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Friday, January 29, 2016

Design Implications for Online Training Videos - Lessons from the field

Some time ago I wrote a tongue-in-cheek post entitled How to Monetize Your Job Interviews. It told the story of an interview I had a few years ago that took on a life of its own. This interview, which was with an instructional-design firm, required me over the course of a weekend to complete and submit instructional design plans on how to insert a drill-bit into a cordless drill. The interviewer sent me the design specifications via email. I diligently completed the required components of the design. Then (geek that I am) I added on a short video which I uploaded to YouTube (I guess as an example of leveraging existing technology and resources to reach the intended audience at any time on any platform). The video itself was very quick and dirty and also extremely short (1:06 minutes in length). I did not have a cordless drill nor did I know how to operate one; so I got my husband Ben to show me on his corded drill. The video had no sound, instead focusing on my hands and their actions Charlie-Chaplin style. I submitted my documents and the YouTube URL to my interviewers via email and waited for a reply. The position, alas, did not materialize so I continued my job search, completely forgetting about the video I'd left on YouTube - until a year or so later, that is, when I received an email notification that a viewer had commented on my video. I went to the YouTube site to read the comment and to my astonishment saw that my little video had around 16,000 hits!

To make a long story short, today the video stands at 153,745 views with 57 comments (mostly thank-you's), 183 likes, and 44 dislikes. While people seem to have definite opinions about this video, I'm still amazed that anybody has even taken the time to watch it, let alone to leave a comment or press a "like" or "dislike" button. In 2014 I monetized the video, Since then it has earned me around $260.00 in income - and counting (which won't put me in the millionaire class anytime soon, but hey, every little bit helps - especially on a retiree's income). ;)

Since I am now happily (and lazily) retired, the rigors of serious scholarship elude me; however, after reviewing these latest statistics from YouTube, I thought it would be fun to reflect on the question "Just what IS it about this video?"

I do believe there are some design implications in this little story: not only for those who provide just-in-time training for employees but also for those who compete for the attention of "on-demand" learners (e.g. for Photoshop tutorials). What in the world has made 154,000 people (and counting) choose to watch a crude video (with no sound) on how to insert a drill bit into a cordless drill?

Well, I have a few thoughts on that:
  • the video is brief- in fact you don't even have to watch all of it, you can probably get the gist in twenty-four seconds and be on your way. Not only does this brevity respect people's time, it is also great for slow-bandwidth connections. Also this video is short enough to retain most of it in memory (and even if someone needs to refresh their memory, a one-minute video is relatively painless to "rewind" and watch again).
  • the video is silent - there's no language to process and, for international audiences, no language barrier to overcome.
  • the video focuses exclusively on the hands and what they are doing - you never see a complete shot of a person or a shot of a talking head. Reflecting back on my own experience, I often find the presence of these in a video to be an annoying distraction, an unneeded "layer" that inserts itself between the learner and the business at hand.

Lately, I've been seeing a lot of what I would call little "speed videos" on Facebook. They quickly show how to do relatively simple tasks such as fold socks or prepare a recipe or create a craft or even braid hair in exotic ways. These very short videos are often well orchestrated and thought out - they look professional and they get tens of thousands of hits on Facebook. Additionally, they share the following characteristics: the camera focuses exclusively on a close-up on the hands and what they are doing; not only are the videos mostly under a minute in length, they take advantage of video technology's ability to time-lapse and to speed up; no one speaks in these videos although many  of them provide background music; printed language processing is held to a minimum with an occasional caption or arrow super-imposed in a strategic position; and animation is used to varying degrees. You could say they sometimes use media within media. These little videos are reminiscent of the silent movie techniques used in the 1920's. Like other viewers, I find myself willingly watching and re-watching these videos to try out "what-ever-it-is." They are fun to watch and intrinsically motivating. Following are some examples of how these videos are done:

How to Make Apple-Pie Cookies (by Tip-Hero)

length: 1:04 minutes

Some of the design choices in Tip-Hero's video below can be effective in "talking" videos that teach more complex tasks. Following the recommendations from a graphics-design class that I took at our community college a few years ago, I find myself often searching for tutorials on how to do stuff in Photoshop. While I prefer good illustrated, text-based tutorials to slow-streaming and often meandering videos, I will watch video-based instruction that is short (around seven minutes in length), easy to follow, and well thought out. An excellent example is Marty at Blue Lightening TV. His videos focus exclusively on the computer screen. They are extremely succinct; every single action on the screen is purposeful and intentional. To aid the viewer in following along with his voice, he strategically super-imposes captions and animation such as circling or underlining. Often his videos are time-lapsed and speeded up in certain sections; even though his videos are short, he thoughtfully includes more helpful information than many longer ones I've watched! I just love his work! Here's a example of one of his short tutorials:

The Best Way to Colorize a Black and White Photo

length: 7 minutes

Recently I have even seen some of these concepts extended to (short) online newscasts! Check out this video on the current presidential campaign from Aljazeera America's online channel AJ+. Interesting multimedia reporting techniques - a mix of media within media!

Does the DNC Hate Bernie?

length: 3:05 minutes

As far as training and informational videos there are techniques and then there are techniques. We could learn a lot from the little "speed videos" above. Although they are deceptively short and to the point, a lot of work and thoughtfulness has been put into their preparation. They are respectful of people's time; they are fun to watch; and they are extremely easy to understand and follow. Speaking from my own anecdotal experience only, I judge them to be extremely effective. And if I'm "late to the party" with this post, then I'd just like to contribute this testimonial to the growing body of evidence. ;)


A few more examples of speed videos from Facebook:

Tuesday, January 26, 2016

Stories from the Farm - The Jacksons' Barn

View from the parlor window when we first moved in (2005)
I've entered 2016 with a series of three posts relating to the joys and pains of prairie winters and living in old farmhouses. To go along with the photography theme of this blog, I included several photos, mostly winter scenes of seasonal birds and lovely sunrises and sunsets. Now before I "lay down my pen," I want to tie off a common thread that runs through these previous posts. In a couple of them I keep mentioning the view of our neighbors' pole barn across the field and against the horizon. Truth is, I have particularly enjoyed this scene ever since we moved here ten years ago. It is nicely framed by our parlor window and by the window over my kitchen sink. It changes with the seasons and looks spectacular at sunrise. I also enjoy it whenever I'm out in the yard.

So to wrap up this January 2016 series, following are glimpses of the Jacksons' barn in different seasons:

Over the rainbow (March 2011)

Spring daffodils (March 2012)

Beyond the lilacs (April 2012)

Cloud drama at sunset (May 2012)

Nimbus clouds (June 2010)

Part of the pleasure of seeing the Jackson's barn is that it brings to mind our neighbors of many years, Ray and Sharon Jackson. Here's a closer view of the barn at Ray and Sharon's 85th and 80th backyard birthday celebration (2013).
In an interesting side note, our neighbor Ray Jackson (and his brother Dale who lives further down the road on 700 S) grew up in the farmhouse where Ben and I now live - back in the 1930's and '40s when it was a working farm, complete with acreage! Oh, the stories they can tell - like waking up in the morning in the upstairs bedroom with snow on their blankets and how the old farmhouse used to look and where the old barn stood. Ray's wife Sharon can chime right in with tales of the days she and Ray were courting and she would visit this house. Ray and Sharon are engaging story-tellers! (And of course a complete history of our old farmhouse would also need to include our good neighbors the Ricks's who also grew up on and farmed this property after the Jacksons.)

In closing I thought it would be fun to collage some of the photos I've included in this January series of posts so that my readers can compare and contrast the view of the Jackson's barn through the different seasons. :)

Through the seasons and through the years (2006 - 2012)  - collage done with the Atlantas App for Windows 8 and Windows 10

And now that I'm hopefully done with this series, it's time to look toward spring. It may still be January, but the days are definitely getting longer!


Saturday, January 23, 2016

Prairie Light

Here comes the sun  (encroaching sunrise, November 2015).

Dear Readers,

Isn't it surprising how the plainest of statements and the briefest of moments can make a lasting impression on our lives? The longer we live, the more meaning some memories take on, becoming the permanent mile-markers or snap-shots in time that continue to shed light on our journey. Truth is, any seemingly inconsequential encounter can inadvertently plant a seed, open our minds to new possibilities, introduce us to something new (usually something that's right under our noses), enhance our powers of observation, or make us more aware of what's around us ... what's in us ... and what's been given to us. For instance, sometime last year I read advice from a photographer who wrote that instead of focusing on objects, we should instead focus on taking pictures of the light, e.g. choosing the camera settings that will best capture the light in the frame rather than the objects.

The lighting effect in this photo looking out from the front stoop of our old farmhouse is due to the time of day (sunrise) and atmospheric conditions of frozen fog or hoar-frost (note how it  covers the tree branches, February 2010).
That comment stuck with me (and if I ever find that link again, I'll share it). I guess one way I come close to doing that is when I take pictures of subjects that are more ethereal to begin with such as clouds, sky, and mist. Such subjects are (usually) far away and less defined; since they are not "solid," they can be challenging for automatic cameras (and everyday photographers, like me) to meter and focus on correctly to bring out their magic. This is especially true in low-light conditions which are when these subjects tend to be at their most dramatic, e.g. dawn and dusk (or as photographers tend to say, the golden hour and the blue hour).

November sunset behind our garage (2015)
In our little corner of the prairie, we get some absolutely glorious sunrises and sunsets. These are especially evident during the late fall and winter months, from November through March. It's taken me a while to realize why that is. During the long days the sun's daily trajectory moves way north on our horizon, starting behind our neighbors' grove of trees in the east and ending behind our outbuildings in the west. While billowing summer skies make spectacular subjects, sunrises and sunsets tend to be problematic because there is no unobstructed view of those points on the horizon. Any pictures of summer sunrises or sunsets tend to be "flanked" by buildings, hidden by trees, and obstructed by telephone poles and cell towers. That's not to say you can't sometimes get a good shot especially if the trees act as a light filter or the silhouette of their branches and leaves gracefully frame the composition.

One of my all-time favorites - the sun rising behind the Jacksons' barn (December 2007)
During the short days the sun's trajectory moves far south on our horizon, starting on the open prairie behind the neighbors' barn and ending behind our horse pasture. Simply put, the sunrise and sunset are much more visible during late fall and winter in our neck of the woods. Amazing that it's taken me ten years of living here to finally reach that conclusion, lol! Anyway, during winter when nature's sounds and colors fade away, don't forget to look upward! :)

Following are some scenes of the the winter prairie that I hope you will enjoy.

Monday, January 18, 2016

Stories from the Farm - Over My Kitchen Sink

Last spring I posted an article On Armchair Photography and Other Vantage Points. At that time the magnolia tree in the back yard was still blooming and I could admire it from a rocking chair that sits by a window in the old summer kitchen (which has long served as anything but that, including a work-room, sun-room, guest room, office, and on occasion a one-room apartment).
A cleome seems to peek in at my kitchen sink clutter (2013)

A hummingbird enjoys a drink from the feeder right outside the window (2006)

View of Jacksons' barn after harvest 2005 (one of my first photos of this vista)

Today I want to talk about a different vantage point, the view from over my kitchen sink (same room designation, different room). Whereas the summer kitchen looks out from the back of the house in three directions (southeast, west, and north), my kitchen sink window looks out toward the front of the house (due east). This unassuming little window has surprised me with  many beautiful views through the seasons. A flower bed with two magnolia bushes wraps around this corner of the kitchen. Beyond it the front yard stretches out to the drive way which curves gracefully in from the road welcoming any visitors. Across the road which is bordered by a field the Jackson's red barn stands out against a wide prairie sky in the distance. So in early spring I enjoy the delicate, glowing magnolia blooms and the colorful spring bulbs in the flower bed; in the summer it's the cleomes and the susans that reach clear up to the window sill, the Queen Anne's lace growing across the road, and the hummingbirds that frequent the feeders; and in the fall it's the view of the Jackson's barn after the corn has been harvested.
A pair of Christmas Cardinals adorn my snow-covered magnolia bush (2007).

But in the winter, it's the beautiful sunrises and the winter birds.

The people who owned this old farmhouse for many years must have loved birds. For many years when Ben and I rode our bikes past this place, there was a purple martin house on a tall pole in the front yard. When we purchased the property in 2005 the purple martin house was gone but we inherited several little bird houses hanging in trees. The flower beds and bushes around the old house with its modern picture windows seemed designed to draw in the birds for all to see. For instance the winter birds shelter themselves from the wind and sun themselves on the bare magnolia-bush branches just outside the kitchen sink window. For that reason I have gotten into the habit of taking out the screen during the cold weather months for a better view - and for the occasional photo opportunity.

So let me introduce you to some more of our fine feathered friends:

Thursday, January 14, 2016

Stories from the Farm - the Different Faces of Winter

New year's greetings to one and all, and I hope everyone is getting used to writing 2016 instead of 2015 on all their documents! Speaking of transitions, when you live in a four-season climate like Ben and I do, there seems to be such a marked contrast between life in December and life in January. It's not just about the end of the holidays or about a new start although those transitions play in to the equation; it's about how we shift so abruptly from the warmth and gentleness of December's festive preparations and celebrations into basic survival mode of winter in January. I've experienced this transition all my adult life (and even written a poem or two about it). I've lived in this little section of southern Tippecanoe County for thirty-five years, twenty-five of them in a modest ranch-style home on one corner, and the past ten in a old yellow farm house on the next corner. I like to tell people we moved a mile down the road and a hundred years back in time. :) In all these years of country living, the shift in focus as we move past the holidays has always seemed abrupt - like jumping into a tub of ice-water!

Put Christmas away slowly

December dark and deep with verdant hues of gold and ruby,
Laughter mingles with the scents of baked ham or turkey in warm houses where
candles burn in windows, and carols drift over snow-covered, glowing branches.

The new year stretches out before us in stark, dark, frozen silence.

It hints at promise,
like the half spent candle floats
and flickers faintly in a clear glass bowl of water.

Once again we deal with the basic survival set, do
battle with the elements.

Yes, put Christmas away slowly.

As the days grow longer, gently fold
the last Christmas card away with its newsletter
into a torn envelope,
and lay it on the heap of Christmases past.

Winter winds bring us winter bouquets

More  of Junebug's writing at
This year is no different. December was extremely damp and wet. Sunless, in fact. No snow, however. But 9 days into January (and right on schedule) the winter winds picked up and the January temps dipped down to zero. This is when I brace for the usual onslaught of "winter woes." This year with all the rain in December, our outdoor faucet-handles locked up, our door-locks wouldn't turn, and the garage doors refused to stay shut. As a rule, the heating bill triples in January and the plumbing in this old house gets kinda slow and funky because the ground is either too frozen or too wet. In fact last winter some of the old galvanized plumbing between our outdoor pump and our indoor pressure tank which supplies the house with water rusted out. The cellar started to flood and we had to shut off the cold water to the side of the house which contains our laundry room and spare bathroom. So for about a month I was filling the washing machine with cold water from the kitchen sink until the ground could dry up enough for the excavators to dig up and replace the pipes. =:o Ah, the joys of living in an old farmhouse.

2016 found us emerging from a lovely, albeit somewhat hectic, holiday season and facing a hernia repair surgery for Ben the first week of January. All farm boys prefer to have their surgeries in the winter months with plenty of time to recoup for spring planting. It is now January 14th and Ben's recovery is going as well as can be expected for having a hole in his abdomen patched (ouch). But then one of our tires sprang a slow leak that won't seem to fix; and it snowed and of course Ben is not allowed on the tractor.

Saturday, January 09, 2016

Stories from the Farm - A New Year's Eve Buggy Ride

composite photo done with techniques taught by Fine Arts photographer  Stephanie Laird

So here's the story. Once upon a time there was this couple named Matt and Mary. Their 34th wedding anniversary was coming up. 

Matt asked Mary which restaurant they were going to go to celebrate and Mary replied, "If you really cared, you would take me for a ride on a horse and carriage for our anniversary." 

Apparently she had been saying the same thing for every anniversary for the past ten years. "I don't even know anyone who has a carriage," Matt helplessly told his buddy Dale at work. "How am I supposed to arrange this?" 

Well, Dale happened to be Ben's and my neighbor. "I think I know someone who might be able to help," said Dale.

So early in December, Dale brought Matt over and introduced him to Ben. Matt told Ben come rain or shine, he wanted to take his wife on a buggy ride the day of their anniversary, December 31st, 2015. It was to be a surprise.

Throughout the holidays which were rainy and cold, we kept wondering if our passengers would really show up.

"I sure hope she's not expecting fancy horses and a fancy carriage," said I. 

"I sure hope the weather's decent," said Ben.

But Matt kept calling to make sure we were still on and sure enough at four o'clock New Year's Eve he brought his wide-eyed bride to our place where Ben and Rodney (another neighbor) had the mules brushed, harnessed, and hitched up to the Ben's home-made surrey. Matt's buddy Dale appeared with a thermos of hot chocolate and attached a camera to the back of the surrey to record the event. I brought out a basketful of old blankets still warm from the dryer for all to use and off they all went for a ride around the block - which is about 4 miles in the country or an hour's ride for Kate and Annie (who are no speed demons). The day was dreary and damp and cold as could be, but when Kate and Annie pulled the wagon back into the driveway, the happy couple still had stars in their eyes. 

Happy Anniversary, Mary and Matt, and Happy New Year to All!


Friday, November 20, 2015

Stories from the Farm - Morning Mist, Dew Drops, and Some Very Artistic Spiders

Every once in a while Mother Nature sends us a beautiful misty morning when the clouds appear to rise up from the ground and end just above the tree-tops. Gaggles of geese fly low, cloaked in mist, and the shrouded sun rises on a hazy horizon. On these mornings, literally everything is drenched in dew, beads lining each blade of grass; each flower petal, stamen and pistil; and each little insect leg and antenna.

These mornings don't seem to come often.* This year there were two of them.

One such morning came for me in the early spring. The winter had been hard and very cold, but on the morning of April 17th, the world was newly green and blooming in the sun-kissed mist. I grabbed my camera to look for beaded spider webs and other wonders and was rewarded with the following pictures:

Magnolias in the mist

Morning dew and mist

Pasture through the mist

Reflecting dew drops on lily leaves and spider web

Another such morning came just this past September 12th. As the winter of 2015 had been unusually cold, so had the summer of 2015 been unusually wet. When the calendar reached August, I began to notice a predominance of spiderwebs in the yard. Actually I couldn't help but notice because I was always walking into them and brushing them out of my face and hair. =:o They would stretch from the tree branches all the way down to the ground and from the clothesline clear over to the flower beds that hug the summer kitchen. They adorned all the shrubs and bushes. On a sunny day I couldn't walk outside without unintentionally walking through a spider web! So when I awoke on this misty September morning, I grabbed my camera and went outside hoping to find spiderwebs bejeweled in dew. I was not disappointed. Our yard was literally decked out in spiderwebs that morning, especially along the shrubbery and the chicken run. I decided we'd been blessed with some very artistic spiders! I will end this post with a few samples from this once-in-a-lifetime misty-morning exhibit:

Ornate web