Open Broadcaster Software is great for teachers. Communicating and collaborating with students is vital, especially if you are teaching remotely.
Open Broadcaster Software for Teachers
During the pandemic, I started to use Open Broadcast Software (OBS), a free program that allows you to run your desktop as a television studio. You can download the program at https://obsproject.com/
While this isn’t a program used directly for communication, it helps you put forward a more polished image and experience for your students. The output for OBS is used as your webcam in Webex or other meeting software.
Your own Television Studio Control Room
If you’ve every seen a television show or a movie based on television journalism, you’ve seen the inside of a control room. That’s what OBS allows you to do. You can set up scenes, like you, your PowerPoint slides, a web page, or just about anything else that is on your computer screen.
Here’s a screenshot of OBS in action…
On the right hand side is the screen that you can send out to the world through Webex, Zoom, Google Meet, or just about any other online meeting software. The left hand image is the scene that you have on deck. In this image, it is just me and a virtual background I use when I’m not presenting anything. OBS acts like a virtual webcam. In Webex, you just pick OBS Virtual Camera as your webcam.
Below the two images is a list of scenes, sources, an audio monitor, and some controls.
Sources are things like your webcam, a program like PowerPoint, a web browser, images, or a screen on your computer. Scenes are collections of sources that you can overlay with each other. It takes a little bit of planning to set up your scenes and sources, but it is well worth the effort.
Face-to- Face with your Students
I set up a green screen so that I could put myself in front of my PowerPoint presentations. This allowed me to actually point to parts of the slide as I was talking about them. I still kept one hand on the mouse. I didn’t do this for every slide of every presentation I made. I was able to use more elaborate backgrounds than one can do in Webex, giving students a glimpse into my personality. Students seemed to appreciate seeing me at least part of the time each class. They said it was hard to relate to a professor who they never saw in some of their other classes.
OBS for Making Videos
You don’t have to use OBS for live presentations. I recorded several videos for my students using OBS. I was able to simultaneously hide my cluttered basement, show my students a long vibrating string, and overlay a close-up of a small function generator. This was handy for one of my virtual experiments. It is tough to show all of this at once in a classroom.
During the recording, you can switch scenes as you like. After making the recording, I took the video into another program, Camtasia, for editing and captioning before posting it to my YouTube channel, https://www.youtube.com/c/PhysicsThisWeek.
Open Broadcast Software is a useful tool if you are teaching remotely or if you want to make more elaborate videos for your class. There is a bit of a learning curve, but it is a very powerful tool to add to your teaching, communicating, and collaborating toolbox.
Once I get back into my classroom in the fall, I’m planning to teach my classes using HyFlex. I’ll be setting my laptop up as a separate login, and using my webcam to capture the small parts of my demonstrations for my classes.