Teaching Legal English

Hollywood your online English teaching!

Hollywood is synonymous with the use of green screens (and CGI – but that’s a step too far for this article), green screens which allow a filmmaker to achieve special effects. This is something that teachers can also use to improve the online teaching environment for our students. In this post, I’ll take you through the whole process of how to set up a Hollywood teaching studio.

Using Skype or Zoom to teach English online – the classic approach.

If you think of teaching online, generally, the first thing you think about is using Skype. The process from that point of view is quite simple. You need a webcam, Skype and an internet connection.

The advantages of teaching with Skype are well known: flexibility re: working time, access to students, the popularity of apps in general, and the general acceptance that online teaching is becoming more and more mainstream.

However, there are (at the time of writing) some disadvantages to Skype; however, these disadvantages are something we can eliminate by ‘Hollywooding’. Namely, the problems with Skype are: 1) with face to face contact, you can’t effectively see the materials you’re working on, and 2) if you share screen on Skype, you lose face-to-face contact.

Now, I fully admit, these aren’t catastrophic issues that will stop you from teaching online, but it does make it easier if you can have everything that Skype doesn’t let you have – especially if it’s easy to do so.

So let me show you how you can do this. But, please note, the instructions below are for Windows PCs only. There are other (probably very similar) solutions for Linux / Apple, but I’ve only ever used Windows, so these instructions are just for Windows users.

Using OBS

The first step in ‘going Hollywood’ is to use the free program: OBS (Open Broadcaster Software) to sit between your webcam and Skype. OBS gives you the software i.e. the possibility, to Hollywood your teaching.

OBS’ website says it all – OBS is a “free and open-source software for video recording and live streaming”. You can find OBS by clicking here: obsproject.com. OBS is a tried and tested program with a huge online community and following, and can be used on Windows, Apple and Linux. It is clearly a programme you can trust.

Step 1: Download OBS

The first thing you have to do is to download OBS, you can find the download links here: obsproject.com/download.

TOP TIP: It’s always a good idea to download using the ‘download installer’ option and not downloading the ZIP file, as the installer does all of the installation work for you.

Once downloaded, open up OBS – you should see something like this:

Now you’ve got installed OBS, found it, opened it up and got it running, please shut it down so you can install the virtual webcam.

Step 2: Create a virtual webcam (VirtualCam) in OBS

Why do we have to do this? Skype needs a webcam to show your image. A webcam is a piece of hardware i.e. equipment that you plug into your desktop PC or is part of your laptop. Therefore, Skype detects this webcam and knows it can use it for a Skype call. But, we want Skype to use OBS. The problem here is that OBS is software, i.e. a program, not a webcam. So we need to download something else that makes Skype see OBS as a piece of hardware – this is called a VirtualCam. The good news is there is a free program that we can use to do this, you can download it from this link: github.com – OBS VirtualCam.

TOP TIP: please remember to download the installer for the VirtualCam as this does the installation work for you and is a lot easier than trying to manually install it.

Step 3: Turning on the VirtualCam in OBS

Open OBS once more. Look for ‘tools’ on the taskbar (red circle) and see if the VirtualCam is there (yellow circle). Click VirtualCam, and in the screen that opens, click the button to start the VirtualCam. This bit is important! If you don’t ‘start’ the VirtualCam, on Skype you’ll only be able to see a grey box – more about that in step 5.

Common problems:

If you can’t see the VirtualCam on OBS as in the photo (it won’t be anywhere else), try restarting OBS. If that doesn’t work, try downloading the virtual webcam again.

Step 4: A basic set up of OBS – adding sources and microphone

In the image above, you can see an image of me and a word document (the first draft of this post). In actual fact, you can see two images or ‘sources’. One source is the webcam (the picture of me), and the second source is the monitor (the word document). To see these sources, we have to add them to OBS. You can see these sources that I am using here (this is part of the image above):

‘Video capture device’ is my webcam, ‘display capture’ is my monitor.

Step 4a: Add the monitor as a source

  • Press the + icon in the sources box (bottom left-hand corner) and it brings up a list of sources.
  • Click ‘display capture’ and create a name for the source (you can leave it as Display Capture if you like (like I did), but if it makes life easier, call it ‘monitor 1’) and click OK.
  • On the next screen, choose the monitor from the drop-down list and click OK.

Display capture will now be visible in the sources box and you should see your monitor in OBS.

Step 4b: Add your webcam as a source

  • Press the + icon in the sources box and it brings up a list of sources.
  • Click ‘video capture device’ and create a name for the source (if you want to) and click OK.
  • On the next screen, choose your webcam from the drop-down list (not the OBS webcam) and click OK.

The video capture device will now be visible in the sources box and you should see yourself in OBS.

You should now see yourself and your monitor in OBS. Now you can begin to resize the sources e.g. make the webcam smaller to see the monitor source better.

In the sources box, your webcam should be in the higher position (see the image above – Video Capture Device (the webcam) is sitting on top of Display Capture (the monitor)). You can drag and drop these items to change their position if you wish to. However, the effect of having the monitor in the higher position is that you won’t be able to see the webcam.

Step 4c: Add a microphone

To talk to your student, you have to choose the microphone you want to use. You might have a microphone in your webcam, you might have a computer microphone, or you might want to use a separate microphone. One thing we have to do is tell OBS which one you want to use.

All you have to do is by Mic/Aux, click on the cog to access settings, then choose ‘properties’. You’ll then see a drop-down menu where you can choose the microphone you want to use. Simple!

Step 5: Getting Skype ready

There are two versions of Skype. One which is pre-installed on many PCs, the second which you can download from Skype. For some reason, it takes a lot of effort to make the pre-installed version of Skype work with OBS and is not really worth wasting time on (I tried to make this work, but gave up after an hour or two of searching the web for a how-to guide). The simple solution here is to delete the pre-installed version from your computer (or not use it), and download the latest version of Skype from skype.com.

Once Skype is downloaded and you’ve logged in or created an account, click on the three dots to open up settings (picture 1) and then go to audio and visual settings and select OBS from the drop-down menu (picture 2). Now, if you’ve started the VirualCam (see step 3) you should be able to see yourself on Skype 🙂

Please don’t worry if you can see a mirror image (as you can see in picture 2 below), the person who connects to you in Skype will be seeing the image correctly.

(Picture 1)
(Picture 2)

Common problems:

If you select OBS and you see a grey screen, you haven’t turned on the virtual camera (see step 3)

If you can’t see OBS as an option, you need to change your version of Skype.

Step 6: Get a second monitor

A second monitor is really useful – it allows you to keep content off-screen and drag it across ready to use whenever it’s needed. What I tend to do is open up a word document on the main monitor that OBS can see, write vocab / issues on there when needed, and if I need to drag in a resource (web page, pdf, etc) then I can drag it in from the second monitor.

Step 7: Use a green screen (or something green) & discover chroma keying

If you look closely at the picture above, on my second screen, you can see the OBS screen and in the corner, you’ll see me in front of a green screen.  The good thing about a green screen is that you can make the green screen disappear leaving only you. This means that your background is transparent which means you’re not hiding the source behind you.

Now, this step is not essential – you can see me taking a photo in the image above (check out the screen to the left). You can also see plenty of the image source behind you – you can tuck yourself away in the corner like I have done and still show lots of information behind you. However, using a green screen makes it possible to see more of what’s behind you – see the image for step 3.

***I will update this post this week with better instructions as to how to do use a green screen, but for now – in the rush to get this post up – please refer to other information on the net/youtube about how to do this e.g. there are plenty of good tutorials on YouTube which also talk you through the process.**

Step 8: If you’re using a green screen, get good lighting

If you’re using a green screen, lighting is the single most important thing. If you’re having difficulty getting the chroma key to work properly, 95% of the time, it’s the lighting. If you’ve got good lighting, then using the chroma key tool in OBS is really easy. So if you’re having difficulty getting the chroma key right, the think about moving a lamp behind the green screen, or making sure there’s enough light shining onto you in front of the green screen. This can be quite difficult to get right and might require you to buy some studio light diffusers, but once you have it right, make a note of where everything is positioned and then you’re set!

Once again, there are plenty of YouTube tutorials on lighting your green screen, so if you’re having difficulty getting it right, please check out some of those videos.

Other things to consider

OBS is full of functionality just waiting to be found. I use OBS mainly for skype and to record the videos for the courses that I run online. I did dabble with streaming, and I found using OBS gave me a lot more functionality than using just YouTube or Facebook; in fact, there is a ‘Studio Mode’ in OBS that specifically helps you with this. Discussion of those topics is beyond the scope of this post, but you might want to think about investigating the following:

  • improve the performance of your microphone by removing background noise: How to configure your Microphone – Noise Suppression, Noise Gate and Gain Filter,
  • use a virtual audio mixer to send desktop sound vis Skype. This is really good if you want to play YouTube clips on Skype so your students can listen to it,
  • use Audacity to record sound separately and using video mixing software to join the audio to the video for better results, or
  • start to record vlogs and use PowerPoint or a similar program as the background – this is what I do for most of my videos.

Good luck!

I’ve tried to make the process as simple as possible. There is a learning curve, but it is not insurmountable. If you have a ‘trial and error’ approach to playing with software, then you’ll do just fine. There is plenty of support out there for everything mentioned above, so if you need any help please use. A good starting place might be the OBS help pages, or simply going to google and typing in OBS + what the problem might be.

Good luck in your adventures and let me know in the comments below if you’ve followed this guide, or if there’s anything in this guide that should be changed.

See it in action!

In light of the current need to teach online due to coronavirus, I put together a short video to show how OBS might be used to help teach your students online and improve the skype/zoom online teaching experience.

I’m also putting together some help videos for how to use OBS. I hope these videos will save you some time and give you some great ideas. You can find the videos on this YouTube playlist.

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