Screencasts in the Liberal Arts?

Screencasting — a video recording of a computer screen — has been in use for a while now, often as a way to demonstrate how to use software. We have not used it much at Wheaton, in part because like most small liberal arts colleges, we place a lot of value on personalized, face-to-face time. We have a 12:1 student to faculty ratio in classes after all and students, faculty, and staff at Wheaton have all come to expect individualized attention. This is a strength of a small college. So, the idea of putting a recorded tutorial up online seems antithetical to this environment. Why would a faculty member want to watch a recording about how to use software, when s/he can pick up the phone or in many cases just walk down the hall and ask for help from a faculty technology liaison? Why would a student want to watch an online tutorial when they can get face-to-face help with a faculty member, a librarian, or a technologist?

For the most part, this thought process still holds true… but I think it’s also changing, or has changed. Sure, face-to-face time is great, maybe even preferred, but so is getting the information when I want it, on my own terms, 24/7.  DVRs, online services like Netflix, radio podcasts, YouTube, 24/7 shopping on Amazon, the web itself — these have all taught us to expect access to information on-demand, when we want it, and where we want it. I’m sure face-to-face will always be the preference, but 24/7 information sure is a nice substitute.

So, when two faculty technology liaisons (Jeanne Farrell and Diane Demelo) said they wanted to do some screencasts for faculty about Moodle, my first reaction was … sure, I guess, but  who will watch it? Faculty want to learn directly from you, right? But then I remembered many faculty members who told me they had tried Moodle on their own and several others asking me over the past year whether we were recording our Tech N Talks, so they could watch them later. Many of our faculty members want to learn things on their own schedule, and — influenced by their experiences with the web — they want access to this kind of information 24/7. So, if you take their environment into consideration, screencasts make perfect sense. These screencasts aren’t quite a substitute for the personalized attention that we will continue to give, but I think they do address many of our faculty’s needs.

We’ll see. I’m curious to see how well they are received.

Here are three that we just started with. These are addressing new features available in our instance of Moodle after an upgrade. For those who are interested, these were recorded with Jing, which you can download and use for free. We bought the $14 per year license, because we wanted to post to YouTube (instead of http://screencast.com/) and edit the video. But I have used the free version of the software and have been quite satisfied with it. Enjoy!

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Video Lecturettes

Last Tuesday we had a Tech N Talk brown bag discussion on video lectures… or rather a version of video lectures that two professors have been experimenting with in their classes. This is not the typical set a camera up at the back of a classroom, tape a full class lecture, and then post it somewhere (like iTunes U — which we don’t have… yet). Instead, Tim Barker (Astronomy) and John Partridge (Philosophy) are creating short videos to supplement their classes… not video lectures… something smaller. Lecturettes?

Barker often thinks of content after the class is over that would help his students, sometimes information that he would like them to have before the class meets again or that would help them complete an assignment. So, rather than typing it out in an email, he decided to try creating video messages for his class. He hooks a web cam up to his Windows-based laptop and places it in front of a chalk board in his office, and then records. The software he uses (I need to check with him… I think it came with the camera he purchased) was cheap, fast, easy to use and had an “upload to YouTube” button built in. So, he was able to post his material and get it out to his students quickly.

Partridge used his Macbook, a USB microphone, and iMovie for the first time last semester to record four short supplemental lectures for student. The first one was an introduction to materials on his Blackboard site, and his others contained background information to materials his students were reading and discussing in class. He posted his “vodcasts” to the Blackboard forums for his students to view between classes. This was material he would have had to cover at some point and by having it in video form, he was able to win back some class time for discussion (as opposed to solid lecture).

Both professors’ work demonstrates how far the technology has come over the past few years. Barker said he tried something similar several years ago and was frustrated with how much work it took. Partridge discovered how easy it was to do after posting videos of his kid up on YouTube for his relatives. Both faculty members needed very little support — a fact that amazes me, because it used to be that you needed to work in a video lab or at least on a souped up machine to create digital video.

While making the videos and posting them was relatively easy, I don’t think that either professor was happy with where they ended up publishing them. Barker put his on YouTube, because it was easy to do. But he really only wanted his students to see it, and therefore didn’t take advantage of any of the social features there — nor did he want to. What’s funny is that YouTube forces you to be social anyway, by posting “related videos.” Since Barker’s work was not labeled in a meaningful way and he didn’t password protect it, he had some strange “related” things (and “things” is a good description of them) in his side bar. Patridge discovered that Blackboard (at least our basic version of it) was a little clunky for video, and we Academic Technology folks are a little concerned about videos taking up too much space on that server. So, the search for where to put our digital stuff goes on. Perhaps Moodle (which we are piloting this semester) has a plugin? Perhaps iTunes U? We’d better start searching…