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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Back to Blogging? Thoughts about presentations…

I’m back!

Maybe.

After nearly two years of letting this blog languish (Twitter is so much easier!), I’m posting something again.

Me presenting with Prezi at a NITLE conferenceI just finished presenting with Bryan Alexander, NITLE’s Director of Research; Trina Marmarelli, Instructional Technologist, Reed College; and Bill Junkin, Director of Instructional Technology, Eckerd College about alternatives to the standard PowerPoint presentation. Bryan gave a nice introduction to how people are starting to break away from bulleted slides. Trina talked about a new form that people are imposing on PowerPoint called Pecha-kucha. Bill gave a demonstration of Ubiquitous Presenter — a tool that allows a professor to annotate Powerpoint slides on a tablet PC while students “tag” the them. And I presented on a web-based presentation tool called Prezi, for which I created this screen cast. (The picture with this post is me using Prezi for the first time at the NITLE Instructional Technology Leader’s Conference.)

I think we just scratched the surface of this topic in the hour that we had, but it was a great start. The way that people are doing presentations is changing … or has changed … and  in a good way! New forms like Pecha-kucha and the Lessig Method,  and new technologies like Prezi and Ubiquitous Presenter, which themselves encourage different approaches to presentations, are shaking us out of the deadly bulleted slide and encouraging us to communicate more clearly with our audiences.

When we are thinking about Information/Technology Literacy/Fluency for our students, this should be part of the conversation. We are well past the time when undergraduate students have to learn the mechanics of Powerpoint. Most of our students have been using Powerpoint since Middle School, sometimes even Elementary. What they still need to learn (and what we should be teaching them) is how to use this and similar tools to communicate effectively. And the stuff we covered today, it seems to me, could play a big part in that.

When is it “good enough”?

We had the third Tech N Talk Tuesday brownbag lunch this week. It’s part of a series; each week over this semester (and maybe next if this is successful), we host lunchtime conversations about technology’s intersection with teaching and research. We cover a different topic every week. The first was on Mobile Devices in the classroom. The second was on Podcasting (with two faculty presenters: Leah Niederstadt and Michael Drout).

This week we discussed a class project by Assistant Professor of Hispanic Studies, Domingo Ledezma. Faculty Technology Liaison, Jenni Lund, helped him out with the project. Ledezma’s students worked with primary sources — 16th century Spanish texts about the exploration of the “New World” — and digital images of maps from the period. Using the book as a source, they worked with Google Earth to map out part of one of Magellan’s voyages and attached text (in Spanish that they wrote) and images (primarily cropped segments of maps from the period) to points along his journey. The images were created by students cropping digital versions of old maps and uploading them to Flickr. (I’ll find the link to the Flickr account and post it here soon.) Great stuff!

Some good questions were raised by Ledezma’s talk: These types of projects are a great way to get students interested in and grappling with the texts, he told us, and so they function as great pedagogical tools. The process of creating this interactive map in GoogleEarth helps them learn more about the text — much in the same way researching and writing papers helps them learn about a topic. But what happens to these projects when the class is over?

One faculty member wanted to know where we store them and make them available for others to see. Sure, we can put them up on the web, but multimedia projects like this that are pulling from multiple sources — a kml file, Flickr — and which use GoogleEarth for display are not like an academic paper that fits well into… say… DSpace. And there’s no guarantee that a project like this will last into the future. Will GoogleEarth and Flickr always be around? Will we be able to view these maps ten years from now? At the rate technological changes are moving, what about 1 or 2 years from now?

Ledezma and others followed up with questions about trying to show others this work. Is it ready to just post somewhere after the class is over? Given that class projects are… well class projects, it would seem that a certain about copyediting and fact checking needs to happen before it is put out there for all to see. But who does that work? We’ve hired students to do it in the past — but is that the right approach? And my big question: how much of this kind of work really needs to be done before we can post it?

I have worked on a lot of projects that we planned on getting up on the Web to share with others, but that we held off on posting because we wanted to make sure it was right before we did. More recently, I have been thinking that you have to decide ahead of time that there comes a point when a project is “good enough.” After a while, you have to stop tinkering and just get it up there. The trickier part is finding that sweet spot — the point in the project where the thing you put out there isn’t too chocked full of errors, but that isn’t too long after when the project started or the class ended.

Someone attending the talk rightly noted that the point of these projects isn’t so much the product anyway — that it’s the process. The process helped those old texts come alive for students. The process made students more engaged. If that’s the case, maybe we should just post them right away. Or maybe not at all? I don’t know… on the one hand, it would be a shame to hide all of that good work, but on the other, I’m not sure the perfectionist in me would want to get stuff out there that was too rough. I’m thinking my new mantra might need to be, “there comes a time when it’s good enough.” I just wish I could find a way to know when it was that time.

It’s ironic that that I should be ending on this note and that this theme is the title of this blog post. You see, I started writing this on Tuesday and have been coming back to it on and off ever since. It seems I’ve got to have the same attitude about posting to my blog too. OK, Scott, time to post. This may not be perfect… but it’s a blog! And good enough.