How to use Vialogues

I used Vialogues in my English class last week. I think it’s a tool with great educational potential. I was going to write a lengthy post outlining the process, but figured it might work better if I created a screencast showing you what to do instead. I’d encourage you to visit the site and take a look around for some inspiration. You’ll find it, I’m sure.

I’d love to see more teachers using screencasting to explain processes to their students. Being able to revisit an explanation is something that I think is valuable. I’m always pointing my students to YouTube to find screencasts explaining editing tools or how to troubleshoot problems on their computers. It seems like you can find a screencast for nearly everything these days!

Hopefully, the above screencast explains Vialogues well enough to encourage you to have a go.

Explaining Evernote

Image representing Evernote as depicted in Cru...
Image via CrunchBase

I’ve had an Evernote account for some time now, and really think it is one of the best organisational tools available. I love that it exists as an account I can access from any computer, anywhere. I love the desktop version that sits on my Mac. I love the web clipper add on that I use with my Firefox browser. I especially love the Evernote apps I have downloaded to my iPhone and iPad that enable me to get access to what is stored on Evernote and also enable me to add to the account easily. I love that everything syncs so quickly, and that I can use it without an internet connection knowing that it will sync once an internet connection has been established.

I created this screencast recently about Evernote and thought some of you who know nothing about it might benefit from watching it. It is by no means an exhaustive account of what it can do, because truly, I know I haven’t explored everything it is capable of doing. I ran a Staff PD about Evernote and Dropbox after school last week, and people who came were very impressed with the potential it has for education, and their own personal management of data. I would love to see us introduce Evernote to all of our students, and start them really thinking about how they can use it to manage class projects, or save data from whiteboards or even their handwritten notes. It is part of my plan to try and get this happening at my school, and staff members who attended tonight’s session seemed to be in agreement that this would be a positive thing.

One thing that people are wary of is storing their data in the cloud (on an organisation’s servers). There has to be a certain comfort level you have with releasing your data to someone else to store it for you, and people do get concerned that other people (hackers) might be able to access their documents or notes. Dropbox has been under fire in the past week, for a bug in their system that caused a security glitch that allowed people to log into any Dropbox account by typing in any password at all for a period of four hours. Even prior to this unfortunate ‘glitch’ Dropbox have been criticised about their levels of data security.

I think we all have to be mindful that when you host your data elsewhere, and for free, you have to accept that with convenience comes some cost. That cost may be that companies hosting your data could give some of it to Government agencies if it’s requested. It may be that you leave yourself open to hackers who seem intent of late to usurp the claims made by cloud storage companies that data is safe. I certainly love the convenience of being able to access data across multiple devices, but I’m certainly not going to be storing any sensitive documentation there that I wouldn’t want anyone else accessing.

This is part of the game that is the World Wide Web now. Know the rules before you start playing is as good advice as any I’m guessing.

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.

Screentoaster – screencasts made easy.

Tonight I’ve been practising with Screentoaster, a screencast application that is still in beta. I had to apply for an invitation but that was no hassle. It came through within 15 minutes. It is very easy to use. I watched the demo video and had it sorted pretty quickly.

You press start recording and Screentoaster will load. You can record either full screen or a specific part of the screen by following simple instructions. It doesn’t record voice in the initial capture but you can add audio or text in the preview stage. Your screencast is stored on their server and you can share the url or embed the screencast into your site. I’m hoping it will load here. I’m having to use wordpress’ post video to your blog’ option using vodpod to get it in here. I’m not good with html code embeds so I do hope this option works as it would be great for you to see what it looks like.

Jane Hart listed Screentoast as one of her predictions for Top Tools in 2009. Check out her list; it’s well worth the look.

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