Friday, 9 May 2014

Playing with Adobe Voice - a useful teaching tool, or software to spawn 1000s of nasty videos?

Yesterday Adobe announced the release of a free iPad App called Voice (I first picked this up on twitter, and was intrigued).

Blog Post Bonus: Download a PDF on percentage solution calculations.
(If you are having problems with percentage solution calculations then you might like to check out the Percentage Solutions course over at the Maths4Biosciences School on Fedora.)

The software is billed as "We’re here to help you tell your stories.", and seems to be aimed at users who wanted to quickly create short instructional videos, or to tell stories.

I've used short videos in my teaching for years, and I think they are a really useful teaching aid. (You can see a collection of some these over at my YouTube channel, and I also have a number of videos on my "private" teaching web space that are not publicly available).

I, and the students, find these videos extremely useful. However, they can take a surprising amount of time to produce, and for me the bit that normally takes the time is getting the voice-over right (usually done on one take) and then editing out my mistakes. There are also the issues with timing any slides and images correctly to match the voice, and also finding good images on the web that can be freely used. Adobe Voice tackles most of these problem quite neatly...

The software is based around the idea of using a series of slides (to which animation is later added in the final video) to to which you add a short (around 10 seconds) voice-over. These individual slides are then stitched together to give the final video.

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This is great approach as it breaks down the large daunting task of producing a 3 or 4 minute video in to a series of less daunting short video clips. It is very easy to come back to redo slides and change the voice-over, and the software also does a pretty good job of balancing the voice level between slides. Finally, and this is the killer feature of the App, it automatically adjusts the length for time each slide is displayed to match the length of the recording. Genius! No more tedious dragging around slides in video editing software.

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Main interface showing current projects

With the App you can either start a new project, or edit an existing one. If you start a new project you are given a list of possible layouts and styles from which to select.

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New project - picking a style

If you enter a project you will see the slides currently being used along the bottom of the screen, and these can be rearranged by dragging, or deleted or duplicated by touching on the up arrow on the slide and selecting from the menu. (For some reason the App can only be used in portrait mode.)

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Within a project

To add a new slide you just click the plus button on the right of the slide drawer.

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New slide, ready for icons, images or text

To add an icon to a new slide you just touch the icon button and then type the search term in the box.

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Searching for chemistry icons

The above image shows the start of a search using the word 'chemistry', and below shows some of the results.

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Chemistry Icons

The following image shows a result for the search term 'biology'...

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Biology Icons

You can also search for free to use images...

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Biology Images

Or just add text.

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And there are also a number of different layouts and styles to pick.

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Different Layouts

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Different Styles

And the music can be changed.

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Music Selection

To add your voice to a slide you just press and hold the orange microphone button and speak. A recording can be deleted by touching on the timer circle to the right of the sound waveform to bring up the delete option.

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Click and to record...

Once your masterpiece is complete you can upload it to the Adobe’s Creative Cloud using a free Adobe ID.

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Uploading your masterpiece...

As far as I can see the project has to be posted on Adobe’s Creative Cloud as I can't find any mechanism to export the final video to YouTube, dropbox or the like.

It is however possible to embed the recording on a web page or in a blog post. To do this you need to go to the Adobe’s Creative Cloud page hosting the video and get the embed code.

Below is my attempt using Adobe Voice to produce a short video explaining how to do percentage solution calculations...


Now, is any of this of real use? Is it a good tool for producing educational videos?

Well it is certainly very very easy to use. I created the above video, which I think looks pretty good, in a few minutes, and this in fact may be a problem as the "market" could soon become saturated with very similar videos all offering similar stories or advice. The novelty will be rapidly lost.

Also, the interface is a little limiting and doesn't offer some of the fine control and editing that may be desired.

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The final question is, what is Adobe up to with this application? A present it is free, including the hosting, but Adobe could have easily charged a small fee for this is as it is genuinely useful. My suspicion is that it is a "gateway application" and that Adobe will be rolling out a big expensive "all bells and whistles" version in the near future.

Meanwhile, why not pop over to the iPad App Store, grab a copy, and see what you can do with it…

Added Sunday May 11, 2014: Interestingly, it appears that the videos recorded with Adobe Voice will not play if the video (located at http://voice.adobe.com/v/RanPFINnqzc), or this blog post with the embedded video, is viewed using Firefox on a Mac. This may limit the usefulness of the software. Anyone else encountered this problem?

If you are having problems with percentage solution calculations then you might like to check out the Percentage Solutions course over at the Maths4Biosciences School on Fedora

Blog Post Bonus: Download a PDF on percentage solution calculations.