The Stream Deck, and other like devices, is a great tool for remote teaching. For a modest cost and time investment, it can greatly improve the experience of instructor and attendee. The photo above shows my Stream Deck XL ($290) after a lot of experimentation and customization.
Something like the Stream Deck is important because dedicated buttons allow the instructor to directly control the presentation’s video and audio. There is no faffing around trying to find the correct application to click in. Audiences tend to be a forgiving bunch when it comes to slight delays, e.g. when swapping between cameras. But, just because they are forgiving, doesn’t mean they have to be. As instructors in technology, we need to be as smooth as possible with the technology. Whilst the Stream Deck was a new piece of equipment to me, it has been well known and used in the streaming community for years. I don’t think I have approached the same level of sophistication yet. I may make a ‘stinger’ one day, though!
I mounted my stream deck onto the shelf of the teaching station. This way, it is always at the correct height. The supplied USB cable was of a good length, but not quite long enough for my setup, so I needed to use a USB extension cable.
My main Stream Deck profile (shown above) is split into the following areas:
- Start Deck - swaps to a different profile with the buttons that start up commonly needed applications.
- Scene Selection - this controls the major item shown by OBS.
- PIP Selection - Many of the scenes contain picture-in-picture (PIP) elements. They can be turned on or off individually.
- Overlays - Most scenes also permit an overlay of the time, a countdown timer (for labs), and a lower third.
- Teleprompter Source - What is shown in the teleprompter.
- Annotation & Highlighting - Controls the pointer highlight and onscreen annotation.
- Sounds - Plays samples through the microphone using Soundpad. This deck contains the samples that are needed quickly - crowd noises. The bottom left button swaps to a profile that contains many more samples.
- Filters - Applies filters to the video source. Currently only freeze frame is supported, but more may be added in the future.
I drew the icons using Inkscape and exported individual icons as PNG files.
A nice feature of the Stream Deck is the support for extensions. Obviously, you will need an extension for controlling OBS, but I would recommend that you also have a look at the plugins provided by BarRaider. I found the ‘OBS Tools’ and ‘Soundpad Integration’ to be useful. I can see one or two others that I might end up using at some point as well.
Before learning about the Stream Deck, I had thought about how I could create a similar keyboard. I abandoned that idea the moment I saw the little LCD screens! However, I still have a plan to add some foot switches to allow changes to scenes while I keep my hands in frame. I doubt that most attendees would even consciously note that the scenes were magically changing, but then that’s undoubtedly part of the fun.
A device like the Stream Deck is a valuable tool for controlling the technical side of your presentations. Its flexibility may mean that you spend time configuring it to get it right, but that time will pay off in future presentations.