Friday, May 25, 2012

Katy Reichelt on video editing and the learning process


Udacity’s course videos are a cornerstone to our instructional model. Every class we offer provides about 50 minutes per unit of recorded course videos that include lectures, quizzes, homework assignments and office hours.  While the accumulated time of the videos for each unit is about the length of a university class, the time spent creating these videos is almost quadruple that amount – but you would never know it.

Udacity's video editing manager, Katy Reichelt, is the mastermind behind these course videos; she leads a team of talented video editors and guides professors through the recording process. 

How to become a video editor
Reichelt graduated with a degree in architecture from the University of Illinois and made her way from the Windy City to Berkley, CA. Post graduation, Reichelt struggled to find employment in her field. Soon she found a job with 510 Systems, an engineering company that develops hardware and software for mapping. (The company went on to develop autonomous cars and was soon acquired by Google).

If you live in the bay area you may have seen vans with rooftop sensors that drive around slowly gathering location data Katy manned one and quickly became familiar with her new home. 510 Systems is an engineering company that collects information for positioning, navigation, machine control, and robotics. Along the way Reichlet learned a lot about computer science: “As I worked there I learned computer science. Because all of their work is so new, I had to be able to interface with the computer quickly, so they taught me how to write scripts and I wrote some programs for them.”

Through her work at 510 Systems Reichelt met David Stavens, one of Udacity’s founders, and began working for Udacity. “I consider myself the first Udacity employee because I was a contract employee in the beginning when we were promoting the AI class.” 

Katy quickly acquired a new skill set, moving into the role of video editor and producing lecture videos for the class. Her training was rigorous: “David taught me everything he knew, which was about 10 minutes of training using Premiere, and then I was editing the quarter-long class.”

A short history of Udacity
In 2011, Udacity founders, Sebastian Thrun, David Stavens and Mike Sokolsky developed an initial model for online university classes with Introduction to Artificial Intelligence, a web-based course that was offered in partnership with Stanford Engineering. Professor Thrun and Peter Norvig led the semester-long course, drawing 160,000 students.

Following the AI class improvements were made to increase class and recording quality. Reichelt worked with Professor Dave Evans, Udacity’s VP of education, to test out new recording methods. Along the way, one snag sparked Reichelt to innovate a clean and clever way of filming lectures.  “Dave was a lefty, so you couldn’t read anything he wrote because he would just have his hand in the way. His initial footage wasn’t usable, there were a lot of issues with pen and paper, its not a very flexible medium so if something is messed up, it stays messed up, there is nothing a video editor could do about it.”

Then came the tablet, an interactive pen and paper, where what you write on the tablet appears on your computer screen. Hours and hours of experimentation using the tablet to find the lighting, camera angles and filming techniques yielded the video setup that Udacity uses today. Take a look at the difference in quality between the AI class and today’s classes, all thanks to Reichelt:




Good video editing and the learning process
When asked what the impact of good video editing can have on the learning process, Reichlet states, “Something that I’ve learned is that when you do video editing right, nobody thinks you did anything at all.” Producing a seamless lecture video requires Reichelt and her team of video editors, as well as the Udacity Teaching Assistants (TAs), to put the recordings through a careful review process.

The process begins when instructors record their lectures, which usually begets between three and five hours of footage. You can read about this process from an instructor's perspective in Professor John Regehr’s blog post Recording a Class at Udacity

After the instructors have recorded all of their lectures, video editors scan the raw footage to remove any empty spaces or other unusable footage. About two-thirds of the raw footage is removed so that what is left is a coherent lesson that is passed on to the TAs to review. Each TA reviews their class’s videos for content accuracy and fluidity. Their suggestions are sent back to the video editors for another editing go-around. Then, it is released to Udacity students.

Room for Improvement
Reichlet is determined to continue developing the video editing process and notes that budgeting more overhead time with the footage allows editors more time to work with instructors, enhancing their lecture videos. As with many startups, Udacity continues to seek out the balance between quick production and quality production. Ultimately, her goal is to efficiently make all of the videos as engaging and interesting as possible. “I want us to present our instructors in their best light and I want to give students everything that the instructors have to offer.”

She encourages professors to shoot interviews, organize their content in as clear a way as possible and add drawings that illustrate concepts whenever possible – remember Sebastian’s robot in Programming a Robotic Car and Dave’s bunnies in Building a Search Engine?



With these and other ideas in mind, Reichlet is confident that Udacity's course videos can only continue to get better. A well-edited video keeps students focused on the material, enabling them to move from one concept to another without distraction and can be viewed repeatedly.

In addition to her own ideas, Reichlet says that since Udacity's launch in February, students have provided helpful comments with respect to video content. "I'm reading the forums and looking for feedback on videos. We want them to be the best, easy to look at and listen to."

Your education is in your hands, so tell us what we can do for you. If you have any suggestions for how we can improve our videos, or if there are things you would like to see more of, please leave a comment in the section below and katy will be sure to see them.