Wednesday, 28 December 2011

Visual Art online portfolio requirements and selection criteria.

Written for South African Visual Arts educators and decision-makers.

Eight requirements for optimal online portfolio adoption
My research into online portfolio software use in two secondary schools suggests that there are eight key requirements to meet before a school's Visual Arts educator(s) can optimally adopt online portfolios into a grade's syllabus:
  1. School management and Visual Arts department educators' buy-in; 
  2. Appropriate computer access for learners;
  3. Sufficient availability of scanners, cameras and other peripherals at school for learners or their educator to digitize analogue artworks;
  4. Reliable access to online portfolio websites and related Web2.0 services;
  5. Sufficient broadband to support upload of digitized artworks;
  6. Supportive Information Communication Technology (ICT) school policies;
  7. In-class support: ideally from a support teacher AND a technician;
  8. Student interest to enable the successful co-adoption of online portfolios.
The extent of these resourcing requirements suggest that curricular advisers and other national or provincial decision makers should initially focus on supporting adoptions at well-resourced private and public schools. Learnings from these environments can then be used for adoptions in more challenging, under-resourced environments.

Ten criteria for online portfolio software selection

Once a school's Visual arts educator(s) are confident that these requirements can be met, they need to choose an online portfolio software that is appropriate to their, their school's and students' needs.

At a one-laptop-per-learner, private school its Visual Arts department head reviewed several online portfolio options, before choosing CarbonmadeThis service was chosen, as it met ten criteria:

  1. It is free; there are no software costs to the school as learners do not need more than 35 images for a showcase electronic learning portfolio (e-portfolio);
  2. With sufficient broadband, online portfolio publication is easy to do, and teach;
  3. "Carbonmade" is a school-friendly brand name (when compared to Deviantart, for example);
  4. The service does not feature inappropriate content; violent, pornographic, racist or misogynistic content is not promoted;
  5. The service is popular and has featured portfolios that can be easily referenced as examples of best use of the new cultural form;
  6. A variety of creative professionals use the service; students can follow the examples of most interest to them in preparation for tertiary education, work or hobby opportunities;
  7. The service offers a real world experience of the online portfolio publication and students may derive benefit from being on a platform for creative professionals;
  8. With its large user base, the freemium service is likely to be sustainable
  9. The service's legal agreement respects the learners’ copyright;
  10. Unlike services, such as Deviantart and Behance, Carbonmade does not afford any social networking functionality. However, limited interaction was viewed as positive by the educator. He perceived that there was a potential for inappropriate feedback by grade 10 students as he believed they were not emotionally mature enough to give constructive criticism.
Subsequently, Carbonmade was approved for use at a relatively well-resourced public school by the Visual Arts curricular advisers of the Department of Education. This suggests that these ten criteria have broader relevance than an elite private school.

Your thoughts?
Do these eight requirements and ten criteria resonate with your experience? Are there any others that I should add? Kindly share your thoughts with my readers in the comment box below.

Saturday, 10 December 2011

iTunes US Store music single and album costs versus local online prices.

Written for South African iTunes US Store users and online music buyers.

I recently enjoyed reading Thyon Design's blogpost on Apple's failure to offer games, music, books, movies and television shows to South African consumers. Interestingly enough, Apple calls its local offering an "App Store" to clearly differentiate its local offer from an iTunes Store. Further, a search for 'itunes store' on www.apple.com/za shows no results. Apple is certainly consistent in its online message that there is no iTunes Store for South Africans (if only local resellers would modify the international marketing material they use to reflect this truth, too!).

Given Apple's opaqueness (at best) around its future plans for launching an iTunes ZA Store, I agree with Thyon Design that the best course of action is to organize an iTunes (US) Store account. Once done, It's simple to buy online from iTunes voucher sellers including; wildtwig.com, mediawob.co.za, mp3sa.co.zaMaximus Cards, Evo Points and cardscodes.com

As I use my iTunes US account to buy music only, it is interesting to compare pricing there for popular music albums and singles versus local online retailers prices for similar pop products:

Cost per voucher.
Let's say one pays a premium of $3 on a $25 a voucher, which one purchases on a South African credit card via PayPal. This translates into paying 10% extra on every online purchase versus a US consumer.

Cost per song.
So, a $0.99 cents song actually costs $1.09. Multiply that by today's exchange rate ($ 1 = R 8.232) and one pays R 8.97 per song. By comparison, Look and Listen charge between R 9.99 and R 10.99 per song on their most downloaded mp3s list, while OMusic charges either R 9.99 or R 11.99.

Cost per album.
For pop music albums (predominately by international artists) you pay either R 69.99 or R 99 on Look and Listen for any of its top ten and R 99.99 to R 129.99 for pop albums featured on OMusic's banner ads. In the iTunes store the cost ranges from $ 9.99 to $ 14.00. At today's exchange rate, that is between R 82,24 and R 115,25 per album (this excludes the voucher surcharge).

What does this mean for the South African consumer?
While it is at least 10% cheaper to buy singles using the iTunes US Store, South Africans will find it cheaper to buy select albums locally. This is interesting as I mistakenly assumed before writing this post that both songs and albums would inevitably be cheaper given the relatively huge US market. Despite the smaller South African market, our exchange rate and much lower level of competition, it seems that local online retailers believe our market is not willing to pay album prices at US prices. I'll definitely keep this in mind for future online album shops :) !

Friday, 9 December 2011

Eleven ideas to get full value from your PhD at University

Written for thrifty, value-minded, South African PhD students and HUMA, UCT.

To do a PhD full-time often involves financial sacrifice, especially if moving from a full-time job. Below are eleven ideas to help South African PhDs get the most value from their tuition and student status:

1. Regular supervisor access and feedback.
Since regular contact and advice from your supervisor is key to progressing on the right track and finishing your PhD, it's important to gauge his or her interest and availability. At best, your contact and feedback expectations should be documented in a PhD memorandum of understanding. This will assist in three years of tuition fees not turning into four or more...


2. Links to leading researchers in your field of interest.
If your Faculty or Department offers opportunities to meet leading researchers in the field of your interest, this is valuable not only to learn but also as a sound-board for your research thinking. Particularly if they have potential to be your external examiner!

3. Research group participation.
The opportunity to regularly present one's work to others within one's Department or Faculty is also a useful motivator. It is also worthwhile to participate in research groups at other academic institutions; one is likely to be exposed to different teaching styles, research methods and learn to explain one's research better to strangers.

4. Access to research funding.
A benefit of studying locally is that there are often far more funding opportunities for South Africans than at overseas universities (which are mostly reserved for locals, too). You should chat to your supervisor about grant application opportunities. At UCT, you can also approach  the Postgraduate Funding Office.

5. Opportunities to do research work.
Another opportunity to earn money is through tutoring, supervising, being a research assistant or subject. It is also useful to discuss these opportunities with your supervisor and network within the university to understand your part-time work possibilities.

6. "Brand You" freelance activities.
If you are a full-time student, you should also take advantage of opportunities to do self-development work; from developing an online voice that reflects your freelance interests to attending the free entrepreneurial workshops or using the career advice services that your university affords.

7. Conference attendance.
Find out from your supervisor whether travel and event funding is available for local (and even international conference attendance). This can be an important motivator to write as funding is often linked to presenting a paper or poster for your university.

8. Postgraduate facilities.
It is useful to know which areas at your university are dedicated for use by PhDs. This is particularly useful for those needing a readily accessible space to work and free internet access on campus. At UCT, an example of this space is its library's Research Commons, whose popularity is proving a problem for access!

9. Research writing support.
Your university may offer support services to improve your research and writing skills.
At UCT, HUMA and the Writing Centre have helpful staff and useful resources and courses to help you.

10. Student discounts.
The recent student laptop initiative is a good example of a student discount. These are seldom well promoted, so its up to you to do the research and be keen to ask. In my case, I have benefitted from Digicape's discount offers on select Apple Macs and the Learning Curve  steep discount on select Mac software and peripherals.

11. Free, legal software.
You should also research whether your university offers any free software. For example, at
UCT, students can download free, anti-virus software. UCT's ICTS also offers speedy access to 
software updates for the Windows, Mac or Linux operating system; as well as Adobe and Microsoft Office software updates.

If you have any other suggestions, please add them as a comment below. Thanks!

N.B. This post was written as part of my advocacy to the University of Cape Town regarding the need for a systematic, general email communication plan to its PhD students. In discussion with Professor Deborah Posel and fellow Humanities PhD students I was asked to contribute content to HUMA as an example of general communications that should be of value. Hopefully this post and its re-use generates discussion at UCT to assist such a communication plan's realisation. 

The personal, non-profit, domain name I really, really want.

Written for South African individuals interested in registering a personal, non-profit domain, as well as the .za Domain Name Authority.

Given that www.travisnoakes.co.za is the least inappropriate choice for me to register my personal, non-commercial domain with as a South African researcher, what could be an ideal choice and more long-term customer offering in a better domain name system?

In my humble opinion, the ideal domain must first include South Africa's top level ZA domain; this is relevant as its developing world context not only shapes and informs my research and what I write on, but also serves the audience I am most interested to reach.

Secondly, the domain should include my first and second name to ensure ease of searchability; http://travisnoakes.za is a simple solution that is easy to remember for typing in. Since my blog features posts related to research, plus other interests, I am keener for it to be a personal blog than one featuring another descriptor, such as http://travisnoakes.research.za, which may not be relevant should I decide to work full-time outside academia after completing my PhD.

This is what I really, really want and I shall be asking the .za Domain Name Authority if offering a choice like http://travisnoakes.za is feasible. I hope to and include their feedback in a future post on this issue; hopefully this idea can move from pie-in-the-sky to reality :) !

I shall also ask whether I can purchase an 'archival' domain option to store my blogposts for digital posterity. For this, adding 'archive' as a second level domain could work nicely: http://travisnoakes.archive.za. Here's hoping it won't be needed anytime soon, though...

Would you prefer domain name solutions like these? If so, please leave your thoughts in the comments box below. Thanks.

Wednesday, 7 December 2011

My PhD in Media Studies' research problem statement

1 What problem does my research address? 
There is a research gap regarding the multimodal choices that online portfolios afford, the choices that secondary school students make and the resonances of their choices. There is also a gap in describing how students negotiate with educators regarding choices the latter view as 'problematic'.

1.1 Who supports the presence of a problem?
David Buckingham (2003, 2007) argues that exposing students to media production in new school curricula can be a very effective form of media education. The new Visual Arts curricula that this Action Research project contributed to launching; “Create your own online portfolio” and “Improve your online portfolio” were intended to serve this aim.

In following these curricula, students made many multimodal choices in creating their online portfolios. Multimodal Theory, developed by Gunthar Kress (1996, 2010) and Carey Jewitt (2006, 2010), is highly appropriate for describing individual choices and their relationships; to each other, the page they help construct and other portfolio pages.  

Jewitt (2006) has used Yrjo Engstrom’s  (1987, 2001, 2005) Activity theory to explain the complex schooling context in which multimodal choices are made. Second generation Activity theory will be used to explain how the contradictions and tensions that result from a change to the traditional Visual Arts' classroom's 'tools', 'rules', 'division of labour' and 'community' in the new online portfolio activity system contributed to students negotiations with educators concerning 'problematic' choices.

2 How, where and when does the problem impact?
Although Buckingham’s body of research on media education (1990, 2007) suggests that teaching students media production is beneficial, there are few examples in the literature of these interventions by Visual Arts educators. There is also a research gap in students’ choices with online portfolio software.

By supporting successful initial curricular adoptions at a private (2010, 2011) and public (2011, 2012) school, this project enabled research into: select South African students’ multimodal choices with online portfolio software; their choices’ resonances; and uncovers how changes in creating an online portfolio as an adjunct to a traditional one contributed to students’ negotiations with educators regarding 'problematic' multimodal choices.

2.1 Who supports the impact of the problem?
Michele Knobel and Colin Lankshear (2011) have also identified the importance of students being taught “new media literacies” through digital media production and describe the challenge of educators’ “outsider mindset” being an obstacle to digital media’s successful adoption. This project has helped Visual Arts educators to develop “insider mindsets” that are better suited to support the initial curricular adoptions of online portfolios.

Both the private and public school’s curricula support students with creating showcase Visual Arts electronic learning portfolios (e-portfolios). Barrett (2008) has written about the importance of educating students to use e-portfolios for life-long learning. She has also blogged on the decline in North American secondary schools’ adoption of e-portfolios (2010), listing many challenges that e-portfolio adoptions face.

Hazel Owen (2009) did an e-portfolio literature meta-review, which showed that although there are pedagogical benefits of e-portfolio use in well-resourced, tertiary environments, there are many hazards too. My research has supported secondary school educators with exploring the benefits and hazards of their Visual Arts students’ e-portfolio use as an adjunct to the traditional portfolio.

3 Why does the problem exist?
The conceptual basis for the problem is that online portfolios are a new cultural form; freemium Web2.0 services only emerged from 2003. Their novelty partly explains why so little research has been done into the multimodal choices they afford.

3.1 Who supports the conceptual nature of the problem?
There are distinct resourcing barriers confronting adoption of Information Communication Technology in tertiary education in the developing world: Laura Czernieciwz and Cheryl Brown (2004) identified four key resource categories; 'technological' (i.e. availability of ITC resources), 'personal', 'agency' (i.e. access to digitisation and computer equipment), 'contextual' (i.e. formal enabling networks) and 'online content' (i.e. articles written for local audiences) where barriers to adoption occur. These categories arguably apply in secondary education too, as it is a similar formal environment. 

My research project project has assisted two secondary school educators in overcoming some of these obstacles and has facilitated the curricular adoption of online portfolios for studying multimodal affordances, students’ selections, their choices’ resonances and uncovers the background to negotiations regarding 'problematic' choices.

Tuesday, 6 December 2011

Importing videos into NVivo 9 as internal sources

Written for users of video analysis in NVivo 9 qualitative research software. Attention: Technorati blog aggregator. The code GCJXS6STZCJQ confirms this blog as mine :) !

With your video file in the right format, size and descriptively named, it is ready to import as either external or internal source into NVivo 9. Using the analogy of an Adobe Illustrator's use in graphic design, one can either choose to embed files internally within the file (like a poster graphic with fonts and images saved in the .ai file itself) or linking to them externally (the poster file is smaller as it links to the files outside itself).

QSR encourages users to only import the files that are core to their research, since importing source internally increases file size and, if very large, may impact on NVivo's responsiveness. An important limitation of importing video files as external source, however, is that it does not afford you the same opportunities to code material that internal files do. See the screengrabs below:
Screengrab of an external source video in NVivo 9
Screengrab of an internal source video in NVivo 9
Our research project has 26 subjects and for each at least two video interviews and two Day Experience Media (DEM) videos. We could try to import all 104 videos internally: at a conservative estimate of an average file size at 50 MB for interviews and 30 MB for DEM, that's 
2 600 MB for interviews and 1 560 MB for DEM. This could total 4,160 GB, a big file. NVivo's Offline Help says a standalone NVivo file has a size limit of 4GB, so we may need to reduce the low settings used in our optimized encoding process to ensure that internal files are well within this limit!

In starting the initial coding, we will focus on four subjects (Ace, Edmore, Thabang & Khanya): all four were hosted at a digital storytelling workshop at UCT recently thanks to their comprehensive contribution to the ICT Access and Use research project. I will use their thoroughly documented examples to initially test file imports:

After consolidating all their first and second interview files to a shared intranet folder, I have imported these videos as internal source (AdonĂ© will also be providing a transcribed interview shortly). The research team can now begin to code these internal videos, while the research leader can test the import of codes and classification attributes from the researchers' NVivo master copy files back into her project master.

Make sure your research team's files are NVivo ready

Written for research leaders to copy-and-paste for briefing their field researchers.

If your NVivo project involves working with a team of data-gathering researchers, I would recommend you email them the following:

"Dear Researcher,

Our research project uses the qualitative data analysis software (QDAS), NVivo9, to import and code diverse file types (such as your writings, interview recordings and pictures) into one research file. This makes it more efficient for the analysis team to code data in different file types, whilst enabling analysts to run a range of queries and reports on the file's codings.

Since this software can only import data that is in particular formats, we would appreciate you learning about them below and using only these formats when creating files for us:

Video files
NVivo9 only imports .mpg, .mpeg, .mpe, .wmv, .avi, .qt, .mov and .mp4 files. Please set your recording device to save in one of these formats, wherever possible. Kindly also check that you do not select a high-resolution setting for video as this should prevent the files being too large for the research team to share on its intranet. This also helps us; many large video files (i.e. larger than 40 megabytes) can reduce our NVivo file's responsiveness.

Audio files
For voice recordings, please setup your dictaphone to record interviews in .mp3, .wma or .wav format. Kindly check the quality of the recording is not set too high as this produces files that are too big for the team to share on its intranet or may slow NVivo's responsiveness. 

Written files
NVivo 9 does import Microsoft Word (.doc and .docx), Rich Text Format (.rtf) and Text (.txt) files. Please send us any written work in a Microsoft Word format or export your files to rtf. or .txt before emailing us them.

Picture files
Any images you submit should preferably be in .gif, .jpg, .bmp, .jpeg, .tif or .tiff format. To reduce file size, please check that the image's resolution is not greater than 300 dots per inch (dpi) and image sizes do not exceed 20 cms in either width or height.

Spreadsheet files
In the unlikely event you must submit a spreadsheet, please ensure it is in Microsoft Excel format. 

If you need any help checking, setting-up or converting files into these formats, kindly email me, thanks."

By following these guidelines, your researchers will reduce the time your analysis team must spend encoding the files and getting them NVivo ready. N.B. You may also want to add guidelines for file-naming, too...

Let me know whether this email text was useful to you; type your thoughts in the comment box below. Ta!

Monday, 5 December 2011

Improving UCT's support for Qualitative Data Analysis Software use.

Written for current and prospective users of qualitative research software at the University of Cape Town.

My blog's NVivo posts aim to provide an example of the use of a qualitative data analysis software (QDAS)* in a South African (or developing world) academic context. Hopefully by posting on the experiences of using NVivo 9 in completing a PhD and working for the ICT Access and Use project, I can stimulate much needed discussion about how students and staff could (or should) be better supported in their QDAS-use.

There is considerable scope at the University of Cape Town (UCT) to improve its support for student and staff QDAS-use: currently, UCT does not do even one of the four key activities listed by David & Jacobson (2008) for QDAS institutional success as exemplified by the University of Massachusetts Lowell! 

Based on my experiences at UCT, the status of these key activities are:
  1. Software is not readily available - UCT (and its Humanities Faculty) does not have an NVivo site license;
  2. Training is hard to access and costly- my NVivo workshop attendance was self-funded;
  3. There are no user-groups - there is no user group at UCT, such as a "Qualitative Research Software Users Network" for students and staff;
  4. There are no forums for open discussion - UCT has no fora dedicated to fostering discussions on technology and qualitative analysis.
As a result, it is unsuprising that there is; limited decision making support in choosing the most appropriate QDAS software to use, little or no materials on QDAS in the library and no readily accessible online guides by UCT researchers on their QDAS-use.

This does present opportunities for UCT's staff and/or students to take the lead with:
  1. Establishing a UCT QDAS Users group;
  2. Setting up a regular QDAS forum;
  3. Documenting how may researchers are, and intend to, use QDAS software;
  4. Using usage statistics to justify:
  5. investment in training staff and students to teach about QDAS and its use;
  1. - b
  2. uying a site license for UCT.
If you are interested in working with me on these actions, please get in touch or add your feedback in the comment box below. 

* Also more commonly known as Computer Assisted Qualitative Data Analysis Software (CAQDAS).

Davidson, Judith and Jacobs, Cynthia. The Implications of Qualitative Research Software for Doctoral Work: Considering the Individual and Institutional Contexts [online]. Qualitative Research Journal, Vol. 8, No. 2, 2008: doi: 10.3316/QRJ0802072.
Availability:<http://search.informit.com.au/documentSummary;dn=425496252675286;res=IELHSS> ISSN: 1443-9883. [cited 05 Dec 11].

Documents to help your research team work off a common NVivo 9 file, without NVivo Server.

Written for researchers using stand-alone, NVivo 9 licenses to work on a shared file.

I have just published 'Setting up NVivo 9 user profiles in a standalone project' and 'How to work as a team off one, stand-alone NVivo 9 project file' to the web via Google Docs: both documents were originally written for our research team to follow; the first guides them to set up user profiles appropriately, while the second describes three processes to follow when working on a common file. I have rewritten these documents to guide other research teams with sharing a stand-alone file using separate NVivo 9 licenses.   

As the fourth phase of the research project will run for less than a year, we could not justify purchasing a full NVivo Server license (and no short-term licensing option is currently available). Hopefully, QSR International will look into providing a short-term licensing option for non-profit, academic projects in the near future.

P.S. Kindly let me know whether these documents were useful (and/or how they could be improved!) by adding your feedback in the comment box below, thanks.

Thursday, 1 December 2011

RESEARCH is a category that local blog aggregators should offer!

Written for (South) African researchers who blog and local blog aggregators.

Not only is it impossible to organise an appropriate domain as an individual, non-profit researcher, but researchers will also experience further difficulties categorizing their blogs with local aggregators for appropriate promotion. These services do not offer "research" as a distinct category and are arguably doing a disservice in categorising academics' blogosphere contribution!

In my case, my research spans three disciplines; media studies, education and software use.
Ideally, I would like to categorise my blog as a research one first, with sub-categories. 

However, I am not given research as a primary category option by the three popular South African blog aggregators (Amatomu, Afrigator and MyScoop). Since Afrigator's erratic service is down today, I will use the other two to illustrate the challenges this presents:

First up is MyScoop. In registering, I am offered the following directory choices for my blog:  

While education is available, researchmedia studies and software are not. By only being able to select "education", I am concerned that my blog content is being placed in an inappropriate context (the primary focus of my research is students' choices, not their educator's pedagogy or education, as such). However, as some visibility on an aggregator is better than none, I must compromise!

In my second example, amatomu.com, there are fewer choices:
There are no choices for researcheducationmedia studies or software. Since my research is more concerned with students' use of media, I chose the "media and marketing" category. Even if it is potentially misleading, it is arguably less so than the other categories!

I appreciate that the readership of academic blogs may be small relative to those for politics, sport and entertainment. However, I believe that it would be helpful for raising the profile of South African academic research blogs if our local aggregators offered the ability for academic bloggers to select a "Research" category and to give their readers the option to select it.

Do you agree? Is this feasible? Please let us know your thoughts in the comment box below...

Wednesday, 30 November 2011

Revised tips for video import to NVivo 9

I've just learnt that a step and a process described in an earlier post are problematic: in testing file imports into NVivo 9, I learnt that (1) the MP4 format is optimal for sizing, but heavily reduced files are not importable. Also, (2) NVivo 9 does support importing files bigger than 40MB as internal source (contrary to the software's help file advice, ahem!):

1. The MP4 format may be the optimal choice for reduced file size, but encoded versions may fail to import.
In an earlier post, I thought that the MP4 file format would be best used to import long interviews into NVivo due to their relatively smaller size. However, I could not import these files, even though they were under 40MB and in a format approved for import.

2. The 40MB size limit restriction on videos imports can be exceeded using WMV and AVI formats
I did succeed in importing unencoded AVI and WMV files and after struggling to encode other interview files below the 40MB guideline, I succeeded with importing files of 53, 64 and 103 MB files sizes as internal source.

In testing imports, I was also reminded of the important practice of always backing up one's source files; these proved useful as a reserve source when subsequent encodings were not convertible to a new format.

I learnt these facts soon after failing to import MP4 encodings of Thabang's first video interview. NVivo 9 showed these error messages:


I used Any Video Convertor to further reduce the video's file size; selecting a smaller video size (220 * 176 from 320 * 240). The resulting video was 27.8 MB in size. I then tried to import it into NVivo, but received the same generic error message.

I then tried to re-encode the reduced file to a WMV file format, as this matched those used for successful imports of Edmore and Khanya's first interviews. However, this conversion failed.

I then used my video backup folder to source an earlier .wmv version of the file and converted that. However, it went from being 55.4 Mb to 94.4 MB in size; probably due to fixed audio settings that I could not change, while the screen and video settings could be reduced. Out of frustration, I tested whether I could import an earlier AVI export of the interview and was suprised when a 54 MB file import succeeded.

I then tested two WMV interviews with Ace (65 and 105 MB respectively), which were proving difficult to reduce and these imported fine.

Today's learnings have raised an interesting question; should I edit my earlier post to be more accurate and useful for other researchers? While this is tempting, it would be misleading and undermine my research blog's ability to show some of the challenges which emerge in the research process. So, I won't updating the post, but I will certainly add a comment warning readers not to follow the problematic step and process!

If you agree, or not, please add a comment below. Thanks :) .

Tuesday, 29 November 2011

Six key changes I'd like in NVivo 10.

Written for QSR International and NVivo 9 users on Apple Macs and NVivo 10's software developers.

Unlike most NVivo 9 users, I run my 62-bit version on Windows 7 via Parallels in Mac OS X Lion. I did not go the PC-only route that's optimal for NVivo, as I also use a Mac in media tutoring and didn't want to buy two desktops! In my context some of the issues described below may have local origins, but I hope that most are global and can be addressed by QSR International's developers in the future:

1. Provide feedback on NVivo's start-up progress during slow starts
Even though the files I use are relatively small, NVivo's stand-alone version has an erratic starting speed and can be slow to start. When this happens, users have no indication that there's a problem and what may be causing it: athough I initially thought this may be attributed to relatively slow entry-level broadband speed affecting the software authentication process, since moving my desktop to optimal broadband speeds in a UCT office, the problem still persisted. I suspect this may now be attributed to accessing files over a PC network using a standalone version of the software.... It would help me if NVivo included a progress tracker. I would also have no problem with NVivo's developers using this tracker to aggregate information on problems experienced in my local configuration, so that they could use this information for making future versions more reliable.


2. Stop a user opening the same file several times at once
When NVivo is slow to open, I sometimes click on the same file several times to check it's opening. The result is that when NVivo does open fully, there are several windows showing the same file :( ! Since this has no end-user benefit and could cause problems, NVivo's developers should aim to prevent this from happening in future versions.


3. Give better feedback to users on video conversions and sizing correction
There are several restrictions on the file size and format types that NVivo can import as internal or external source and the import process could be better designed to help researchers meet these criteria. For example, this could include linking users to online guidance when they attempt to import files that are in the wrong format, or too large. Based on my experiences with video imports, this would be particularly beneficial to researchers using NVivo for the first time; many do not have expertise in file formats and sizes and addressing their limitations would improve the NVivo software experience.


4. Provide feedback on failed video imports
Even after meeting NVivo's file format and sizing criteria, there can still be problems with accessing files on external devices. For example, I'm using a Drobo S drive. After converting its drives to ones that both my Mac and PC can access, it was still difficult to view these videos in NVivo 9. It would be useful if I could view feedback on failed imports and the potential causes: I'm sure other users would agree.


5. Allow the user to set a custom auto-save time
A fair amount of data can be lost if one's computer goes down between NVivo's default auto-save time that set to 15 minutes and cannot currently be changed in the stand-alone version of the software. I think users should be given control of their auto-saving time; whilst being notified of the benefits and hazards of their potential choices.


6. Better integration on the Apple Mac platform
Using NVivo on Mac can be problematic, particularly because it may require complicated troubleshooting: issues may originate or result from interactions between Mac OS X, Parallels, NVivo 9 and the usual suspect, Windows 7. In addition, some of the keyboard shortcuts available to PC-users are difficult or impossible to access on a Mac; for example, there is no "insert" shortcut on Mac for inserting comments as a Mac keyboard does not offer the PC button it requires. There are also challenges with the shift to the Mac OS Graphic User Interface versus s PC's Windows; for example, using Ctrl + Shift + Up keys on a Mac to move a note up one, shifts the notes view to the top of the page, which is irritating if one has created a lengthly annotation for a screengrab and then needs to scroll back to where one was. Even if the number of NVivo 9 users on Mac is marginal, I'm sure they would appreciate NVivo 10's developers addressing issues like these...

So, that's my wishlist for changes; here's hoping my PhD research does not finish before they are implemented :) ! As an NVivo user, what are your thoughts on changes you'd like to see? Please add them to the "comment" box below, ta!

Monday, 21 November 2011

Three steps to get video files NVivo 9 ready

Written for researchers importing video into NVivo 9.

In my assistant researcher role for the Student ICT Access and Use project, I must ensure that the diverse video file formats and file sizes used to record student and researcher interviews are usable in NVivo 9.2. This is done in three steps; 1. consistent file name use, 2. compatible file conversion and 3. file re-sizing:

Step 1. Consistent file names
It is important for ease of reference and searchability that filenames are accurately and consistently named. For example, video files of the first interview were named according to the following format: (first name) interview (number = one) (date of interview DD Month YYYY).
  • The choice of a first name protects the research subject's privacy; whilst not over-complicating the researcher's codings for subjects.
  • Researchers conducted several interviews with each subject and these need to be distinguishable.
  • Wherever possible, the date of interview should be added to ease citation for research articles.
Step 2. Video files must be compatible with NVivo 9
All file formats must be NVivo 9 compatible and I decided to use mp4 as the optimal format for compression. NVivo9 only imports .mpg, .mpeg, .mpe, .wmv, .avi, .qt, .mov and .mp4 files, so I converted all files that were not compatible (i.e. .mts and .flv) to mp4.

Step 3. Video file sizes must be less than 40 MB to be NVivo 9 import-friendly 
Interestingly enough, videos created by the best resourced researchers posed the most problems for getting the files NVivo 9 ready: researchers at the University of Fort Hare and Rhodes University used their mobile phones to record the interviews that were in Windows Media Audio/Video File format and these were seldom over 20MB in size. This contrasted to up to 1GB in file sizes being generated by those "better" equipped!  

The University of Cape Town (UCT) and Free State University (UFS) researchers used high fidelity settings to record their interviews. However, there was no reason for file sizes to be so large; high resolution video or high fidelity sound has no (or minimal) benefits for our analysis.

Changing filenames was easy, but steps 2 and 3 presented varied challenges and involved using different video compression software to encode the files at lower video resolution and audio fidelity. I have documented processes to overcome these challenges for other researchers, below:

Problem  #1 with UCT interviews number one: WMV files too big.
Actions taken to reduce the size of WMV videos:
1. Did an internet search and found a guide at: http://www.ehow.com/how_5620360_reduce-wmv-file-size.html;
2. Downloaded AVC video convertor for Mac at http://www.any-video-converter.com/products/mac_video_converter_freeware and installed it;
3. Changed its output directory to match that of the import directory;
4. Selected Customised MP4 Movie as the output selection;
5. Selected one file to encode and export;
6. Defined the "profile" settings to reduce; the video frame rate to 8, video bitrate to 192, audio bit rate to 32 and sample rate to 8000. Changed audio channel to 1. 
7. File was then encoded, reducing from 180 MB to 43 MB.
6. Imported the file as external source into NVivo 9 and it played successfully.
N.B. The "profile" definitions for the desired export are specified for each file individually; it was more efficient to work on one file at a time.

Problem #2 with UCT interviews number one: MTS file format is not NVivo 9 compatible and is too large
Actions taken to change the MTS file format and reduce it size:
1. Downloaded the free MTS convertor from http://www.mtsconverter.us/ and installed it on Windows 7.
2. Selected the export option: MPEG-4, 786 kbps, Audio: MP3, 96 kbps. This took 1hr and 20 minutes and the file size was reduced from 837 to148MB.
3. As this is a free version of the convertor, by default it added the AVS Video Convertor watermark to the middle of the image. Fixing this will cost $59 (before the 30th of November, 2011): the price of unlimited AVS4YOU.com software use.
4. I then used AVC video convertor to reduce the file's size.
5. MTS convertor allows for advanced encoding options, so I used the settings from #1.6 on a 1GB video and it was reduced to 52.4 MB. This process only took 25 minutes.

Problem #3  and #4 with UOFS interviews number one: Interviews in .FLV and .AVI format and too large
Actions taken to change the FLV and AVI file formats and reduce their file sizes:
1. I used Any Video Convertor to convert both file formats to MP4 and used the profile settings to reduce the file sizes.

The next step is to check that all the newly encoded files can be imported into NVivo 9; balancing file size with losses to video and audio quality... and that'll be the subject of my next blog post!

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