Intro to Transformers ScreencastI 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).