The first thing I noticed when firing up the course is that the videos are excellently and professionally filmed in crisp high-quality HD widescreen (1920 x 1080). This is a far cry from the typical crummy-camcorder-in-the-back-of-the-room found in many online theological courses! Instead, this is slick, crisp, and clear. You are not peeking in on another’s class; these are made with you in mind. It feels like a personal lecture with a scholar.
The style is minimalistic. The teacher stands in front of a plain white background and looks directly at the camera/viewer. Helpful text appears from time to time to accentuate the teacher’s main points, which is all tastefully done. There are no other images, such as maps, 3D models, screensaver-like images, etc. – at least, not in Walton’s Old Testament Genres Course. I’ll admit that I’m glad, because these things almost always look dated quickly (often as soon as they’re released!). Of course, minimalist design will no doubt go out of fashion eventually, though I do think these will age well and, in the end, clean and simple is always cool.
Of course, the charisma of the teacher will no doubt impact the effectiveness of this simple style. Walton seems to have all the qualities of a great teacher – he chooses his words well, varies his delivery, uses his hands, and is overall enjoyable to listen to and watch. Weaker teachers may feel a little more uncomfortable with the “naked” set up, and this may result in weaker classes. This is all speculation of course. Logos no doubt is selective in not only choosing reputable scholars in their respective fields, but also good communicators (as, of course, those two things don’t always go together!). If all the teachers are like Walton this won’t be an issue.
The video can be viewed either full-screen or in its own panel alongside other material like notes, Bible, transcript, etc. The streaming-quality also smoothly adjusts (like Netflix) depending on one’s bandwidth.
The lectures are broken into smaller 5-10 minute bite-sized segments and this reveals significant thought and care being put into adapting a seminary course for this new context. Each segment aims to only make a few points, which ends up more memorable as a result. They also require less commitment from the viewer than a single 40 to 90-minute lecture. I got into the habit of squeezing in a 7 minute video each day.
In Walton’s Old Testament Genres course this works well: for example, one video will be on the Psalms, another on ancient history writing, and another on Apocalyptic literature. I’m interested to see how the segmented videos will work in an exegetical course; if they break up the passages too much, it may result in disjointedness. This will no doubt come up in the Genesis 1-3 course that I’ll review later.
Inserted among Walton’s lessons are specific training videos from the Logos staff that help integrate Walton’s material into Logos. For example, using Logos to find other ANE legal texts or using Logos to research prophet figures in the Bible. I will talk about these in the next post.
Download or Stream?
Since this is Logos Mobile Education, one may ask “do I need an internet connection at all times?”. I have iffy internet at times – resulting in constant video quality shifts, or pausing to buffer – so I prefer to download things where possible. I was glad to discover that the lessons could be downloaded to be played back at full quality anytime. This is also helpful for those using a laptop and traveling.
Simple, right? Well…
The first time I tried this, it didn’t work, and unfortunately, there’s absolutely no indication that anything is happening even when it is working. I couldn’t find any sort of download manager within the Logos software or through the help forums. I expect Logos has never needed such a thing until Mobile Ed came along. It would be fine if I were only downloading a book (probably a few megabytes at most), but a multi-gigabyte video package is another story. How big are the files? When is the download done? What is my download speed? Etc. A download manager would be a lifesaver at this point. The only indication of when the download is complete is that “Delete downloaded media” becomes an option.
The next time I tried, I decided to leave it for a good hour or two, and everything downloaded fine. I found the location where the videos are being downloaded and got some of the info I couldn’t find within Logos. Walton’s 4-hour Old Testament Genres course came to 4.99GB in hard drive space. While the videos have irregular file extensions (see left image) I was able to play them individually by dragging into VLC, so if someone wanted to use the videos in another context, they could copy them out of this folder and rename them and give them an .mp4 extension.
So the download experience was a mixed bag. Someone with good internet may never need to download the videos. Or if they do, it will be quick and virtually unnoticeable. Those who don’t have good internet (and/or limited hard drive space) will want some indication of download size, speed, and location. In this case, the download experience may be frustrating. Once the videos were downloaded, everything worked smoothly.
I’d suggest for future updates that a download manager is profoundly needed, and also helpful would be the option of downloading a chosen video, rather than the entire course.
What You See vs. What You Get
Not wanting to be a downer with another criticism, I still must say I was a little disappointed at first that the video looked significantly different than the preview image on the Logos Mobile Ed page. The lecturer in the Logos promo pictures took up the full window, but in mine there was a lot of white space. It turns out that Logos’s image was just for promotional purposes.
Some may find it disappointing that what you see isn’t exactly what you get, but within a few minutes I tweaked my setup to maximize my workspace and minimize the white space, and soon forgot! For those with multiple displays, the video can be viewed fullscreen on a separate monitor.
The experience also allowed me to try Logos’ support forum, on which I received a helpful reply within a few hours (here’s my forum question). I’ve spoken with a few Logos staff so far and have found them extremely (almost unnervingly) helpful and friendly with every question and concern I’ve had so far.
At its heart, Logos Mobile Ed is all about video teaching, so the quality of the video and the content are key. Fortunately for Logos, the video is of extremely high quality and a pleasure to watch. My frustrations with downloading pale in comparison to the overall video experience. Logos prides itself in quality, and – visually – Logos Mobile Ed only reinforces their convictions.
So the video is top-notch, but what of the supplemental material? And what of the content of the lectures themselves?
In the next post, I’ll summarize the additional material (workbook, tests, reading, etc).