Medicinal Chemistry: The Molecular Basis of Drug Discovery was Davidson College’s first massive open online course. Taught by Dr. Erland Stevens, Davidson offered this course free to the public through the edX.edu platform.
As the Media Producer for the course, I faced many obstacles. One of the first was acclimating a professor accustomed to in class lecture style teaching to the nuances of video lecture capture. We overcame this with a “baptism by fire” method of allowing the cameras to keep rolling no matter what. During a talk, the professor may make mistakes and flubs. By letting the cameras to continue to roll, we encouraged Dr. Stevens to not dwell on the mistake and lose the moment. This method was successful in allowing Dr. Stevens to become more comfortable in front of the camera and permitted him to move past his unattainable goal of the perfect take. We spent our first three weeks moving past this obstacle.
We scheduled over 80 media elements for the course over the span of six months. Of those elements, approximately sixty were video shoots. Another challenge we faced was securing space to shoot these videos. We converted three old offices into a studio space. I oversaw the construction of the area, which involved removing the office walls, adding a green screen wall, hanging a movable curtain, adding electrical for lighting and outfitting the space so the video process could be streamlined. Our end result was a 40×40 foot space- perfect for lecture capture. This not only served the MOOC project but also served the school as an additional production space for students in the Film and Media Studies concentration.
The space was used heavily at first while we found our footing with production schedules. We typically shot three hours a week for six months straight. Our first elements often used a whiteboard, as seen above. After our team became comfortable with each other and the workflow, we began to experiment with different approaches, such as motion graphics. By breaking up the visuals, we successfully accomplished our goal of helping the learner stay engaged.
As the months passed, we looked for reasons to leave the studio. We were beginning to lose the excitement and energy we had from the beginning of the program. Leaving the studio rejuvenated the project and afforded us the opportunity to re-engage the viewer, showcase the campus to the on-line world and give our learners a sense of place. Our most challenging location shoot came when Dr. Stevens wanted to demonstrate how a drug is removed from the body. He came up with the idea of using a pool filter as the real-world example. Sound was a huge challenge as we shot this element in the pump room of the natatorium at Davidson College. Using a host of microphones to cancel out various frequencies, we achieved one of our best video elements of the course.
We set a goal to wrap shooting approximately six weeks before the launch of the course. Even our counterparts in Boston at the edX offices doubted our ability to hit this lofty goal. Through the dedication of our team, we achieved our goal, giving us ample time to fine-tune the course before launch.
This course was an excellent opportunity for us to learn on the job. While I had a strong background in video production, I had never done an online course. Dr. Stevens was also new to the idea. We were able to grow together and develop our philosophies hand in hand. Dr. Stevens felt that the experience of creating an online course made him a better teacher. He learned to be very poignant in an effort to keep the information condensed to appeal to the online learner. Dr. Stevens was able to take this learning experience and apply it to his in-class style at Davidson College.
For me, it opened my eyes to learning goals and objectives. I used the term, “baptism by fire” when describing how I acclimated Dr. Stevens to the world of video lecture capture. In a sense, he did the same to me by showing how a course is built from the ground up. I have applied this knowledge to my profession and as a result I am a much stronger instructional designer.