As it is for some of you, for me, finding ways to work myself into the classroom for research skill instruction is a Herculean task. Here’s the usual scenario – sing along if you know the words:
In the morning Mr. Smith invites me to his afternoon 9th grade history class to give a lesson on how to use the library research databases because they have a paper to write about life on Nile in Pharaonic Egypt. I have 45 minutes to cover Questia, EBSCO Discovery Service and the library catalog. Knowing this might be the only real face time I get this semester, I put together what I can, visit the classroom and march them through an introduction to logging in with their passwords, using search terms, saving things to shelves and folders and creating bibliographies. The very next day, they all turn to Google because who could possibly retain all that? Some of the more enterprising ones visit me in my office and we do some searching together, but most just default to the path of least resistance.
This year I have been given a rare opportunity: I have four straight days of instructional time with 9th grade English classes and 10th grade history classes. Still, as I’ve learned, repetition is the key to retention. I need some easy way for the kids to revisit what we covered during the short time I do get to work with them.
Enter the screencast video tutorial! I share an office with Camela Giraud, director of Collaborative Learning and Educational Outreach – she oversees programs that involve working with the local and global community as well as finding ways to leverage technology for innovative approaches in the classroom.
In exploring classroom flipping models, Camela has been investigating screencasting programs to allow for content to be delivered via video, freeing up class time for discussion, collaborative projects and other work that can be supervised by the instructor.
There are several programs for screencast creation, and the one I settled upon was JING, chiefly because Camela is right here next to me and walked me through the whole thing. It is very easy to use, and is free as the limited version of the more powerful Camtasia. Also, you are limited to just five minutes and it forces you to be succinct and break tasks into parts. Based on my experience, I have some advice if you decide to try and launch this yourself. She suggests Screencastomatic as an alternative, or you can certainly use Camtasia if your school has a license.
1) Write a script! And then, rewrite your script. I ad-lib virtually every public talk I give, but when you are committing it to video there isn’t much room for speaking off the cuff. Start by actually doing the small task yourself – logging in and doing a basic search of Questia, for example. As you go, write up the individual steps into a document. Print it out. I’m all for saving paper, but in this case toggling back and forth between screens just isn’t going to work.
2) Practice. Read the script several times to prevent stumbling, work on pacing, correct errors, etc., just like a soap opera actor.
3) Remember that your audience is trying to follow along. Ensure that whatever actions you take are either slow enough to follow and/or that you repeat them. If you are about to click on a link, mouse over to it slowly and hover for a second. Show your examples two or three times to really ensure the audience gets it.
4) Don’t be afraid to yell “cut!” and start over. One of the things I noticed is that when trying to read a script while simultaneously conducting a library search, tracking with your eyes back and forth can be quite difficult. JING is free and you haven’t wasted time or videotape, so throw it out and start over if you’ve made a real mess. Think of it like making crepes – the first one is just for practice.
5) Five minutes really is enough. If you’re going on longer than five minutes, break the task into parts.
6) Favorite tip: JING has a “pause” button. Don’t tolerate a bunch of dead air in your video while the search engine does its thing – just hit “pause” and when your search terms come up or the page loads, etc. you can hit “resume.” It keeps your video crisp and snappy instead of slow and draggy.
In an ironic development, the videos look just great on the school portal . . . but I can’t post them here! JING saves videos in an SWF or Flash format, so if mounting them on Vimeo or YouTube is your aim, JING’s not for you, but SnagIt or another free screencasting product might be just right. If I am able to convert the file and post it here, you know I will.