screencasting


Here’s my first attempt at a screencast. Do you think screencasts like these are a valuable teaching tool?

Jo-Anne

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In Blogs, Wikis and Podcasts, and Other Powerful Learning Tools for the Classroom, Will Richardson makes it sound so easy to create a screencast  that I just had to try it (p. 122).  I had to see for myself if it was as easy to create and publish a screencast as he said it was and after watching and using one this week to add social bookmarking widgets to my WordPress blog (thanks to Bruce, one of my fellow EDES 541 classmates who attached this screencast to his blog) I was pumped to get going.

My Screencast Plan

 

I already had a plan in mind for a screencast –  I was recently given the unenviable task of teaching 600 students and 80 staff members how to use our school division’s new student outlook web access – so what better way to show them how to activate their accounts than to create a screencast of all the steps involved.

 

So following Richardson’s instructions I embarked on my plan.  I downloaded the Windows Media Encoder  to my school computer, plugged in my microphone and was ready to “start encoding.”  It turns out that the recording session was the easy part.  The real learning (researching, planning, producing) came before and after the recording was made.

 

Like podcasting, I had to plan what I wanted to say and decide what order I wanted to say it in so it all made sense. This, I might add, required considerable thought on my part.  I decided to practice it a few times before I made the actual recording so I wouldn’t sound like a complete fool. 

 

 

 

Frustration Reigns Supreme

 

After the recording session is where Richardson and I parted ways.  After pressing the stop button and viewing my screencast (how cool was that!) I could not for the life of me figure out how to save my work.  I thought I saved it when prompted but when I went to open the file, nothing was there.  So, I tried the entire process again and was frustratingly greeted with the same problem. 

 

What to do?  I tried the Help function – no luck – it was way too technical for me.  I tried Windows Help – again, way too difficult.  I half-heartedly flipped through an 80-page Windows document on screencasting but I gave up thoroughly dejected.  I asked the technology teacher in my school if he had any ideas but he was not familiar with the program.  Next, I turned to our divisional IT department and so far, they haven’t gotten back to me.

 

The technology teacher in my school suggested I try a free Internet-based program called  SnagIt (the old version is free).   He said he had used it in the past to create customized screenshots and training screencasts so I gave it a try. This, in my opinion, is a far easier program for amateurs like myself to use than Windows Media Encoder and I would recommend this to teachers wanting to try screencasting for themselves and/or with their students.  I simply viewed the training screencasts (go figure!) and created my presentation in minutes.  SnagIt saved my screencast in a AVI. format and I was able to view it right away.

 

Unfortunately, my frustrations with screencasting weren’t quite over.  Similar to the problem I encountered with podcasts, I could not link my screencast directly to my blog without paying an extra fee and OurMedia.org  that Richardson suggests in his book could not upload such a large file (200 MB).  I knew from my experience with podcasting that FileFactory  or SpinXPress were not options so I decided to upload my file to TeacherTube. This didn’t work either – I’m assuming it was due to file size but I really don’t know (I tried TeacherTube twice with the same results).  I also tried to upload my screencast to blogger.com where I also have a blog and that didn’t work either.

 

 

SmartBoard to the Rescue

 

While all of this was happening, the technology teacher and I were trying to figure out if screencasts could be created using SmartBoard We had tried the previous week with no success but as luck would have it, SmartBoard 10 was just uploaded to our school computers by our IT department (I’m  glad they’re doing something since they didn’t answer my email about Windows Media Encoder) so we gave it another try.  Lo and behold – it worked and with a file size of only 7 MB – WHAT A DIFFERENCE TECHNOLOGY MAKES!!!!!

 

From there, I was able to convert the WMP. format of the SmartBoard screencast to an AVI. format and upload it to TeacherTube.  This only took about 15 minutes compared to the hours I was spending trying to upload my SnagIt file and I could tell a difference in the quality. 

 

So there you have it.  Was screencasting as easy as Richardson suggests? – not a chance.  I was totally stressed trying to figure the encoding and sharing process of the Windows Media Encoder and trying to upload my files.  Given the size of my original screencast file, I didn’t know if I was ever going to succeed in finding a media sharing site that would allow me to upload and store such a large file.   

 

Applications to the Classroom 

 

Before I discovered the SmartBoard option, I would have never have thought that the average teacher would be interested in using screencasts as a learning tool.  I could have envisioned technology teachers or teacher-librarians possibly using it as a training tool, but there just seemed like too many hurdles to overcome for those who are not “technosavy” to be bothered.

 

However, with the SmartBoard being so easy to use (all I had to do was click on the recorder to start, pause and stop and save the file which I did sitting at my desk because the SmartBoard software is loaded onto my computer) I have changed my mind completely on whether I think screencasts would be a valuable learning tool.  Whether created by a teacher or student, SmartBoard files can be accessed from My Documents and shown anywhere in the school.  If teachers wanted to share these files with other students, parents or anyone around the world, they could attach their screencasts directly to a blog (blogger.com allows you to do this) or convert the file to an AVI. format and upload it to TeacherTube or another video sharing service.

 

I think screencasts would be a great way for teachers and students to learn new technical applications or how to find things on the web (in fact, I don’t think I could have figured out how to add widgets to my blog without a visual demonstration). In fact, after our success with SmartBoard, the technology teacher and I are planning a series of screencasts to explain several Web 2.0 tools including blogs, wikis, podcasts, SmartBoards and RSS feeds to teachers.  The plan is to put these screencasts on our school’s shared folder so teachers can access them when they need them and as many times as they need them.

 

While teaching, classroom teachers could create their own screencasts (or find pre-existing ones on YouTube or TeacherTube) and attach them to their class blogs so students could refer to them later (home or school at their own time) or for the first time if they missed the lesson for whatever reason.    Where I can see screencasts being used quite effectively is in math where teachers could record what they are doing on the SmartBoard, upload the file to their class blog and then students can review and use the lesson to complete homework or for extra practice.  I know of a math teacher in my school division who is currently doing this with great success.

 

However, after creating my own screencast, I believe the real learning potential of screencasts comes when students are asked to create their own.  I found that creating my own screencast took a lot of thought and planning.  It was not easy and I really had to know my material before I was ready to start creating my product.  What better way to stimulate students’ higher level thinking and decision-making skills and creativity than screenscasts?  If they were working together, their collaborative skills would be enhanced, as well.  They could create their own training screencasts or virtual Internet tours on any subject imaginable for their classes or for future classes in their own school or anywhere around the world. 

 

Without new and improved technology, none of this would have been possible.  Who says technology is changing too quickly for us to keep up?  I’d say, “bring it on” and just watch our students flourish!

 

References

 

Richardson, W. (2006). Blogs, wikis, podcasts, and other powerful tools for the classroom.  California: Corwin Press.

 

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