Video + Screen Capture

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Watch This: Visual Explanations and Your Online Course

Move over TED-Ed, you aren’t the only ones in town offering brief multimedia presentations of educational concepts. Other platforms and providers are also creating collections of embeddable, linkable features that can augment an online lesson. These recorded mini-lectures are presented as audio narration with a visual component, which may include animation, screenshots, and screencasts, and are growing in popularity with both students and instructors. Here are three examples you may want to consider as you review your course materials for the upcoming term:

  • Explania: This site offers “hundreds of animated explanations, interactive tutorials and instructional videos.” In addition to searching topics by keyword, you can also browse categories, or channels, such as technology and ecology, as well as Most Popular and Most Recent. The topics cover a wide range and include workplace training as well as educational materials. A nice example of an Explania animation isWhat is Twitter?  
  • Khan Academy: Perhaps one of the best known sources of online educational tutorials, this non profit boasts over 3000 videos covering primarily K-12 subject areas such as math, science, and humanities. Learners can search for and watch individual selections, or become more engaged in the platform earning digital learning badges, completing adaptive assessments to practice skills, working through test prep modules (e.g. SAT Math, GMAT), and tracking learning progress. View two examples – Bay of Pigs Invasion and Balancing Chemical Equations – that include audio narration and a variety of visual elements. Transcripts and subtitles are also available.
  • RSA Animate: This series of video presentations features topics ranging from economics and neuroscience to motivation and education all ranging from 10 to 12 minutes in duration. One title, Changing Education Paradigms has had over 7 million views. This is a great example of the approach used in this series, adding drawings on a whiteboard to illustrate a narrated lecture. RSA Animate is a project of The Royal Society for the encouragement of Arts, Manufactures and Commerce.

These examples are all of collections, but there are other options. An animated explanation of the Higgs Boson particle and the Large Hadron Collider, recently featured on OpenCulture.com, helps to describe the physics theories involved.

Why are they so popular?

According to a Forbes article published last week, “Online video has become a valuable 21st century learning tool, in and out of the classroom. In the last year, views of educational videos on YouTube doubled.” Much of this content is free to use and easy to link to or even embed on a web page or within a course site.

It’s not just instructors that seek out this kind of presentation. A study of undergraduate students by researcher Glenda Morgan from the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign recently found that “most students shop around for digital texts and videosbeyond the boundaries of what professors assign them in class.”  These supplemental resources are often found through university productions, such as the Massachusetts Institute of Technology’s Open CourseWare and those found on sites like Academic Earth.

Like the TED Talks, online options include presentations created by subject matter experts, with professional animation and video producers, resulting in short features designed to hold the viewers attention. There is a certain amount of storytelling involved that if done well, can draw students into the lesson being presented and positively impact learning along the way.

Ideas for Use in Your Courses

All of these tools remind me a little bit of those days as a young student in a traditional classroom when the teacher announced a film or similar activity. My classmates and I eagerly anticipated this break from the norm, a new source of information that also had the potential to entertain and help us remember what we learned. Who can forget Schoolhouse Rock, for example, and the episode that explained how a bill becomes a law?

How could you adopt visual explanation resources in your online course? In a course that is primarily text based, as many online courses are, these materials may be well-received by students as part of:

  • Course discussions: You might ask students to view a recording you’ve selected. Provide guiding questions to consider and incorporate in an asynchronous or synchronous conversation related to the course learning objectives.
  • “Live” demonstrations: Leading students through a demonstration, like those that often take place in science courses, can be problematic in an online environment. You may find existing videos that will expand your explanations of difficult concepts and assigned readings.
  • Remediation and review: With the range of topics and levels of education represented, your students may appreciate access to these online platforms to review materials that help to explain complex ideas presented in your course. These materials can also provide help for those who need more background information and practice.

One of the challenges of using these existing products is finding components relevant for your lessons and in the context of your course and students. You may be interested increating your own multimedia presentations, and there are multiple tools available to help you with this. As you review the options, keep costs and compatibility with your school’s learning management system in mind. A recent post from educator Justin Marquis at OnlineUniversities.com outlines some of the steps required for creating videos similar to those from Kahn Academy.

Consider enlisting the help of instructional designers and media specialists at your school. You might be surprised to find teams available to help you with these kinds of projects through faculty support offices and centers for teaching and learning.

Are you using recorded explanations in your online course? Tell us about your experiences with openly available presentations as well as with developing your own.

Follow Melissa Venable on Twitter and Google+

Image credit: Loopsta, Flickr, CC-BY

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De-Mystifying Khan Academy: Screen Capture for Educators

Whiteboard screencasting is all the rage for creating educational videos like those featured inthe Khan Academy. Here’s a quick look at how Salman Khan does it and some free (and not-so-free) tools that you can use to create your own educational videos to benefit you and your students.

The Khan Academy Videos
The Khan Academy website provides a FAQ that lists the tools that Salman Khan uses to create his videos:

Looking at this list reveals three basic types of tools needed to do a whiteboard screencast: a video screen recorder, a drawing program, and an input device. The basic concept is very simple: you plan your lesson, then record what you draw using the drawing program and your narration with the video screen capture program. The input device (use a graphics tablet for best results) allows you to draw or write on a tablet rather than trying to use the mouse. The programs that Sal Khan uses are all fine, so here is a closer look at the Khan selections and a few more, including free and more advanced (and expensive) options.

Screen Capture Programs
These programs run in the background of your computer and allow you to record the action as it happens on your screen as well as any associated audio, including that coming through your microphone. In addition, the best of them, such as Camtasia and Captivate allow you to record separate voice over narration and edit pointers, highlight areas of the screen, embed hyperlinks, and adjust the timing of the video you produce.

  • Camtasia Studio ($200): The official choice of the Khan Academy, Camtasia Studio, or Camtasia Recorder is a robust program that allow for considerable editing after the video is recorded. Here is the official demo video for how to use this program:
  • Camstudio (Free): This free, open source program is basic but effective, allowing you to capture video and audio and produce AVI and Flash movies.
  • Adobe Captivate ($799): Captivate is the professional level tool that has the most robust editing tools. It also allows you to make interactive quizzes and Flash presentations. This is a program that I have used to create online training applications. It might be overkill for this use, but does provide a lot of flexibility should you need it.
  • Screenhunter (Free): The free version of this program allows for basic video capture of your computer screen.
  • Snagit (Free Trial): More robust than Screenhunter, this program allows for some editing after the recording, but is only a free trial – the full version is $49.
  • Free Screen Video Capture (Free): This freebie allows you to capture full screen or a selected window and contains its own built-in compression program to export video in a variety of formats with some nice controls.
  • Koyote Soft Free Screen to Video (Free): This basic, free tool allows full screen or window capture and creates Flash movies.
  • iPad Video Capture: For those interested in capturing the action on an iPad 2 or 3, this helpful video from MacMost Now will explain how.

Drawing Programs
These programs are for the actual on screen writing that the Khan videos are so well known for. Essentially, you can use any drawing program from Adobe Photoshop, to Paint in order to create the images on your screen. The real heavy lifting is done by the capture programs listed above. Here are some of the options available, but you probably already have one or more programs on your computer that can do this.

  • SmoothDraw3 (Free): Sal Khan’s official choice integrates nicely with a graphic tablet.
  • Windows Paint (Free): This free program is pretty basic, but will do the job – and it’s probably already installed on your PC.
  • Pencil (Free): This powerful free program allows you to not only draw, but also to import vector graphics, video, and other formats, and to animate those assets using key frames. More complicated, but for someone looking to make some truly engaging and interactive videos, this would be a fun choice.
  • GIMP (Free): The Gnu Image Manipulation Program (GIMP) is one of the staple free programs for those looking to do graphics work but not pay the heavy price for Photoshop. Essentially this is a slightly less-robust Photoshop clone, but the price is right.
  • Autodesk SketchBook Pro ($59): There is a free trial for this program as well as an iPad app, so you can take this option on the road with you. This program offers professional quality sketching and illustration tools, so it might be overkill for screencasting, but it offers a lot of flexibility for future use.
  • Adobe Photoshop ($699) or Photoshop Elements ($99): Photoshop is the industry standard for graphics works and is sufficiently versatile to allow you to create almost any graphic you could imagine. Again, probably overkill for screencasting, particularly at the price, but the high-end features are unrivaled.

The Stand Alone Program
With the rise to prominence of the screencast model, there is a new entry into the arena,ShowMe. This iPad-specific app allows you to write with your finger (or iPad stylus) right on the touch screen of the iPad and capture the action as a video with audio added right through the device’s built-in microphone. The best part about the ShowMe app is that it is also a social platform for teachers (or anyone, really) to share the screencasts that they create. It already has a collection of lessons on math, science, language learning, English, and social studies – all in the popular screencast format.

Hardware: Graphics Tablets
If you are not using ShowMe and an iPad, you will need to use a graphics tablet and stylus in order to get the smooth drawing and illustration that Sal Khan does in the Khan Academy videos – sorry, but the mouse just won’t do the job. These tablets work with any of the drawing programs above to allow you to use a stylus to write directly onto the tablet surface. What you draw or write is captured by the drawing program. This About.com article reviews several of the best tablets, including the one that Sal Khan himself uses to create his videos.

Benefits of Screencasting
There are two obvious reasons for screencasting some or all of the content for your classes. The first is that it makes your life easier. The second is that it makes your students’ lives easier.

In Washington State we have several Tiers of technology integration as part of the State Education Standards. Tier 1 is using technology to make your job as a teacher easier. Screencasting some of your lessons allows you to archive them for future use. It is easy to build up a library of content this way that you can simply access each year as long as the information is still current. In mathematics or grammar, for example that information never goes out of style. Your clothing, hair style, and glasses might, but the material never will.
For students screencasting and archiving lessons, either on a site like ShowMe or your own YouTube channel, allows you to flip the classroom. This simply means that students watch the lesson videos in their own time, at their own pace, and wherever they like. The benefit for them is that they can pause, rewind, or replay you as often as they need to in order to best understand the material. For you, flipping the classroom frees you up to work one-on-one with students, either to remediate things they didn’t get on their own, or to provide enrichment at the individual level.

These tools are pretty simple to use and generally free or very low cost. A graphic tablet will cost a bit (under $100), but that’s a small price to pay for all the potential time screencasting will save you and for the learning benefits for your students. Get to it and share some of your work on this site.

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