by Katie Rybakova
I was excited to teach multicultural literature online over the summer. I had been an online kid in high school (Florida Virtual) and always found online classes to be much more convenient because I was able to go at my own pace and study whenever it is that I wanted to. I approached teaching online the same way—the college students in English Education will be so ecstatic to take online courses, and those who did not have experience with online classes will grow to love them towards the end of the six-week course.
Boy, was I wrong. From the syllabus to the way the discussion board was set up, my students had what felt like a question per 10 minutes. I set up a video to explain the syllabus to them by using a flip camera propped up my office desk directed at my face, but I doubted many people actually viewed it. Or, at least, it was hard to follow along with the syllabus on the screen at the same time. I’m not going to lie—I struggled to find inspiration that first week that would help my students understand what my expectations and processes were AND not lose my mind.
I found what it was that I was looking for while trying to make a video to explain how to use JSTOR. I propped up my handy flipcam on my desk and aimed it at my computer screen, and explained how to use JSTOR to my students. Want to see my blurry masterpiece?
Now, of course, I was new to the whole screencasting thing, and at that point, I didn’t even know what it was. It was only towards the end of the semester that I realized I could capture what I had on my screen and record my voice (and even show everyone my excited face through webcam if I wanted to!) in a more eloquent and technologically savvy fashion. I started looking up screen casting software and “Screencasts” on YouTube. I found a variety of cool and useful tutorials. But, I didn’t find MY content tutorials. I decided to give it a try using screencast-o-matic.com. Awesome tool once you are able to download the screen recorder (which is not as intuitive as one would hope, especially for Mac users such as myself), and I had so much fun with it until I realized my capped free time was 15 min. I talk way more than that.
So, a dilemma. How was I going to use this awesome new tool for my classes? Fast-forward about 5 months and my major adviser and I were the recipients of a technology grant from our university and we had at least 3 hours of recording time that renewed every month with a generous number of computer logins. Excitedly, I started thinking of tutorials, but it was hard to envision how I could use this tool now that it was fall and I was teaching a face-to-face class.
In my fall class, I sat down with every student and talked to them about their lesson plans—it was their first time creating lesson plans and they liked the individual attention. Light blub—I could use screencasting for individual feedback. I told my students they were the guinea pigs for my new idea and that any feedback would be appreciated. I spent the next week recording screen casts of students’ lesson plans with my feedback in 5-6 min videos that I then emailed to each student individually. Now, it may seem like a lot of work, but I found that it actually cut time that I spent grading and giving feedback to student lesson plans. A typical 20 minute grading session per student became a 5 min reading and highlighting session and then another 5 minute screen casting session where I talked about the parts that I had just highlighted—good job here, I think you can write x, y, and z here, I think you made a great lesson but the content may be a little controversial so you’ll want to rationalize better. Then, about 2 minutes spent on waiting for the video to process into an mp3 file, and then sending the file as an email to the student (it was too large of a file to add into our typical blackboard feedback attachment). Now, 12 minutes versus 20 minutes, on average, may not seem like a big difference, but with 27 students that means instead of spending 540 minutes, or 9 hours, grading, I spent 324 minutes, or about 5.5 hours grading.
I wasn’t as worried about the grading time as much as I wanted to make sure students were watching these videos and got the feedback they needed to help make them better. The response to these videos was incredible. All of my students really liked getting the videos that they can start, stop, pause, and restart anytime they wanted to. They felt like they were having a conference with me again, they got their individual attention, but they could “mini-conference” with me at any time instead of having a 15 min. block of time with me once during the semester.
I used screencasting the next semester as well, with much the same response. I always changed up my feedback format—I would write on their lesson plans, old-school-style, one week, then do screen casting the next. I would then type my feedback into Word the following week, and conference face-to-face the next. When discussing ways in which feedback was given to students this semester, a lot of students mentioned the different forms of feedback they liked the best—some said screen casting, others preferred simple hand written notes. A teachable moment—everyone prefers something different, and so, we need to differentiate feedback as well as our instruction.
In addition to feedback, I used screen casting for other purposes. I included tutorial videos of things that I felt were important for future assignments like an APA formatting guide video:
I had though about using other Youtube videos or screen casts to show tutorials, but I felt like by creating my own I a.) showed my effort to students and b.) made it more personal and individualized for our class.
In terms of using the Screencast-o-Matic.com website itself, while there is a learning curve like with any tool, once you get the screen recorder downloaded as an application onto your desktop, it really is simple.
You can drag and resize the frame to fit your entire screen, or a small little piece of the screen like above. Click on the red record button and you can begin! You can also, once you press record, pause your presentation and take a breath. If you want to include a webcam recording of yourself talking, click on the little webcam, the fifth button down from your left. Once you are done, you’ll get a chance to edit your presentation, cut out or crop parts you don’t want to include (you stumbling through words, or mispronouncing something, or someone knocks on your office door), and then save it. I save my videos to my computer then upload to Youtube as an unlisted video, or, if it’s feedback, I keep it on my computer then send it via email to protect the students’ identities.
Want a screencast about screencasting? Here you go!
Last year, I was videoing my screen using a flipcamera; this year, I have become a huge, huge fan of screen casting. I know it’s not the most “bells and whistles” form of technology, nor is it by any means new, but repurposing this technology has really helped not only my students but also me as I pursue the goal to become truly 21st century literate.