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Wednesday, 23 February 2011 23:35

Digital Learning Curve

Written by  Gordon Meyer
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You’d never know it, but one of the busiest production facilities in Southern California is based at the Dominguez Hills campus of Cal State University (CSUDH), where Bernie Clinch is a producer for the Distance Learning department. “We produce approximately 21 hours a week of live programming plus an average of five prerecorded programs every month,” explains Clinch. Most of that content takes the form of degree-granting courses that interested students can view through a local cable system and online at http://dhtv.csudh.edu/, and they can receive a full academic credit that’s transferable throughout the CSU system.

Classes broadcast by the Distance Learning department use a visual style similar to a local newscast with the professor sitting at a desk in front of a large video display. Prerecorded footage from any number of sources can then be rolled into each broadcast, and students can pose questions by either calling into a special phone line or through an interactive text-based chat system integrated into the website.

CSUDH originally began using Flash for its video encoding, but recently switched over to Microsoft’s Silverlight technology. “[Silverlight is] a lighter product that lets you put a fairly decent resolution image online without affecting your bandwidth too much,” Clinch says. He and his team primarily use 100 series JVC ProHD cameras for their field work because of their tape-free workflow. “That has made our life tremendously easier because we can take those files and put them directly onto servers and from there feed them to all our edit bays instead of having to ingest them by tape using fairly expensive machines,” he explains. “For us, the cost factor of no tape [and] ingesting the files immediately without having to wait for acquisition in real time saves us a tremendous amount of time and makes things much easier to work with.”

Clinch also likes the JVC cameras because of their compact size and easy-to-manage sub-seven-pound weight that includes the lens, viewfinder, battery and microphone. “This lets us try a number of things that you couldn’t do with a full-size camcorder, like getting it off the tripod or Steadicam and doing handheld for things like low-angle shots that you’d otherwise have to set up with some kind of tracking system,” says Clinch. “Now you can pretty much do it by hand.  They go into places you wouldn’t normally be able to get into with full-size cameras. For example, you can do an interview inside a confined space like a car without butting your head against a doorway.”

In the studio, they use Panasonic AW-E650 cameras on automated pan-and-tilt, remote-control systems in concert with a Harris Inscriber character generator and Ross Video CrossOver production switchers. And Clinch often supplements his production cameras with the new breed of palm-sized consumer HD camcorders. He uses a Kodak Zi8 that shoots 30 fps 1080p, which he’ll set up for a master shot and leave rolling while capturing all the other footage. This way, when they need a cutaway for a master shot, he’ll just grab a three-to-five-second clip from the Zi8 and build it into the edit. “Since you’re only using a very small portion, it’s very hard for anyone to be able to tell that you didn’t shoot that with the larger ProHD camera.”

All this educational material gives countless hours of practical experience to students in CSUDH’s Digital Media Arts Program, all while building an increasingly comprehensive library of video courses for future generations. In fact, CSUDH maintains a YouTube channel at www.youtube.com/csudhtv where nearly 650 videos of past classes can be viewed online.

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