Reality TV: Using Portable Digital Video Recorders

Mike Lawson • Technology • August 2, 2011

Ever walked by a mirror or big store window and not looked at yourself? There’s more than just good looks in that reflection. Stimulation, motivation, analysis, curiosity, truth… all this and more comes to life when teachers bring camera recording technology into their classroom instruction. Talk about exciting reality television!

Camcorders have come a long way from previous bulky, analog units. Nowadays, digital cameras easily fit into the palm of your hand, and their digital capabilities provide superior audio and video quality. Analog camcorder models have all but disappeared now that digital camcorders offer so many more options than simply playing videos back on a TV. Users can edit and embellish videos on a computer, then play productions on a DVD, Blu-ray player, PC, or handheld device. You can also e-mail recordings or upload video clips to sites like YouTube. Many video editing software suites also let you combine your video with digital stills, graphics and text, expanding the creative possibilities.

Most digital camcorders are quite compact, weighing about one pound, with the smallest to a half a pound. In the past, camcorders stored video on mini tape cassettes and DVDs. Today, we have choices: internal hard drives, on-board flash-memory similar to what you find on MP3 players, or removable flash-memory cards like those used in a digital camera are the most common formats.

Now we even have pocket camcorders or Flip cameras available which are less expensive and weigh only a few ounces. These typically have very simple interfaces and are easy to use as a cell phone. In fact, some of them are available with both HD (high definition) and SD (standard-definition) options. Their video quality may be a bit lower than full-size SD camcorder with fewer features. High-definition video or HD video refers to any video system of higher resolution than standard-definition (SD) video of 720 pixels × 480 lines, and most commonly involves display resolutions of 1,280×720 pixels (720p) or 1,920×1,080 pixels (1080i/1080p).

Using Video in the Music Classroom

Alicia Belgiovane, an elementary/middle school vocal teacher in Gunnison, Colorado, uses her Flip camera to make a difference in her teaching. She discovered how to use video photography to bring greater success to her teaching. “I have used my camera to record concerts, contest, and most importantly, classroom rehearsals. We can immediately watch the performance on our computer/screen. It only takes a minute to connect the flash drive to the computer and download the performance. The immediate feedback for my students makes both teaching and learning more fun and enjoyable.”

Interestingly, Alicia’s principal originally purchased a few of these cameras for teacher use; and, it was the P.E., Drama, and Math teachers who used them the most.

Alicia continues, “It is especially beneficial to record the students in the two weeks prior to a concert. At this point I am focusing on stage presence and musicality in the performance. Watching their performances and immediately critiquing it is critical and very meaningful. The dialogue from the students lets me know that they understand the musical concepts we have been addressing all year! My suggestion is purchase the Flip with the two-hour memory ability. I bought the one-hour Flip camera and regret not having the larger video capacity. The camera is idiot proof, anyone can record – even me!”

You can see a sample of how her groups have benefitted from the Flip camera in this article’s web supplement, which can be found at

Bergenfield High School

Jeff Brown at Bergenfield High School in Bergenfield, New Jersey regularly incorporates video technology. “I use my Flip Ultra HD camera as often as I see fit. This usually comes out to about every other week or so. I use it on two fronts. The first is to provide aural and visual feedback to the students. The second is to critique my own conducting and rehearsal management skills. In both situations, the Flip cam is essential. I try to use the camera during the early stages of a piece that we are working on. That way, the students can later assess their progress. I believe it is vital for the students to be able to acknowledge their own improvement and to show how hard work can pay off.

“The Flip cam always comes out during our dress rehearsals in the auditorium. Since we do not have the luxury of utilizing the concert space every day, adjusting to the acoustical properties can sometimes prove challenging. I typically set up the Flip camera on a small, flexible tripod towards the back center of the audience. This allows us to gauge how much of the sound is actually being carried throughout the hall. From there we can adjust dynamics, articulations, and the seating arrangement of the ensemble.

“The camera also helps drive certain concepts home to the students. We talk a lot about posture and how it affects sound but until they see themselves slouching, they never really get it. The camera is great for the most extreme cases.

“On a personal level, I occasionally turn the camera on myself to improve what I do on and off the podium. Whether I am encountering issues in regards to clarity of instructions, conducting problems, or classroom management, the Flip camera captures it all. I can sit down and mark down how much time is spent playing vs. verbal instruction. As passionate teachers, we sometimes become too engrossed in the explanation and we forget that the students are there to make music. This has helped me get over many slumps in the preparation of a piece.

“As for actual concerts, I try to set up the Flip camera on myself from somewhere downstage (again, for self-evaluation.) At Bergenfield, we are fortunate to have an excellent TV production program run by Ms. Ashley Carr. Every performance held at the high school and middle school is recorded using a state of the art camera and transferred to DVD within a week. Once the DVDs are in, we spend an entire class period watching, analyzing, and critiquing our performances. This self-reflection is an irreplaceable tool in the educational process. For analysis, we do a verbal critique in class rather than in written form. We get good participation in our large group discussion.”

Evergreen High School

Wiley Cruse uses instructional video in his music classroom at Evergreen High School in Evergreen, Colorado because, as he says, “Seeing is believing.” “With video playback of my students’ rehearsals and performances,” Wiley notes, “ I’ve found my students retain more information, understand concepts more rapidly, and are more enthusiastic about what they are learning. You will often see one of my staff or myself with a video recorder in hand during every one of my marching band rehearsals on the field. This has become a valuable education resource used in conjunction with my SmartBoard for refining students’ marching band visual technique. Here’s a trick that I learned to do with my huge new 80” SmartBoard, which was grant funded by my wonderful principal, Mr. Walsh, who is a strong proponent of technology integration for student success in our high school classrooms. My drill writer, Craig Sellers, uses Pyware 3D to write the drill for our marching show. I use Mr. Sellers’ Pyware 3D drill animation split screen with portions of the video recorded during rehearsals to show the big picture to my students plus zoomed-in aspects of drill shapes, intervals, and so on. Students see what their drill writer envisioned right beside what they are actually producing on the marching band field. The result is much cleaner drill much sooner in the season. The integration of video technology into my curriculum during marching band season has resulted in rehearsals that are very productive, I know my students understand what is asked of them by my staff and I, which leads to greater learner success on and off the marching band field. I highly recommend integrating video technology.”

What do students say about video technology in their classroom instruction? Michael Guest, a marching band student at Evergreen High School reflected on his experience with this new technology. “Seeing the show from a judge’s perspective helps me know what they actually are actually seeing and I am better able to fix any visual or marching problem that I see. I can detect wrong notes or any sections in the music that require more attention. Watching previous concerts gives me a different perspective of how I sound with the rest of the group, while also gaining a better understanding of how the music flows.”

A Few Popular Pocket Cams

The Flip Ultra HD video camera was the first miniature camcorder with HD resolution to raise the curtain on quick and easy videos for teachers. There are basically three models to select from that record between 1 to 4 hours at For the money and size, the Flip cameras and the Samsung HMX-E10 are simple and ready to use right out of the box. They produce decent videos with 720p picture quality with good color reproduction and work well in a variety of lighting situations, including low light environments. Best of all, they’re very affordable. There are some drawbacks for the Flip camera: no removable storage with fixed memory, no external microphone input for shot-gun coverage, no macro mode and no 1080p for the ultimate in video resolution. The Flip is a simple video camera with a 2X digital zoom and a HDIM output that is conveniently equipped with a miniHDMI to HDMI cable that can be plugged into a high definition TV for instant viewing. It gives smooth video and no blurs with its 720p@60 frames a second.

The Samsung HMX-E1 1080P HP Pocket camcorder is priced similarly to the Flip camera but offers more features. It has swivel lens built into the top of the camera that rotates 270 degrees. This gives you more flexibility and lets you shoot the perfect angle every time. This Samsung unit also offers a touchscreen that navigates much like a smartphone, with an intuitive user-interface so you can concentrate on your subject and not on a bunch of buttons and knobs. It has the same sharp picture and rich colors you see in high definition movies with whooping 1280 X 720 pixels.

Don’t need a USB cable to connect as it has a handy USB arm built-in into the bottom of the camcorder so you can easily transfer videos to your notebook to edit and share. It offers plug-and-play portability so you can view, edit, manage and upload from anywhere. It even has features like a smart filter that shrinks your subjects, a vignette filter that fades the edges, as well as a defog for autocorrecting haze and improving clarity. The Samsung can handle low light conditions well because it has a bright F2.2 lens.

If you are looking for more bells and whistles in a pocket size camcorder, don’t hesitate to look at units like the Kodak Play Sport Zx3 (waterproof up to a depth of 10 feet), Creative VFO624 (optional external microphone), and the Sony bloggie MHS-CMS (5X optical zoom lens).

Closing Comments

Pocket camcorders were perfectly designed for music educators. The simple no-nonsense, user-friendly features enable quality results for multi-tasking teachers in rehearsal situations. Instant playback on an HD television is a breeze. The majority of pocket HD camcorders have a digital zoom and two hours of recording time available, along with mono recording limitations. Since recent pricing has significantly dropped, units that cost less than $100 are now available, along with free shipping from many stores. It is a great time to go shopping for a pocket camera to improve your instruction with the excitement and candidness of “Reality T.V.”

For the latest developments in ultra-portable HD cameras or to check out reviews online, visit: Digital Camera Reviews at and PC World at

Dr. John Kuzmich Jr. is a veteran music educator, jazz educator and music technologist with more than 41 years of public school teaching experience. He is a TI:ME-certified training instructor and has a Ph.D. in comprehensive musicianship. As a freelance author, Dr. Kuzmich has more than 400 articles and five textbooks published. As a clinician, Dr. Kuzmich frequently participates in workshops throughout the U.S., Europe, Australia, and South America.

For more information, visit

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