Category Archives: Podcasting

The Great Onlining – From Digital Natives to Digital Aliens – Reflections after Week Two!

After two weeks of remote teaching, I have to say that mental exhaustion is starting to set in. I can only imagine how challenging it is for students as well. In last week’s blog I highlighted the problem of reaching students online who might not be able to be reached, or might not want to be reached. Technological problems aside, the very constraints of online platforms may make it more difficult for students to focus, find relevant instructions and resources or manage their time effectively enough to be able to complete much work.

Marc Prensky popularised the idea of the Digital Native, one who appears to have the natural, in-born disposition for digital applications. Prensky defined this as a set of dispositions stemming from age alone. Anyone born after a certain date was somehow imbued with technology in their bloodstream, so to speak. The rest of us, born before this date were digital immigrants, we would have to learn how to use technology through pain and sweat. This idea has been thoroughly debunked. Anyone who has ever taught children ICTs will attest to this. Children are not born with the habits, behaviours and dispositions neatly in place to make them natural born users of technology. And many older people take to technology like a duck to water. Nevertheless the concept of digital nativity, of dispositions, a gaze which predisposes the person towards digital use does seem to hold some merit. We all know people who seem to get it naturally, and others who will probably never cope with anything digital. Perhaps digital nativity is an acquired, cultivated or trained gaze – a way of looking at things which makes some people better at dealing with the new technologies than others. This disposition is not dependent upon age, but describes a spectrum from digital nativity to digital alienation.

When teaching online this becomes absolutely crucial because the medium of delivery is so dependent upon the technology. In my experience with hybrid classrooms, any class follows a law of thirds, although the quantification of that fraction changes from year to year, class to class and lesson to lesson. Students have different digital dispositions. One third I shall call the Digital Natives with apologies to Marc Prensky. This group is quite capable of working independently online. They can find and follow instructions, manage the resources left by the teacher and manage to ask questions where needed to complete tasks totally online. They don’t really need a teacher to tell them what to do, they have a capacity and disposition for discovery and an ability to figure things out quite quickly on a digital platform. This group tends to submit assignments without prompting on time, often well before the due date.

A second third, the Digital Immigrants need instructions to be in-the-flesh, so to speak. They struggle to locate resources or instructions online, but can cope with whole class instructions. If a teacher tells them what to do, and where to look, they can then work on their own. This group needs someone to foreground what they need to notice. But once this is done, they are happy to work on the task, although they do ask more questions, and need more scaffolding generally. A quick online check-in meeting may be all they need to get working.

A third group, the Digital Aliens struggle online, but also need any instructions given to the whole class to be repeated individually. Something said to the group only seems to be processed effectively when repeated once they are ready to process the information. This group may not respond well to instructions given in a group check-in meeting for example. They need to be taken aside individually and carefully guided through every single step. This is extremely difficult on an online platform. You really need a one-on-one meeting. This can be done in class more easily whilst circulating, but for a student struggling with the technology anyway, setting up an individual tutoring session can be well nigh impossible.

If this perception is correct, it has important implications for remote (and online) instructional design. It suggests that students from each of these groups really needs different strategies. In a face-to-face classroom teachers are able to manage these differences much more seamlessly, although it is never easy. Online, differentiating teaching is much more difficult. In the last two weeks I think I have started to get the hang of managing the Digital Natives and Immigrants. By posting instructional videos online ahead of a class the Digital Natives have a head start. Then I have check-in meetings at scheduled times where I can answer questions, share my screen and show students how to do things. I record these as well as some students seem to need the question and answer to make sense of it all. What is extremely difficult is trying to reach the Digital Aliens, most of whom do not check-in during scheduled times, or probably even watch the videos. Often reaching this group involves long tortuous emails in which I try to make sense of the difficulties they are experiencing and coax them onto the platform.

Sometimes this results in a eureka moment, but often it results in radio silence. I have sent out a number of emails in the last week which basically said something like, send me what you’ve got so I can have a look. Many of tehse remain unanswered, but I live in hope that week three will bring my break-through moment with the Digital Aliens!


Flipping with MoveNote For Micro-Learning

movenoteIncreasingly teachers need to be able to rapidly post content online for students to review or revise. Video is usually fairly cross-compatible, but creating a video can be a daunting task for any teacher. MoveNote is now available as a Google add-on, and that simplifies things a great deal. If you have a web camera installed, creating video content for the flipped classroom becomes ludicrously easy.

Many teachers already have content on PowerPoint, or you can quickly put a PowerPoint together on the topic you want to present. You launch the app, or access the website, and enable the web camera. You can then add slides, or a single image. When you click record, you can talk into the web camera and advance slides in the app. When you’ve finished it saves as a video format, which you can download and store on your LMS.

The format of visual and talking head is an easy way of replicating the in-class “lecture”, and can be used to create very short chunks of byte-sized micro-learning. I really think that a limit of 60 seconds should be set. 60 seconds to explain an idea or concept. These micro-learning moments allow students to quickly access ideas they need when they need them. These quick videos can be downloaded as mp4s or viewed in a web browser, making them very versatile. If you don’t have a web camera, you can upload a video you have filmed separately.

The talking head can be replaced simply with audio, but I believe personalizing the videos really helps make them more accessible for students. The content can be … literally anything!





Making Class Videos

bvideopadOne of the best free video-editing tools available is VideoPad. In the version I have you can add video files in pretty much any format, add audio files and stills to your movie, choose from a range of effects such as rotate and speed, add voice-over tracks, transition effects such as cross-fade, text overlays which can be static or scrolling, and even add another video using chroma key (green screen) or as an inset in the screen. The free version only allows you to save footage in wmv or avi format, but packs an enormous amount of power – making it my favourite choice of software for student movies – and my own! The current free download does not look quite the same as the version I downloaded a few years ago now, but still looks good!

The VideoPad site has thorough tutorials on how to use the software, so teaching students how to use it should not be a big problem.

I believe that student videos have multiple uses from filming literary works to recreating history or making report-backs on research tasks. I like to post student videos on Moodle and get students to assess each other’s work using the Choice module. This ensures that students watch each other’s work and reflect in some way on it.

I find that the ability to edit footage leads students to be more adventurous and creative than is usual for report-back type activities. By adding music and images to footage they have filmed, students can express ideas that cannot be expressed in words alone, and the recognition they get from their peers for these surprising “ooo” moments is priceless. My own kids love making videos and spend hours longer on this type of homework than any other.


Creating a Course on iTunes U

itunesuLearning Management Systems are pretty much a matter of personal preference. I am comfortable with Moodle, but many teachers I know prefer Edmodo or other platforms. iTunes U offers one more way in which teachers can set up and run courses online.

You will need an AppleID and iTunes installed on your device. You can use a PC, just look for the iTunes U button on the Store, and then click on the Create a Course link on the right hand side-bar. Unfortunately, the course is only viewable on an iOs device though – which is a bit of a drawback! Nevertheless, the interface looks glossy and sexy – as one would expect from Apple! You can then create a course outline, enrol students using a link code and add content in the form of audio, video or document files. Material gets added to your outline as assignments. iTunes U therefore presents itself as a fully fledged LMS.

I would recommend playing with it and testing it. As a school you can register for free as a K-12 institution, and use the app for short courses and modules. This allows you to brand your school as a fully fledged MOOC provider. I firmly believe that all schools should be experimenting with, and setting themselves up on readily accessible platforms to provide online content, whether or online or hybrid courses. The advantage of iTunes U is that it is supported by Apple, and available on very stable and mobile devices. Although running our own platform, such as Moodle allows you to use a number of powerful options, the ease of having Apple do it for you will outweigh this consideration for many!


Dvolver Movie Maker


I have just come across Dvolver, which is a website where you, or your students can make free short movies using templates, and typing in text narratives for the actors to speak. I was able to make a short movie in under two minutes. The templates and character avatars are somewhat limited, but because you can type in your own dialogue, the tool is very powerful nonetheless.

Your movie renders and you are emailed a link to the completed movie, including code for embedding the movie on a Moodle page website or blog.

The website does not require passwords or logins, making it perfect for rapid deployment in the classroom. How many lessons have been derailed by forgotten passwords, I wonder? I am always on the lookout for new ways in which students can make report backs from group discussions, and it strikes me that this kind of short movie would be perfect. The embedded report backs can be posted on a Moodle page or blog and viewed out of class in preparation for follow-up classes. To my mind this kind of movie-making application makes perfect sense in your Flipped Classroom armoury!


To create a movie, you select a scene, then select a plot, characters and type in the dialogue you want to use. Finally you can add a background music track if you wish. The most restrictive aspect is the paucity of plot scenarios: there are only four – rendezvous, pick-up, chase and soliloquy. Happily the choice of avatars as actors is more extensive.

There is no learning curve at all and it can be used with even the most techno-phobic or youngest of students. The simplicity is a plus-point and restriction is good for creativity, and good for speed! Sadly you cannot produce a video format file to insert into larger projects, but as a quick to use tool, Dvolver it is great!


Turning your students into movie directors with Plotagon


There can be very few things in life as satisfying as seeing your ideas come to fruition before your eyes, and what I like about Plotagon is that it produces an animated movie from text dialogues.

OK the actors don’t deliver Oscar-winning performances – they look as if they’ve just walked off the set of Second Life The Movie, and their voices are obviously computer generated. But they do respond to the actions you select for them, and they speak the lines you write.

The applications of this in the classroom, it strikes me, are practically endless. Students can use it to write short scripts which then get rendered as movies. It could be used for just about any report back situation, for creative writing, or for creative ways of adding to presentations. Teachers of course could also use it to add content to their presentations, or flipped-learning content.

The application requires a download to your computer, and for you to register a free account. You can then link this to a Youtube account, or share your movies to Facebook or Twitter.

The interface itself is fairly simple to master, so you would not have to “teach” students to use it. You simply choose a scene and add actors, actions, movement, sound tracks and dialogue in sequence. You can preview the movie as you create it, and add sequences in any order.

When you are ready, you render the movie by sharing it to your account.

A down-side is that you cannot download the movie directly to your computer, but you can still add it to presentations via Youtube, or even download it from Youtube using KeepVid.

What I think is quite valuable, pedagogically is that it produces a very graphic output from a text-based input, which is great for the second or foreign language classroom in particular. It also allows students to spend time reflecting on their work, which is not always the case when they are filming using a camera.

Here’s one I made in about ten minutes, which I hope demonstrates the possibilities, and whets your appetite to try it out for yourself!.



Sound Clouds for Collaborative Learning

soundcloudI first became aware of when my son started posting music that he’d composed on the site. An email popped up one day telling me that my son was following me! I’d quite forgotten ever setting up an account! I was suddenly introduced to a whole world where musicians, and aspiring musicians were posting their music, commenting and collaborating, being mentored by more experienced users and generally engaging in the most amazing learning experiences. Wow! And I thought all he did was play computer games all day!

I had originally signed up for soundcloud with the idea of posting podcasts of learning material, but had never got round to it. Probably a good thing too. Who’d want to listen to my voice droning on about Shakespeare’s use of the pentameter? Not that there aren’t some uses for that sort of thing, but compared with the collaborative learning potential I saw in what my budding 16 year old musician was up to, teacher podcasts are really small beer!

Would it not be the perfect platform for storytelling, or creative radio broadcasts, asynchronous debates, poetry slams or project feedbacks? The English teacher in me sees thousands of possibilities, but the whole point behind what what was so valuable in the soundcloud community I witnessed through my son’s eyes, is that it is not regulated or imposed. I very much suspect that any attempt by a teacher to recreate this ethos would instantly kill it! In many ways this is the dilemma of the classroom. And yet technology offers the promise of providing ways in which many of the barriers presented by structure can be broken down. The challenge is to realise this promise.

As an experiment in setting up a soundcloud community I have challenged my students to a poetry slam on soundcloud.


Vialogues in your classroom

I recently came across a web-based service called Vialogues which allows you to upload a video, or use one posted to YouTube, to start a discussion. Video + Dialogue = Vialogue!

As an alternative to a text-based forum or bulletin board, it seems to me that the potential is exciting. Once you have created an account on the website, you can upload a video and start a vialogue. You could get students to use the site directly to comment on your video input, or could grab some code from the site to embed in your class Moodle page or other web-page. Students could then view comments and post their own replies from that page.

Here is a vialogue that I created to give you a flavour of how it works.

All in all, it seems to me that this is a web-service well worth exploring in the classroom, and I am itching to find a project I can try it out with!



School TV II – The First Broadcast

The usual technical problems be-devilled the launch of Roedean TV, and delayed the first broadcast until the beginning of the second term. Students had filmed footage on their cell-phones, and had trouble converting to formats that MovieMaker would use. Some students had trouble with the audio channel of their raw footage. Others had clips which appeared to be corrupted in some way.

All of these issues had been anticipated, but were nevertheless annoying to all concerned. With such a plethora of cameras and cell-phones being used to do the filming, I think it all went rather well actually!

Students made clips of up to 3 minutes in length, on any topic. One group created a “Spirit” segment to show-case sports or achievements within the school. Another group created a comic segment, annoying things to do in an elevator (see the pic above). But the sure-fire hit of the first broadcast was a group which filmed a segment in which the Head of the English Department gave a mock poetry lesson on a Justin Bieber “poem”.

The broadcast was edited out of these selected clips made by the girls and uploaded onto the Moodle Home page. I decided to use Moodle as my platform partly because the school SharePoint site has limited video upload sizes, and I would have to crawl before my network administrator to get more space, whereas my Moodle uploads go up to a whopping 1GB! I also chose Moodle because the school Moodle can be accessed both on and off-campus, while our SharePoint cannot be accessed from home. This is an important consideration given the desire to have parents be able to access the broadcasts. The video file embeds very nicely in the Moodle page, although I struggled with the flowplayer, and had to use Quicktime instead.

I sent out the link to all teachers and staff. Since I could log who was viewing the page, from school and from home, I was able to gauge the extent of the broadcast’s reach. It had been viewed by 90 people within three days, or about 20% of the school. I was quite pleased with this, given the fact that there was no advertising around the launch – I had simply been too busy to do it properly. What was also pleasing was that a number of students were accessing the broadcast from home. I see this as important because I would like the school Moodle to be seen, not just as a drudgery for submitting assignments online at the last-minute, but also as a source for “flipped classroom” content and edutainment.

The next phase is to see how sustainable the project is. Can the students sustain the effort of creating a fortnightly 10 minute broadcast? In large measure, I suspect, this will depend on whether it takes off in the school as something which is cool, or if it gets seen as just another ICT assignment.



Giving Feedback a Voice – SpeakPipe

I came across a very interesting tool the other day, called SpeakPipe. It is a platform that allows you to place a script or widget on your website, Moodle or Blog – even your Facebook page, that will enable users to record a short message, which then gets emailed to you. I put the script on my Moodle to test it, and it works like a dream. When someone records a message on your website, you get an email from SpeakPipe with a link to follow. You can listen to the message in your web browser, or download it and save to your computer.

The moment I saw this, the language teacher in me immediately saw a zillion applications! Not only could students stay in touch with you between lessons: asking a question, for example, or giving feedback or a report-back, but they could also use the webpage in class, recording a group report-back using a mobile phone, for example. In both the flipped and more horizontal classroom, the possibilities appear endless.

What I like about it, is the way it extends the infrastructural architecture of my classroom. Students have always been able to upload documents to a Moodle page (including voice messages). But SpeakPipe makes this process easy for all users, not just the savvy ones who know where to go to record a message. For a Flipped Classroom it adds the possibility of easily adding voice messages, bringing the dimension of sound into the mix in a way which was much more difficult to achieve previously.

I have only just installed the feature, but I have just given students their first assignment using it. I have asked my grade 8 English class to use the feature to record a short commentary on a question about “The Merchant Of Venice”. While something of an experiment to see if the feature is as useful as I suspect it might be, I do believe that a spoken answer, delivered over an asynchronous medium offers very valuable affordances in terms of thinking and learning.

As a teacher one should always wait a long time after asking a question, before accepting an answer, to encourage as many as possible to keep thinking about their answer, and this widget appears the perfect anti-dote to the teacher who does the, “What is two plus two? Anyone, Anyone, Four!” thing.

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