Sharing ideas visually is no new concept. A hundred years ago, teachers used chalkboards. Then, with the invention of the smelly, dry erase marker, we upgraded our boardrooms and classrooms with shiny whiteboards. Then along came old fashion projectors, and we wrote on clear plastic, shining the ideas up on a pull-down screen. Years later, the projector has gone the way of the chalkboard though, because now we have digital projectors!
“But wait!!” you say. “What about SMART Boards?!” If you are one of the nation’s benevolent educational leaders who has spent tens or even hundreds of thousands of dollars on SMART Boards, you should be swatted smartly on the wrist for wasting taxpayer dollars. Most of the functionality of a SMART Board, especially the functionality that teachers use, can be gotten from a digital projector shown on a dry erase board. And in most districts that have a SMART Board or two in each school, a digital projector could have been placed in 20 classrooms for the same initial cost.
When I taught face to face, I had a digital projection on a dry erase board, and we used the functionality of this bit of low-tech hacking every day. Here’s one example of what we did among hundreds: The students would line up in two rows with the leader of each line holding a dry erase marker. Then at the start of the relay race, the students would correct an error on a paragraph projected on the dry erase board. The winner would be the side that completed the corrections fastest. Other teachers would come into the hall and stare disapprovingly through my door to see what all the ruckus was all about, but I didn’t mind. The place needed a bit of a stir occasionally.
Having the board set up as a place for students to interact with content is a paradigm shift from using it as a place for teachers to present content. It’s a shared thinking space, which is an example of how to use technology as a 21st century teaching tool. Using the board and projector to shine a PowerPoint on the wall and lecture is an example of using technology, but failing to shift to 21st century teaching and learning.
The notion of shared thinking spaces takes a new direction when the teacher and student aren’t in the same room though. The game changes when students are watching live presentations or canned videos of content. The learning, if rolled out correctly, is still 21st century learning. It can meet the schedules of diverse learner’s needs; it can be completely individualized; it can be played, paused and re-played for students who need a refresher; and with canned content, student learning plans can be self paced.
Synchronous vs. A-synchronous
Sharing your screen can happen synchronously, meaning at the same time with a student watching on as if he or she were over your shoulder, or a-synchronously, meaning that your voice is recorded, and the student watches the video later on a service like YouTube or as a saved file. This advancement in educational technology is a game changer, because it means that we can teach students no matter where they are and no matter when they want to learn. Appsharing, which is synchronous, and screencasting, which is a-synchronous, are two of the most powerful tools of 21st century teaching and learning.
How to Make a Screencast
Ever heard of Khan Academy? If not, take some time to check ‘em out. This is a company that has used YouTube to collect a vast series of educational videos. Most of the videos are recordings from a speaker’s screen, which is called a screencast. Here’s an article from Lifehacker on the 5 best screen-recording tools that are out today.
My favorite is Jing, even though it’s not free. I never had much luck with camstudio, and camtasia is way to expensive for me. Jing, at $15 per year, takes care of my screencasting needs. I downloaded it, and now there is a little yellow half circle at the top of my main monitor. I click on it when I want it to record, and then I save my work when I finish recording. I only changed one setting, and that was to automatically save as mp4.
Now, when I finish my recording, I open YouTube, click on upload when I’m logged in, and drag the saved mp4 file from my desktop to the upload box. Below the box where I dragged the file is a URL and an embed field. From there, all I have to do is decide whether I want to embed the video in my announcements or give the video to my students as a link. This works great for students who are working from home with Internet, but school systems are still blocking YouTube, which is a barrier that even the recent changes at YouTube have not quite yet overcome.
How to Use Appsharing or Screensharing
Appsharing is different from screencasting, because it shows what you’re doing on your monitor live with a student in real time. I am currently using a combination of a free month of GoToMeeting, which I’m finding to be very valuable but kind of expensive at $50 per month; Skype video conferencing, which costs extra on top of my Skype subscription;Wimba Pronto, which comes with being an online teacher with North Carolina Virtual; and Elluminate Live!, which is a program written by SAS and used by K12 to meet live online. Because you might not have access to all of these, here is an article from online-tech-tips that shows off six completely free sites for application sharing, or appsharing.
Appsharing is, in essence, what you do when you’re live, and screencasting is what you do to record information and share it as a video later. I use appsharing to tutor students one-on-one or one-to-few, depending on how many folks need the information. I also use appsharing for colleagues to help them with understanding a question I have or to answer questions they might have.
I use screencasting to record a “how-to” for a class or for a tutorial on something a lot of kids screw up on like, come to think of it, “alot” vs. “a lot.” Rather than explain to students over and over why “alot” isn’t a word, I created a screencast tutorial and shared it via URL any time I see that particular mistake. So there you have it! Now you know where to get the tools and what to do with screencasting and appsharing!
As a virtual a door prize, here is an example I put together a while back when I was setting up my classes in the newest version of Blackboard. It’s basically a guide on how to get Blackboard to write HTML for you. It’s not smooth and professional like the 11 o’clock news, but that’s not the point. The point is it was easy to create and shares knowledge that people needed at the time. Enjoy!
The new developments at YouTube has changed the landscape for education and screencasting, but has it changed the landscape enough to bring down the barrier of access? YouTube’s new channel for teachers is an example of how Google is reaching out to teachers and helping them learn about the power of Google’s services. But I want to crowd source a bit here and “poll the audience” in the comments below. Did Google’s recent changes fix the access barrier? Since YouTube’s new teacher channel was rolled out, have your IT departments in districts across the country begun to unblock www.YouTube.com/teachers? How do you feel about it if they have or if they haven’t? Let us know in the comments.