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April 2008 Site of the Month

Saving Student Brian

Authors: Stacey Greenwell, Beth Kraemer, Debbie Sharp, Sue Smith
Institution: University of Kentucky

Interview with: Stacey Greenwell, Interim Director, Information Commons, Young Library, University of Kentucky

Interviewer: Ken Burhanna

Description: Saving Student Brian provides a fun and memorable video introduction to the University of Kentucky Libraries. Shot on location on the University of Kentucky campus and in the 3-D virtual world of Second Life, the video provides a novel blend of animated and video images. Just short of eight minutes in length, the video chronicles the end-of-term challenges of Brian, a senior who is trying to complete his final project and is woefully ignorant of the support services available through the library. The video plays an important role in the first-year curriculum of students at the University of Kentucky, making them aware of the many library locations, resources and friendly, helpful staff members available to assist them throughout their college careers.

Q. So I am eager to ask, what is the story behind Saving Student Brian? Can you share a brief history of this project?
A. For quite some time, we had been using a basic PowerPoint presentation to introduce new students to the library. It was in need of updates, but we wanted to try something different for a variety of reasons.

One, we were concerned about so many different volunteers presenting the PowerPoint to new students. Were they consistent in covering the material? Time is also an issue in giving the PowerPoint (the classes are split—half PowerPoint presentation, half library tour). Some volunteers who enjoy talking at length weren’t leaving enough time for the library tour.

Two, we realized that new students are bombarded with orientation sessions and introductions to campus resources. We wanted to avoid our message being lost in a sea of PowerPoint presentations so we knew we needed to do something unique.

Q. What was your project timeline? When did you start this project and how long did it take?
A. We started to formally develop Saving Student Brian in April of 2007 and basically worked on it intensely all summer. We completed it and had it ready to go by August 2007. It was admittedly a very tight schedule, but we were able to pull it off because we all worked well together and did it in-house.

Q. This project was a collaboration. Can you describe how your team came together and the role of each member?
A. Two of our team members, Debbie Sharp and Sue Smith, had previously worked on a video for a library staff event. In creating that video, they had to rely on a campus multimedia department to build the Flash animation. They were interested in doing a similar video for library orientation, but wanted something that could be done in-house which could be modified by library staff if needed.

They attended a presentation on Second Life conducted by me and Beth Kraemer, and were intrigued by the virtual world. Could an orientation video be filmed there? We were all eager to find out, and the four of us agreed to work together on creating a new library orientation video.

As far as our roles, Debbie Sharp and Sue Smith wrote the script. Beth Kraemer built the “set” in Second Life. Beth Kraemer and I “filmed” in Second Life. I also edited the video—both the Second Life portion and the real life footage.

Q. How is Saving Student Brian used on your campus? Can students view it through other platforms in addition to YouTube?
A. The video is primarily used in our freshman orientation class, UK 101. Every UK 101 student watches the video in a session in the library auditorium. UK 101 classes visit the library two at time (approximately 50 students per visit). After viewing the video, they divide into four groups and take a library tour. Approximately 2,100 UK 101 students viewed Saving Student Brian during fall 2007. The video is also available on the library website, on our Facebook page, and on a video screen in the library’s space on Second Life.

Q. What would you say are the main objectives of Saving Student Brian?
A. Since we only have 20 minutes to talk with the students, we know that any attempt at library instruction will be difficult and not terribly useful. Our mission is to show students that library staff are friendly and helpful, library locations are available to them all over campus, and most importantly—ask a librarian when you need help, as librarians can save you time!

Q. Is the video supported in the classroom by any further instruction or handouts?
A. Students do receive a glossy color handout which highlights basic services and includes a map of library locations. They also receive information on the FindIt tutorial; completing the tutorial is a UK 101 class assignment for students.

Q. This film is a blend of video and Second Life animation. Can you describe the technologies used to capture and edit your images and audio? Also, what level of experience did you have with these technologies?
A. For the Second Life portion, we captured the screen using Camtasia by TechSmith. I had previously used Camtasia to create internal modules within the library and felt comfortable with it. I assembled the Second Life footage, the real life footage, and the audio tracks using Camtasia. For the audio in both parts of the video, we used Audacity to record the tracks. A few of us had experience using Audacity to create audio Podcasts.

Q. Why did you select Second Life as one of the locations for this film, and in follow up, are you satisfied with how the Second Life segments turned out?
A. We were interested in using animation for the video. Since two of us had started getting involved in Second Life, we felt like Second Life would be something we could use. What was important to us was having control over the content—we didn’t want to rely on another department to create video files for us which we might not have the skills to manage and edit.

At the time, we were pretty happy with the Second Life segment. We felt we took good advantage of tools available to us to add dimension to our Second Life characters. For example, we used a Second Life tool called a “facial expression auto-emoter” to enable our characters to smile, frown, stick-out their tongues. But since then, the University of Kentucky island has gone live and we’ve been involved in several other projects. We have done a great deal of building and filming in Second Life, and the tools within Second Life have advanced and become more sophisticated. At this point, we know the quality will be much better when we try it again.

Q. What has been your sense of how the film has been received by students and faculty? Do you feel that this film is accomplishing its objectives? Have you gathered feedback or conducted any evaluations?
A. The reaction has been very positive. Based on anecdotal evidence, we believe it is meetings its objectives. Students laughed in all the right places and genuinely seemed engaged with the content. Students and faculty evaluate the content of the UK 101 course at the end of the semester. While the video itself isn’t part of the evaluation, the general comments about the library portion of the course were positive.

Q. Did UK students participate in making this film? If so, what was their role?
A. We tried to involve students as much as possible, but due to a short timeframe, this wasn’t always possible. We did seek student input as we developed the general idea of the video. We also had several students go through the script with us and offer suggestions. One of the avatars was controlled by a student. The videographer and voice of Brian was a recent graduate who had just taken a library staff position. Certainly we involved a number of student employees in the live action portion of the video. The female voice was a student. “Shelly” is frequently recognized on campus as the girl from the video!

Q. What did you learn through developing and creating this film?
A. We learned a great deal about editing video and about filming in Second Life. In general, the entire process was a learning experience as this was the first video we ever created ourselves from scratch

Q. What is the biggest challenge you and your team faced on this project?
A. Our biggest challenge was our lack of experience in creating a video. As we look back on the video, we see lots of blunders—a mouse racing across the screen, messy edits, poor sound quality, not to mention shaky camera work. We learned so much during the process, and I know that we will do a much better job on our next effort.

Q. What does the future hold for Saving Student Brian? Do you foresee updates or new segments?
A. We are already planning a new video for the fall. We anticipate building on this script and reshooting the entire video. We’ve all grown attached to Brian, so I suspect he will be back and we’ll learn more about his future.

Q. Do you have any further points or comments about Saving Student Brian that you would like to share with our readers?
A. If you have big ideas, run with them! We weren’t sure if we could pull off creating a video, but the four of us worked together and made it happen.

April 2008 PRIMO Site of the Month