Screencasting as assistive technology – Sal can teach us a thing or two.

I came across Salman Khan and his work last year, well before Bill Gates did the big shout out for him that led to the Gates Foundation and other Venture Capitalists injecting tens of thousands of dollars into his Academy that produces videos explaining maths, biology, chemistry, physics and a myriad of other topics. I was impressed with his work and continue to be so. I’ve pointed students to the Khan Academy and even recommended it to my daughter tonight to help her understand physics concepts.

He spoke recently at the TED conference about using video to reinvent education. Sal began the videos as a means to help his nephews who he was tutoring. As he says in the video above, they told him they preferred watching his videos to the face to face tutorials. I think that is the key to Sal’s success. Students need to see things explained and it helps if they can revisit it to see it explained again if they didn’t get it the first time around. So, why does this seem like a new idea when in fact, it’s quite easy to do?

I’m going to make a stab at surmising why we haven’t seen our teachers take this approach on a widespread basis.

They don’t know how to do it.

Yes, I think most would understand that this type of assisted instruction is worthwhile, and if they record themselves explaining a concept, it means that they would have more time working with students in their classrooms as they nut out problems. What holds them back, I think anyway, is a lack of understanding about just how easy it is to record your screen and audio as you explain something. To do what Sal does, also requires you using a tablet device and most of our teachers are working with computers that are not tablet computers. Most probably don’t have access to a tablet attachment for a laptop.

I’ve been using Jing for a couple of years now, and have used the video screen capture option to explain ideas and leave instructions for my class when I’m unable to be there. It’s very easy, but every time I show it to someone, they are really surprised that something like that is possible. There are other free alternatives too. Screenr is an online application that will record your screen and allow you to share a link with others so that they can view your recording. Phil Bradley has a list of other screencasting alternatives too. Even Interactive Whiteboards offer screen recording options that can be saved and shared with your students.

Time is no doubt an issue too. Many of our teachers are on very full teaching loads, and are tied up after hours with correction and preparation. Yes, a screencast could be a part of that preparation, but a lot of people would find it a skill that requires refinement. Some just aren’t comfortable explaining a concept while recording, and it would take multiple attempts to get it right. I’ve done that quite a few times myself!!

Perhaps what is needed is some professional development time allocated to staff to get work like this done. It lends itself to maths concepts, and videos could be prepared and shared across classrooms. There’s a great site called Mathtrain, a free educational “kids teaching kids” project from Mr. Marcos & his students at Lincoln Middle School in Santa Monica, CA. It’s there where students are uploading screencasts explaining concepts. They even include videos explaining their screencasting techniques. Getting our students to create screencasts themselves is a great teaching idea. To teach something effectively to others, you need to demonstrate your own understanding. What an innovative assessment tool a screencast can be!

Sal’s work complements the work of teachers in classrooms today. He’s not replacing teachers as some are claiming in the comment stream on the TED talk. We should be embracing what he offers, and thinking about how both teachers and students can use screencasting as assistive technology to explain concepts that can be revisited.

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