip, but it was much harder than I had expected.  I decided not to try to trim any of the clips, although there were a few seconds at the beginning and end of each clip that should have been cut.


  1. I have an old MiniDV video camera, but I’ve been thinking of just using my portrait point-and-shoot (Canon SX210IS) as a primary videocamera. It produces .MOV files directly, which is much easier in terms of workflow, and the video quality is good. The camera is good at taking low-light stills; I’ve never tried it with low-light video. The form factor is a bit less good for taking video than a videocamera, but one would probably want to use a tripod anyway.

    Comment by plam — 2010 November 7 @ 06:00 | Reply

    • I have a Canon G10 camera, which can do short video clips, but optical zoom can’t be changed while shooting (only digital zoom, which is limited to 4x). Since one of my main uses is going to be recording stage plays, I’ll want a wide range of zooms, from wide-angle to get the whole stage to zooming way in on a single actor. The zoom limitation was a killer for me.

      The G10 movie clips are also limited to 640×480 (standard resolution) or 320×240 (low resolution). The standard resolution would be ok for a talking-heads clip, but I’d like to have HD for recording the plays my son is in. I like the HD 16:9 aspect ratio better than standard video 4:3 ratio, at least for filming stage plays.

      The Everio camera records in 4 modes (UXP, XP, SP, and EP), which the extremely low-quality Everio manual doesn’t even translate into resolution or frame rate specs. At least the Canon camera had a manual with full info about how to use the camera—for the Everio, you need to have a laptop and an internet connection if you want to look up how to use some feature other than on/off (or remember to download it as PDF ahead of time, and print and bind it yourself).

      The online manual does translate the resolutions:
      UXP 1920 x 1080 pixels Average Approximate 24 Mbps
      XP 1920 x 1080 pixels Average Approximate 17 Mbps
      SP 1920 x 1080 pixels Average Approximate 12 Mbps
      EP 1920 x 1080 pixels Average Approximate 5 Mbps
      If this table is correct, the compression is changed, but the full resolution is always used.
      Using EP for talking heads filming might speed data transfer and processing up a lot with little quality loss, since there is little change from frame to frame.

      In general, standard resolution camcorders have better low-light performance than HD cameras, but I’m not sure that extends to still cameras used in video mode.

      I expect to use a tripod for almost all my video recording. I even use a tripod for still pictures when I’m recording my son’s plays, since I can’t use flash and the lighting is often quite low.

      Comment by gasstationwithoutpumps — 2010 November 7 @ 08:06 | Reply

    • I think that Canon has gotten much better about videos. My camera can definitely optically zoom in and out, records in HD 1280×960, and probably can record about 35 minutes on an 8GB SD. You can surely get larger. I use video almost exclusively for recording judo matches, which are 5 minutes.

      Come to think of it, I do have a low-light video around here. It is 94M though. I can put it up if you want it. I guess I could also downsample it, but I don’t really feel like doing that.

      Comment by plam — 2010 November 7 @ 08:49 | Reply

  2. […] used the camera first to record students doing presentations in a normally lit classroom.  The camera worked fine for this purpose, though I found my tripod a […]

    Pingback by New video camera « Gas station without pumps — 2010 November 24 @ 00:11 | Reply

  3. […] how to use LaTeX  and BibTeX, preparing fellowship applications, practicing classroom delivery (presenting techniques from Lemov’s Teach Like a Champion), discussing research ethics and different academic cultures about co-authorship, TA rights and […]

    Pingback by Speaking loudly « Gas station without pumps — 2011 April 30 @ 10:16 | Reply

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