Wednesday, 19 October 2011

Presenting the "Here at last!" award

I love documentaries. I spend Saturday mornings and any time I'm ill watching copious amounts of them (or at least, I did before I cancelled my Sky subscription last July). They're (usually) well made, highly engaging and beautifully shot, even if the content is a little suspect (one of the last ones I saw before cancelling Sky was discussing the possibility we were descended from an alien race whose aircraft were depicted in various pieces of art through time. While I have to concede it is possible inasmuch as all things are possible, the "proof" they brought forward wasn't exactly convincing).

It shouldn't be difficult to understand how thrilled I was to find out that the college has been trialling a site called http://bobnational.net/ which works much like iPlayer or 4OD, isn't constricted to one channel but is confined to educational, non-profit use only.

An additional, and significant, benefit is that you can take a clip of your documentary, which is then assigned to your profile so that you may access it easily from then on. I believe you may also be able to embed video clips in presentations, but I haven't tested the full extent yet (if you can embed, the button/ script isn't easy to find)*. The current archive goes back 7 years, but as I understand it they don't remove items, so this should only increase.

We've had the free trial account for a while, I understand, but they had ordered the license at the start of term (coinciding nicely with the expiry date of the trial account, meaning I was obliged to wait before doing any real experimentation). Due to a few hiccups it took a while to come through and finally, gloriously, it's here. I spent five minutes poking my nose into it yesterday afternoon and pulled a clip from an episode of Horrible Histories about the "Woeful Second World War" regarding encryption.

It's very easy to get a clip. You simply click the "Make a clip" button and it takes you to a page with the clipping kit (I'm not sure why this isn't just available by default, or easily shown/ hidden). Then you insert your clip by adding a start and end point and you may position these points either by dragging them around on the play bar of the video, or by choosing the precise hundreth of a second (centi-second?) you want to use and typing it in. You can use a combination of these two actions, so it's very quick to get exact clipping points.

My biggest complaint is that after I take my clip, the still screen shown at the start is the same as the still for the original video**: so instead of a bright orange screen saying "Woeful Second World War" (which is what my clip starts on) I have a shot of the inside of a cthedral from the end of a  Songs of Praise episode. It then cuts to the orange screen as soon as the play button is hit. Maybe that sounds niggly to some but a) I chose the start point of my clip because it is highly relevant and gives an immediate clue as to the nature and content of the clip and b) that means the thumbnail information is automatically assigned from the parent instead of a new one being created, giving me less control over what my students see.

I've spread the word to a few people who were expressing a wish we had access to a tool that would do this job and to the department I rub shoulders with most often. I'm now going to take a step back and see what they do with it before plotting the big college wide training session.

In the meantime, I'm thrilled at having a whole new toy to play with :)

*EDIT - for clarity, there is an html snippet provided that will allow you to embed it in webpages, but I'm pretty sure that doesn't work in presentations.

**FURTHER EDIT - Oops. Having now read the manual (http://bobnational.net/bob_user_guide/5.html) you can change this still image to one that suits your needs.