It’s a pretty counter-intuitive notion: putting some [or even all!] of your lectures on-line can help open your classroom for active learning. After all, we associate on-line lectures with distance education. For many faculty that may seem to be a far cry from the kind of face-to-face classroom interaction associated with active learning.
But I believe that screencasting — a relatively simple technique for making on-line videos by recording your voice along with the image of your computer screen — needs to become part of the teaching arsenal of more professors. Here are 5 reasons why:
- Research and experience suggests that students learn best in brief sessions, but this can be difficult to achieve in the classroom.
- As this story from the PBS Newshour relates, students are seeking out screencasts on their own to complement to traditional lectures.
- Students like them — they enjoy the control and the portability of this YouTube-style format.
- There are now many different ways of making screencasts and some of the software is free.
- For me, here’s the most important point: Screencasts can be more efficient than a traditional lecture. I have discovered that in a ten minute screencast, — this usually takes the form of a narrated PowerPoint presentation but there are many other possibilities [example] — I can explain an event, illustrate a concept, or tell a story that might have taken twenty minutes to communicate in a class. If a student didn’t understand what I said, he or she can replay the screencast as often as needed.
In other words, in 50 minutes worth of screencasts — the equivalent of a single class contact hour — I can deliver lecture material that used to require two class sessions. Since I make it a point to keep my screencasts brief — never more than 10 minutes – students can access the material in short sessions that fit their attention span and schedule. Because they control the pause button and the replay function, I’ve seen comprehension of difficult concepts increase dramatically in my world history survey.
But the point of a screencast is NOT to keep the Internet between me and my students. The point is to free up more in-class time for discussions, simulations, debates, in-class writing, small-group work, and other active learning. If I “cancel” Monday’s class, assigning students to watch 5 ten-minute screencasts, I can make Wednesday’s meeting a very rich experience because students have already heard my stories and explanations. Using a brief quiz, a one-minute paper, or a discussion I can quickly ascertain what they learned and what didn’t make sense. Then we can push their understanding further, without resorting to lectures.
This is essentially a variation on the “Teaching Naked” concept that Jose Bowen of SMU has been advocating for the past several years. But it isn’t necessary to convert hours and hours of lectures into brief webcasts to take advantage of this technology. We all have instructions and concepts that are essential for our class classes. Even more than traditional lecture material, these sorts of foundational explanations are ideal for webcasting; students who need to can watch them throughout the semester.
Here’s a list of some useful types of webcasts that could streamline any course and improve students’ experience:
1. A description of mistakes students commonly make in an assignment, preferably in the form of screencast comments on an anonymous example from a previous semester.
2. A demonstration of computer techniques, like internet and database searches, or the use of software.
3. An exposition of key concepts in the course, particularly difficult ones that students will need to return to.
4. A presentation of a topic that has a complex visual component that may be seen more clearly in screencast mode.
5. An explanation of a game or procedure before a class session where time is limited.
There’s no space here to describe how to make a screencast or to list some basic caveats for those who want to experiment with this medium. That will have to wait for a subsequent post!