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I attended a webinar today about the pros and cons of flipped classrooms (i.e. information gathering such as video lectures or textbook-reading happen at home; experimenting, exploring, and inquiring happen in class). There was lots of great discussion and food for thought. Several presenters brought up this important point: A video lecture is still a lecture. Sure, it has some advantages. But why are we (video) lecturing at all? Lectures were born in the days when only one person owned a copy of the book. If you wanted to know what was in it, they would read it to you. In medieval Latin (the language of European scholars pre-Gutenburg), lecture means “to read.”
This alone is not sufficient evidence to either keep or get rid of lectures. Nowadays, the word “lecture” doesn’t always mean “reading the book at you.” Sometimes it means “storytelling,” sometimes it means “asking short questions of one student at a time,” sometimes it means “direct instruction,” sometimes it means “modelling my work or my thinking,” sometimes it means “teacher talking, broken occasionally by outbursts of student discussion.” I’m not interested in “are these useful tools.” Of course they are. My question is, “are these the best tools for my purpose.” The answer to that is more difficult, also more dependent on my purposes and my students.
There are a few topics where I don’t think lecturing is the best tool for my purpose, but I do it anyway (the inner workings of a P-N junction, for example). If I’m going to lecture, a 5-min video buys me at least an hour, considering that it would take me 15-20 min in class, plus repetition for students who were absent or needed to go over it again. The reason I do it, just as Jerrid Kruse mentions, isn’t that I think it’s ideal; it’s that I haven’t found a suitable collection of examples or a good way to guide a discovery process. So ultimately, the PD I need isn’t a lecture about why I should move away from lectures; it’s a guided exploration where I can explore my intractable problems with some guidance (inquiry-discover-model-constructivist-project-engaging-self-directedness: not just for students anymore). Somehow, we need to create that course.
Screencasting has been a lifesaver. Assigning screencasts for students to watch at home means more time in class for problem-solving, less time repeating information to students who were out sick, and better-organized lessons. Here are a few things I’ve learned along the way that might be useful to other beginning screencasters.
I use Jing as a recording environment
It’s free and easy to use. It limits files to 5 minutes (which I appreciate) and creates .SWF files. My 20/20 hindsight:
- Wait for 2 seconds after hitting the Jing record button — it often hiccups there and misses a second of audio, just as you’re introducing your topic. On the other hand, if Jing looks like the clock is hung up in the middle of recording, keep talking — it’s probably fine.
- I keep my hand on the F8 key — the pause hotkey. That way I can stop recording when I need to write, copy/paste, or otherwise do things that would slow down the presentation.
- Watch out for the F7 key — it stops the recording and you can’t start it again.
- Don’t let the mouse pointer hover in the middle of the document while I’m talking. It’s distracting and looks like I’m pointing to something when I’m not. Move the pointer off-screen if I’m not using it.
- Definitely move the pointer off-screen before unpausing recording. Otherwise, every pause-unpause action causes the mouse pointer to materialize in a different part of the screen (especially distracting if it’s fairly close to its previous position, a sort of “jump-cut” effect)
- Jing doesn’t track very well while scrolling. I like to scroll “on-camera” so that viewers can see the spatial relationship of the elements — but it comes out jumpy in the video. Oh well.
- If there’s any serious information density, I need a script. Otherwise I fumble my words too much. But writing a script from scratch takes forever. So my workflow is: do a trial run while recording. It will be terrible, but it will make me think of every visual element I wish I had and every unfortunate turn of phrase I wish I had avoided.
Don’t delete it you gutless coward.Remind myself that I’m getting better. Play back the trial run and type up a script based on it. Fix everything that irritated me. Do another recording with the script. Often, that’s enough. Time: 20-30 minutes per 5-minute screencast, from planning to product. The result is a shorter screencast that’s much more pleasant to watch repeatedly, since there’s less “um.. ah” filler when I’m reading from a script.
Bluebeam Revu is whiteboard software and PDF annotator all in one.
I love this software. The educational license is $75 and I find it completely worth it.
- It’s easy to copy and paste from various formats and drop things on the PDF
- The tools are one or two mouse clicks away
- Every tool has a hotkey
- It integrates well with the tablet I’m using for annotation (even including pressure-sensitivity, which is a big plus in the legibility-of-my-handwriting department)
- Handwriting recognition is easy to integrate
- Subscripts! Polylines!
- You can group objects and store them as a unit in a “toolbox”, which becomes a library of your custom visual elements. I’m actually using it for simple schematic drafting because it’s faster to use than my schematic package
- Objects can be aligned to each other, which really helps when sticking text boxes and formulas all over the screen
- Just because I use a quad-paper pad for my daily note-taking does not mean I want quad paper as a background for all my screencasts… this is something I will change in the future. Since objects can easily be aligned to each other, it’s not necessary to align to grid lines. The quad background just makes it look overly busy.
It took me a while to get the font size right. I sometimes use my screencasts in class so they have to look decent when projected. When using an 8.5″ x 11″ workspace projected in my browser’s “full-screen mode”, 16 pitch is about right to keep the subscripts readable. Your mileage may vary, depending on monitor/projector size and resolution.
Other results so far:
- Landscape layout makes better use of monitor real estate, but I like using portrait layout (zoomed in a little closer) so I can have an easy “reveal” of info by scrolling down.
- Start recording with the document zoomed to 100% and scrolled to the top. That way if I pause recording to make changes and accidentally scroll (this happened a lot while I was getting used to the tablet) I can get back to a known size/position before resuming recording. Again, this is about avoiding the jump-cut effect.
- A consistent colour code is nice (formulas in black, results in red, etc). I’ve started using it in class too.
I always forget to mention the related section of the textbook. I’d like to start doing this, maybe using it as the “closing credits.”
I now upload the stupid things right away. It only took one day of showing up to class without my memory stick to teach me that lesson.
I’d really like to learn a bit of basic video editing. I can’t help thinking it would save me time, since I could cut out mistakes instead of starting over. Maybe this summer…
I wouldn’t have gotten started if it hadn’t been for the excellent articles by Andy Rundquist of I’m Not Watching TV and Robert Talbert of Casting Out Nines. If this was of any help to you, check out their blogs for more depth.
I introduced my screencasts to the class today (if you’re wondering why I’m interested in screencasting, here’s a great post from Casting Out Nines). I showed the first one in class (to watch, click the photo at left) and asked the students to watch the second one when they finished their shop exercise. They didn’t seem to have a strong reaction either way — they laughed in the right places and didn’t object. The students were able to use the presented information right away (terminology, symbols, etc.). The length (3-4 minutes) is great.
Biggest benefit so far: it’s improving my lesson planning. I never get the screencast right in the first take, so I end up practising my lecture a few times. That makes me think it through in minute detail, which makes me aware of which visuals will help, how to connect to the homework, what terminology will be confusing, etc. It also forces me to make realistic time estimates. (Irony break: I rant to my students that reading over their notes will only make them better at reading, not at problem solving. Then I read over my notes as a way to prepare for lecturing. Hm.)
Using the screencast also means that I mention everything that’s in my notes. I’m starting to remember to press pause to save the viewer from having to watch me write. This allows me to check my notes much more frequently than I would if I was “live.” Also, since I’m now gathering all the student questions at the end of the lecture (instead of hearing them sprinkled throughout), it gives me a better chance to hear them all, group them by topic, choose some for students to investigate, and put some of them off for later.
My delivery and organization have improved a bit compared to my first few takes. Examples are here — the “test” folder contains my first stumbles through the process; the folder called AC Circuits contains screencasts that I actually asked the students to watch. Production values are not high… but then, that’s true of me standing in front of the whiteboard too.
I tried Jarnal and Massiveboard for annotation. Jarnal worked well for annotating a single document , but I wanted to cut and paste elements from various sources and have them appear at the right moment. Its keyboard shortcuts were helpful but it has some annoying traits: you can’t choose the size of a textbox. Textboxes default to the width of the screen. Then you have to resize them, or they get in the way of the next textbox. You can’t just click on the handles to drag textboxes out of the way – you have to choose a separate “selection” tool. There’s a function that allows you to draw several straight lines in a row, but there’s no hotkey for it. Massiveboard was what I wanted to use — it allows you to annotate anywhere on your screen, on top of any application, and switch on the fly to the underlying application (to edit something or click on a link) without losing your annotations. It works well with the tablet I’m using, except for one thing: because MassiveBoard is designed for Wiimote input, its pen-smoothing made my (already bad) writing illegible. Maybe a larger tablet would help.
I ended up going back to MS Paint. This might seem crazy, but I needed a fairly simple feature set, a highly accessible tool palette with squares and circles and straight lines and a few colours. Ineed those things floating on my work area — not buried under 3 layers of mouse clicks. I also want the ability to place text or clipboard contents anywhere on the screen, and an expandable canvas. I think it worked out alright, and got me up and running within a day. (Ok, a long day.) When I needed to show calculations, I used the Doodler app that came with the tablet (warning: it works on my WinVista machine at home, but not on my WinXP machine at work). Because it incorporates the pen’s touch-sensitivity feature, it made my handwriting look the least bad of anything I tried.
So far I’ve recorded explanations of new ideas and solutions to practise exercises. I especially like the idea of screencast as answer key; it allows me to “comment” my solutions, show every trivial algebra step that anyone could ever want, and colour code the whole thing. Students who want the nice-n-slow walk-through can watch the whole thing; students who are confident in their algebra don’t even need to press play, since the whole solution is on the opening thumbnail (see pic at right; click through to watch the video).
I love the idea of assigning lectures for homework (since listening is pretty easy to do alone) and then solving problems in class (where you have the benefit of teamwork). Andy Rundquist of I’m Not Watching TV makes it look easy and has already done all the legwork of evaluating software/hosting. This took away my last shred of an excuse not to do it.
So last night I made a screencast of a 5-min lecture segment. It was a humbling experience.
1. It was weird talking to myself. It took 3-4 takes before I could stop fumbling my words. In my first attempt, I actually misused basic technical vocabulary and apparently forgot the rules of grammar. This is partly because I was learning the software. But mostly, the lack of student feedback disoriented me. Whose eyes are forward? Who’s frowning? Pencils on paper, or poised in the air confusedly? I guess it’s good that I’m tuned in to those cues; at the same time, being unable to work without them made me wonder if my internal compass is overly reliant on my students.
2. I wanted my white board markers. I experimented with lots of ways of annotating diagrams, and none were satisfying. In the end I made a Word document, screen-copied it into Paint (stop laughing), and left another instance of Paint and Word open so I could paste new elements in as I needed them. I kept realizing that I needed some bit of text that I hadn’t anticipated, and it threw me off that I couldn’t grab a marker and add it in. Solution: pause the recording, go make the visual bit, then continue. If I’m going to do this I guess it’s time to buy a tablet. I’m also thinking back to previous experiments with software like Prezi and a freeware package for Wiimote whiteboard called GiantBoard (I think — can’t find it at the moment).
3. The 5 minute limit imposed by Jing is a great idea. It forced me to be really clear about what point I was trying to make.
4. I think I prefer screencasting to videocasting. As a viewer, I admit I prefer to see the presenter’s face; but as a presenter, it creates all kinds of problems. What’s in the background? Is it distracting? If I’m prepping for class in the evening, do I really want to broadcast to my students the inside of my house? I have to think about my clothes and appearance, since they become part of the record. With screencasting, these things aren’t an issue, and I have more control over the focus of attention. Plus, screencasting encourages me to type my annotations, which is an improvement over my messy handwriting!
5. Like Andy, I will use the school’s servers for hosting. Screencast.com seems to work well and looks good, but I like being able to tell who watched what when.
There were a few technical issues too. I started off using CamStudio, but found that the video gradually lagged more and more behind the audio. Also, file sizes are huge. The Jing recorder resolves these problems, and imposes a 5-minute limit, which I think will improve my organization. In fact, the practise will probably improve my in-person explanations. Also, my mic level is too high (although I love my Freetalk wireless headset — Skype sells them at a better price than Futureshop). But if you are trying screencasting for the first time and want to make yourself feel better by watching someone else goof up, here are two of my early takes. Even in the later take, I’m not happy with the organization (the title should reflect the change in focus of the content, etc.) but I think it’s an improvement, and I’ll keep working on it.
Here are the heckles from the peanut gallery inside my head. Sometimes the voices sound like the irascible, cranky teacher I’m destined to become; sometimes they sound like students.
Q. In this hare-brained scheme of yours, scores of 4 and 5 come from different problems. You’ve also decided to let scores go down, so you can measure retention. What happens when you give a test with a 4/4 question on it, and a student already has a 5? They get it perfect, and their score goes down?
A. Not great idea: I could make sure all tests have both a 4 question and a 5 question for each skill (lots of work for me, longer tests for students, and creates another quandary: what to give the student who nailed the 5/5 question and bombs the 4/4)?
Less bad idea: once you have 5/5, you don’t have to assess those skills anymore. Pro: motivates students not to let it sit at a 4. Con: they drop it from memory after getting a 5.
Better idea: Do as above but give a final exam worth 20%. If you bomb skill X on the final, it doesn’t change your “skill score” of 5/5. Decent compromise? Does it give the student the info they need for their next course? Does it give the next teacher the info they need? So far, I think so…
Q: You say you want them to do something to prepare for the assessment. Is it good enough to just tell you what they did?
A: No. My students have mad finesse for detecting unenforceable rules. Sometimes I think they flout those rules just to show their disdain for what they see as hypocrisy (even if I see it as “the honour system”). If I’m serious about making preparation necessary for assessment, I need to actually have proof. Should they just show it at the door? I couldn’t possibly even tell what it was . Should I require that they pass in “something”? That entails passing it in early enough for me to write some comments and get it back… not to mention constant vigilance that students who didn’t pass in any prep item don’t sit the test… and now it’s a way to get out of class. And tests. You can just retest later, right? And now the process is getting slower when I want it to get more agile.
*sigh* I think I’ve talked myself out of it. Best-case scenario: we have time in class for them to practise all the skills for the test, so I can give feedback that way. Chances of this happening: remote. I seriously need to look into videorecording some presentations, and assign those… Worst-case scenario: they don’t practise, they come for assessment, they do badly, feel stupid, are too upset to come see me about it. All I can do is keep an eye out and approach them when I feel it’s needed.
Q: You ripped off the idea for those little squares on the skills sheet, and you’re going to have a bad day when someone’s score goes down after they’ve coloured it in with glitter pen!
A: Yeah. Ok, I’ll probably take the squares off. There’s been some interesting talk about pros and cons of students tracking their score history. In earlier grades I think it’s probably just depressing to see that you’ve attempted something 10 times without progress. But by the time they’re in vocational training, I think it’s time to a) be able to handle that truth about yourself and b) use the results to troubleshoot. (No progress over 3 assessments? How do you prepare, and how could you prepare differently?) It can lead into a conversation about learning styles and their ability to tailor their practise.
So out go the little squares, and instead I’ll have them record prep methods and assessment results in their work-record books. If they’re not up to date, that’s the first thing that we’ll do in a tutoring or reassessment session.
Q. You really covet that feedback sheet from MeTA Musings, don’t you?
A. Yep. So I made one.
Q. You stole the words across the top.
A. It’s true! I confess! I stole everything! *sob*
Um. But I can’t remember from whom. I think it was Sue Van Hattum in a comment she wrote on someone else’s blog. If anyone knows, fill me in, ok?