Category Archives: Vodcasting

The Power Of Voice – Reflective Collaboration

I recently came across a site called Flipgrid, which allows teachers to set up a grid which can be shared with the students in your class, or with other classes inside the school or globally. It offers a great opportunity to give students the capability of recording themselves and sharing ideas with other students. The free account allows a teacher to set up one grid. You can delete this to set up a second. Each grid does allow for multiple topics, however. This means that you can set a topic for discussion or for feedback after a project and students can record themselves (90 seconds on a free account) and post it to the topic grid. Other students with a link to the grid can then view that contribution. You end up with a grid of speaking heads which anyone with access to the grid can view.

Students can create their video using a QR Code and mobile phone, or from a PC or laptop using a web camera. They can listen to their recording and re-record multiple times before publishing to the grid. The interface is simple to use and clean. This makes it a perfect platform on which teachers can create different kinds of projects.

I used it for a mini Poetry Slam. My students wrote a short poem and then recorded themselves performing the poem, publishing it to the grid. By sharing the access with other classes you can achieve an inter-school poetry slam with absolute ease. It was highly motivating for students to be able to publish their performance in this way, and to view others. It also allowed me to easily set up a panel of judges to award certificates in different categories!

This platform also allows teachers to easily flip the feedback. Many classroom tasks and assignments end with a report back, feedback session of some kind. But there is often not enough time in class to do justice to this. If students are able to record their feedback report, it can be viewed by the class before the next session and used as the basis for further work, or viewed in class to form the basis for in-class discussion. If it is being used between schools, perhaps in different time zones, many of the difficulties associated with downloading or formatting video files disappears! As a teacher you can record a brief synopsis of what is required as the first recording in the grid.

The 90 second limitation should be seen as an asset! Brevity is usually a good thing, and enough substance can certainly be condensed into 90 seconds! Students are not limited to the number of contributions they can make either! They could use a mobile device to record a group report back, or record individual contributions to a group effort as they see fit.

Because students are able to view others, and listen to what they have said before they record their own and delete and restart their own recordings if necessary, the video contains some of the immediacy of a quick response with some ability to reflect on what others have said. This offers a very valuable space for both reflection and collaboration. The platform has been set up to encourage discussion and debate, to spark controversy, but it can easily be used for more traditional pedagogical aims such as exploring different points of view in History or Literature, or reflecting on a Science experiment, or for a quick research summary.

Some teachers may feel that the simplicity of the interface restricts possibilities. You cannot upload files or assignments alongside the video, for example, but I believe the simplicity makes the platform more accessible and flexible.



Flash Feedbacks – ICTs For English Teachers

English teachers have usually found that ICTs are a good fit for creative self-expression. There are numerous multi-media authoring tools for computers or tablet devices which can be used to allow students to create multi-modal presentations of one kind or another. But it is not so easy to see how to use them when unpacking a work of literature or working on language accuracy. There are, of course, numerous drill and practice type sites online where students can fill in the missing word, or select the correct form of the verb, or answer multiple choice questions on comprehension texts, but I’m not going to consider those at this time. For the most part they are kiss of death, not too bad for the occasional exercise if you want to ring the changes, but hardly anything to get wildly excited about!

When it comes to teaching literature, however, there is very little substitute for guiding a close reading of the text and for discussion. Some of this happens in a whole class context, some of it in groups. But the essence of grappling with a text lies in the throwing out of ideas and seeing where they lead. ICTs can certainly be used in this process. Some of the discussion can happen before, and after the class on an electronic forum. Students can express their ideas about the themes or characterization of a novel in blogs or in wikis, but the heart of any literary study is in the face to face discussion in the classroom while doing a close reading. I have not yet found any digital advantage over reading a text with a class and interrogating particular words. What does this word suggest about the protagonist? What other possible meanings does this word have? It’s this process of worrying away at a text, like a dog worrying away at a bone, that produces understanding – often unexpected understandings. English teachers need to model this process, making their thinking visible to students, helping scaffold it for students, guiding their thoughts as they wrestle with a text. This process of coming to grips with a text has always formed the basis of my literature classes, interspersed with activities and exercises which aim at deepening or consolidating what students have learned from a close reading. I have tried different methods, but always come back to this as the only really effective way of engaging with a text with a class.

Snapshot - 1ICTs are no real use in this. However, I do see some use in terms of either recording discussions so they can be viewed later, or recording quick summaries of points made for later storage and retrieval. Note-taking during a discussion is not easy, although I encourage students to use the Cornell Note Taking Strategy. I have previously used quick Flash Feedback sessions at the end of a lesson, or activity, where students use their devices to record (audio or video) a quick summary of what their group decided or found. These can be shared on a LMS platform, and can form the basis for further discussion in class, or in a forum.

These Flash Feedbacks could easily be integrated into classroom discussion as well by pausing every now and then and recording a student summarising a point or points made. These recordings, posted on the LMS, can then be used as the basis for answering a question or any other activity. They form a digital record of a discussion and might help tease out some of the more interesting points made, which might otherwise have been forgotten.

Quite apart from providing some kind of record of a discussion, it also serves to help students bring together the thoughts and threads of the discussion and creates opportunities for building knowledge so that the ideas emerging from the discussion can be ordered and re-shaped into an argument about the meaning of the text.


Filming Discussions – the digital fish-bowl

dialogic videoThere is nothing I enjoy more, as an English teacher, than a rousing discussion about a poem! In the past I have regularly used what I called poetry circles to encourage students to talk about poems, in a circle.

Sometimes I use a fish-bowl exercise, where some students are doing the discussing and the others have to watch and jot down questions, or summarise the discussion, or even play tag discussions, replacing “team” members when they want. I have recently started filming the discussion so that the video can be placed on the class Moodle page to form the basis for further discussion on the forum.

What I have found is that creating a video of the discussion provides powerful new tools for the flipped classroom armoury. A discussion forum can be used either before the classroom discussion or afterwards, and the video provides a chance to replay an in-class discussion and reflect on it in different ways to an in-class fish-bowl. The digital fish-bowl allows students to rewind a comment and reflect on it in ways which the face-to-face version of the exercise cannot match. I call this Flipping Forward because it takes something done inside of class and flips it on, or vice versa.

I have found 8 to be a magic number of discussants, and the key decision is whether you as the teacher are in on the discussion, or are absent from it. Some groups need more input than others, steering when they go off track, nudging when they go silent, or for drawing in of silent ones.

I find it really hard not to dominate the discussion if I am in the group, so one technique is to appoint a chair who is responsible for guiding the discussion, and to give them a cue card with some questions to ask when discussion flags. This works quite well if you choose the right chair. You also need to keep the video as short as possible because videos that are too long do not engage as well, and also take longer to download. They should not really go beyond 10 minutes! I appoint a time-keeper who will indicate to the chair when they need to do the wrap-up.


Using VideoPad to Create Flipped Content

vpad2I like to get students to use VideoPad to create their own movies, but it is also a perfect tool for creating flipped content. One powerful way of presenting content is to use a slide of a diagram and to add your own talking head video in one corner. You can then create the whole package into a movie and post it on your Moodle, Edmodo or YouTube Channel page to help explain or revise a concept.

Here’s how.

Step One: You can create your slides in PowerPoint, but save them in a picture format such as jpeg or gif. They then save as separate image files.

vpad3Step Two: Use the Add Media button to add your slides to the media list, Click on the first slide and adjust the duration in seconds. You can always edit this later. Click on the green down arrow to add to your storyboard. Repeat this step for each slide, or video footage you will be using in your presentation.

Step Three: To record your own head talking you will need a web-camera set up. Take the slider to the position in your storyboard (video track) where you wish to start, and click the plus button on the little overlay track between the video and audio tracks. You will have the option of overlaying text or video. Click on video, and click on the record button. Your web camera will spring to life and you can record your spiel. Click OK when you have finished.

vpad4Step Four: A tiny little square will overlay on your slide. You will then need to adjust the size and position in the Selected Clip preview window. If you have made errors in your recording you can edit the footage at this stage before adding it. You can even use the opacity slider to turn yourself into a ghostly transparent image.

vpad5Step Five: Here comes the tricky bit. VieoPad does not enable the sound-track from your recording in overlay mode! Ouch, and what a pity. There is a workaround, though. What you recorded should be sitting in your videos folder, or in your media list inside VideoPad, of course. click it to get in the preview window and add to your video track. You should see the audio from the video in the audio track. Right click on it and select unlink sound clip. You can now move that sound clip and align it perfectly with your video overlay and you can delete the video part from the video track. Phew. Pretty hard that bit, but once you get the hang of it, annoying … but you can’t argue with free!

Step Six: Save your movie. It will then be available in a wmv or avi format (in the free version of the software) or in other formats if you pay for the software.

I would keep all movies very short. It is better to have a few short clips explaining one or two points that your students can use, than a long lecture that is of little use to anybody.





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.


Flash Films

I wrote about using Flash Fiction in the English Classroom a while back, and I thought I’d follow that post up with a few words about using very short films in the classroom. I like to call these Flash Films so that the students know they are meant to be short. Otherwise students tend to turn into mini-Steven Spielbergs.

One of the salient features of online, hybrid and flipped classrooms is the need to zero in on creating meaningful opportunities for students to exchange ideas and involve in discussion. Forums and chat rooms can only go so far. By getting students to create, and upload short video messages you can enliven discussion forums on platforms such as Moodle. The students use the web cameras we have for Skype calls at the back of the computer room, or their cell phones, to record a short message. These messages are then posted on the Moodle forum, and can be commented on by other students. The picture shows a mock-up of this, with a flash-film posted to a forum, and a text reply being made. The film was created using a web-camera captured in Movie-Maker.

Students often respond better to capturing their thoughts on camera rather than writing them out. It certainly works as a great way to kick off a conversation. The time limitation (I tell students their message must be under 30 seconds) is a good way to force brevity and precise communication. Students often record and re-record their messages to meet the time limit. It also helps avoid too many bandwidth problems.


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.



I Wannabee Famous! School TV

This past term I have been working with my grade 9 computer skills class on launching a TV station for the school. The idea is that there will be short, 10 minute broadcasts every fortnight. The programme segments that the groups are working on – most have finished – involved not only scripting and filming, but market research on programme content, analysis of the results using spreadsheets, a pitch to the class using PowerPoint, a blurb for the TV guide, creating a programme intro animation using Flash, and of course editing using Windows Movie Maker or iMovie.

I also got the groups to promote their segments using twitter, a tool which appears to be gaining traction in the high schools.

I had hoped to air the first broadcast at the end of the first term, but a missed class here and an unexpected guest speaker there meant we were about a week shy of our deadline, and I have had to re-schedule for the beginning of next term. I have yet to view all those segments which have been completed, but from what I observed in class, the greatest challenge for students was compatibility and format issues. The new video cameras we purchased for the school produces raw video clips in mpeg format, which cannot be read by Windows Movie Maker software, which has the advantage of coming free with Windows XP and is downloadable for Windows 7, but which is not very powerful. Many students shot footage on their phones, and these too were not compatible.

We got around this by using conversion software, notably FLV to Avi. Although this produced a somewhat fraught experience for many students, it is something which is an essential part of computing, and I was keen to make sure that the students were able to learn how to convert file formats when necessary. The other major heartache was provided by the somewhat flaky nature of Windows Movie Maker itself. It often crashes, and bombs out when saving without locating the file fragment causing the problem. You need to find the part of the footage causing the problem and clip off a split second at beginning or end of the clip to remove whatever is causing the problem saving. Once you are aware of the problem you compensate by testing each piece of footage that you bring in to edit. But for many students this was an arduous process.

On the positive side, however, most groups were fantastically creative in their approach, and relished the challenge of putting together a 3 minute segment. I was particularly impressed by the work done integrating Flash animations into the videos. I was not so convinced about the validity of the market research and analysis using spreadsheets, but it did provide an opportunity to get some hefty work in on conditional functions, absolute referencing and graphing. We also learned how to integrate graphs into PowerPoint presentations, and on the whole I was pleased by the pitches. They were technically accomplished, if a little lacking in real persuasive punch. In many ways it was one task too far, and most groups struggled to meet their deadlines. Nevertheless, these ancillary tasks provided the necessary ICT learning to justify spending a term making movies to parents and school administrators!

When Roedean TV launches early in May I will cover what transpires. I have to say I am somewhat apprehensive.


The Flip-Flopped Classroom

There’s a great deal of buzz around the Flipped Classroom idea at the moment. The argument goes something like this. In an industrial age the educational model was one in which teachers mediated content for children so that it could be assimilated in preparation for a chosen career, which everyone expected would last a life-time. Knowledge was seen as the content which could be acquired and stored in the brain or in libraries. This model suited an age defined by factories and warehouses. Best practice was teaching which prepared children by giving them not only the basic knowledge they would need, but also teaching them how to access information effectively.

In an information age, however, where knowledge can be accessed from the Internet anywhere, anytime, this model is no longer sufficient. Teachers are not needed to mediate the process of transferring knowledge to students anymore, they are needed to help children learn how to access, assess and evaluate knowledge plucked from the virtual ether. Teachers should not be teaching content in quite the same way as they did before. Rather they should be focusing on teaching critical thinking skills, teaching children how to be creative and resilient: on helping children cope with the demands of the information age economy.

The Flipped Classroom advocates argue that classroom routines needs to be reversed: doing at home what used to be done in school, and at school what used to be done at home. Technology offers ways of allowing students to access the instructional content they need via vodcasts, podcasts or SCORMs, which can be done largely at home. Students can then pause, rewind or replay until they understand the content. Much better than letting the teacher do it, wasting valuable contact time in school. This frees the teacher up to help individual students through processing this instructional content, allowing for a more personalized approach, and maximizing the skills of the teacher where they are needed most.

The flipped classroom argument is also an argument for hybrid or blended learning environments since delivery of instructional content must occur in an online setting, and classroom time must of necessity occur face-to-face. The way I look at it, it is inevitable that a great deal of education in the next decade or so will move to a flipped environment, but I would want to temper that enthusiasm with a caution that the flipped classroom will not suit all children, and we need to look seriously at creating partially flipped environments rather than going the whole hog.

In my experience there is always a law of thirds which operates in the classroom. Roughly a third of students work very well in an e-learning type of environment. They cope well with accessing instructional material online, and benefit from using class time to concentrate on honing their skills. This group works well with very little teacher intervention in fact. A second third, however, appears to need face-to-face, whole-class instruction. They need to be able to ask questions, or to piggy-back off others’ questions. They benefit from having a human being explain something. A final third needs personalised interventions, perhaps because they need lacunae in their baggage filled in, or because they cannot really focus in a whole class situation.

As much as I believe that the flipped classroom represents a model much more in tune with the times, I don’t believe it adequately addresses the needs of a significant number of students, and I fear that a thoughtless implementation will merely result in more kids being left behind. I believe we need a partially flipped classroom, a flip-flopped classroom, in which many channels operate simultaneously. Students should be able to access instructional materials from home or in class, whether as their primary channel of reception or as a secondary channel for remediation or review. They also need to be able to access teacher interventions in class and from home via forums or bulletin boards. To my mind the hybrid classroom is not just about sticking a load of vodcasts up on the class Moodle and expecting students to have taken them on-board by the time of the lesson. Some of that must happen, but a great deal more needs to be going on. Teachers will need to be online after hours helping children cope with the tasks they have been set. They will need to be fairly traditional teachers much of the time in class as well, explaining and teaching as teachers have always done.

The flipped classroom idea has often been linked to the idea of a movement away from the sage-on-the-stage teaching style towards the guide-on-the-side approach. Often it has been linked to the idea of de-skilling the teaching profession, with teacher aids being able to handle the day-to-day classes, overseen by a master teacher who has designed the lesson materials and is responsible for a far larger number of students. Attractive as this idea might be for administrators operating under constraints of ever-tightening budgets, it is an idea which fundamentally misunderstands teaching. Teachers will need to be the sage some of the time, the guide some of the time. Mostly they will need to be the meddler-in-the-middle, making sure that every learning style is catered for. If anything teachers will need to be more skilled than they have ever been.

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