YouTube

Video as a Medium of Communication

YouTube videos have been a really important resource to me throughout my adventures learning to code. Video as a medium harnesses both sight and hearing, as opposed to just a static page, and allows a much greater level of detail and replicability (every keypress, application, mouse click, etc.) for technical guides.

Throughout my adventures teaching coding I've been trying to look for a good medium to convey tutorials.

Comparison of Teaching Mediums

Text

I've undoubtably used so many text-only resources for coding. StackOverflow is all text, Medium blog posts about setting up your Webpack config are all text. Man pages and all documentation is text. Text is incredibly convenient, incredibly dynamic, indexible, and incredibly easy to serve. However, while writing and distributing text content is easy, distributing good text content is very difficult. In today's digital age, humans aren't really used to reading long blocks of text, and if your tutorial isn't very engaging while also being detailed, it's easy to get derailed and totally lost.

Lecture

The history of lecturing goes back to the times of medieval universities. A critical aspect of this lecturing was the transfer of the instructor's original source to a student's handwritten notes. In this case, lecturing was the only way to transfer information before the invention of the printing press.

A 1736 engraving, by William Hogarth, titled "Scholars at a Lecture". Students are creammed into a lecture room, discordantly moving about and making various faces, and taking notes.

Lecturing's value, as well as its downfall, comes from pacing. All students must follow the pace of the lecturer. This helps a teacher ensure a class of students are all at the same level; however, falling behind or losing track of a lecture then can render the rest of the lecture useless. Depending on the student, their strengths, and their prerequisite knowledge, lecturing can often spend most time on content a student already knows, and the least on the areas with which they're least familiar.

However, lecturing is easy for a teacher, and allows them an efficient means of communication through physical presence, and lectures with demonstration and audience interaction can connect the student, teacher, and class together.

Rembrandt's "The Anatomy Lecture of Dr. Nicolaes Tulp". Shows many medieval students gathered around Dr. Nicolaes Tulp, observing his dissection of a human body

Video

Video is somewhere in between text and lecturing. Video captivates the student a lot more than plain text does, and with pausing (you can't pause a lecture) and YouTube speed controls, it's possible to adapt video pretty closely to a student's pace. However, video isn't indexable and searchable the way text is, so to find a video snippet explaining one small technical detail may take a lot of searching and watching, and possibly not the result you're looking for.

Video requires a lot of investment on the part of the teacher to create, record, produce, and script, and can really only follow one path of reasoning. However, it's considerably more accessible than physical teaching (limited to students at schools offering the classes they want to take), and through modern visual effects and editing can be a lot more condensed and punchy than a lecturer talking. Therefore, I think they're a great medium for specifically focused, project-based, coding tutorials!

My First Video

Setting Up Equipment

Remember what I said about "a lot of investment on the part of the teacher"? Yeah...

Turns out, I had a Behringer Xenyx 502 preamp,

A Behringer Xenyx 502 preamp

a Shure SM57,

A Shure SM57 microphone

and a mic stand lying around. Setting this up was pretty easy. Plug the microphone into the mic port on my preamp (it accepts a mic and two stereo line-in), use an adapter to connect the stereo output to a standard size AUX microphone plug. Unfortunately, most computers (my Thinkpad T430s and MacBook Air included) have an audio port that serves as both the microphone and headphone port.

A comparison of iPhone headphones, with an integrated mic versus a standard audio-only headphone.

This AUX port uses a fourth pin on the top for the microphone. Adapting a microphone-only AUX cable to a combo one requires a dongle like this one:

An adapter going from separate microphone and headphone AUX cables to a single 4-pin AUX plug

Overall, I'm happy with my setup.

A photo of my desk with computers, monitors, lamp, preamp, and the microphone on its stand.

Recording

I decided to test out my new setup by doing a tutorial video to create a calculator app in HTML, CSS, and Javascript.

I have a new appreciation for the patience and tenacity of YouTubers. I had to re-record the tutorial about 15 times because of fumbling up the intro, writing the code in a way I realized was confusing or didn't work, and because I forgot to turn on my audio recorder for a take. The few takeaways I have are:

  • Speak slowly and clearly.
  • Don't be afraid to re-take a part.
  • Come up with a script to roughly follow, and try out the tutorial once (i.e., write the code and narrate).

Now the next challenge: editing. I've been able to clip together the audio and video, speed up some parts, and enhance the vocals with iMovie. Editing up a good intro is surprisingly difficult. I'm not releasing this first video, but I'll keep trying different things until I'm happy with the result.