Using Screencasting for Teaching, by Kirk McDermid

by Dr. Kirk McDermid, Department of Philosophy and Religion, Montclair State University

Courtesy Creative Commons, 2012.

Courtesy Creative Commons, 2012.

Quick (boring) facts:

“Screencasting” is recording all or part of what’s happening on a computer’s display, to share with someone at a later date . It’s often used in software tutorials to give new users a visual aid to help familiarize them with the software . There are many different packages out there that can record screencasts, but I’ll be writing about a free service called “Jing” (techsmith.com/jing). Jing allows you to record a whole screen, a window, or a user-defined portion of a screen. It records up to 5 minutes of 10-frames-per-second video (so, not good for actual video, but just fine for showing mouse movements, etc.) and allows you to save them locally as swf (Flash) video files, or host them on screencast.com. (Techsmith also offers “Snagit,” which records more than 5 minutes and adds features, and Camtasia, an even more feature-filled screen-capture and video creator package.) Jing works on Windows (all contemporary versions) and Mac OS X 10 .6 .8 or later.

How I use it:

As with all teachers, I am constantly trying to find ways to improve communication with my students, and give them more effective feedback on their work—especially written work . And, of course, I’m lazy; I’d like to do it efficiently. (I’m also not the fastest typist, so I find that while typed feedback is an improvement over handwriting, it’s still very time consuming) . I do use rubrics or other ‘pre-made’ commentary for general or common feedback, but that just doesn’t cut it when you find something that doesn’t fit the categories you defined before reading student work. I also find that I’m not good at conveying nuance in my comments— students find it difficult to distinguish ‘minor’ comments or asides from central, fundamental feedback about their work.

(And it gets worse when I can’t control my sarcasm or humor. For some reason, students aren’t prepared to detect those when they’re reading evaluations of their work.)

So, I screencast.

Courtesy Creative Commons, 2012.

Courtesy Creative Commons, 2012.

It’s simple: I set up a Jing window to record an area of a few lines’ worth of their paper, and I record myself reading it . (Yes, I almost entirely accept coursework in electronic form. I always have a copy; we have email records (or other means) to validate submissions, and the writing is always legible.) I skip over the dull parts (the dull parts of my reading, that is) by pressing a “pause recording” button, so it appears that I’ve read sections very fast sometimes, but then the whole screencast is full of commentary from me. (You can see times when I do that in the example screencasts, as my mouse flicks down to the left where the pause button is located outside the recording frame.) Sometimes it takes two or even three five-minute videos to read and respond to an entire paper, but if it’s one-two pages, one video does the trick . Then, just a brief typewritten summary at the end of the paper (mostly to remind myself of the evaluation I just gave in video form) and it’s returned to the student with a link to the screencast. (Total elapsed time is more than just the five-minute video that’s produced; if you screw up something or get interrupted, Jing doesn’t let you edit—you have to start over. But generally I get videos done in a single take, with only a few minutes of paused reading time, so a five-minute video might take 6-10 minutes to produce.)

Here is an example of a short essay that took me two five-minute videos to read: screencast.com/t/6rSmcB9o and screencast.com/t/qN1uIwcEjC .

But essays aren’t the only student work that visual and verbal feedback can help with. I use screencasts in a critical thinking/ informal logic course, where students have to do things like reconstruct an argument into a structured format for analysis. There are many moving parts, and it’s a nightmare to give good feedback just by typing, as your focus shifts from premise to premise as you critique their work. Another benefit: it’s easy to post screencast links as part of a discussion thread, and other students can easily follow along and benefit, too . Here’s an example: screencast.com/t/k6sdQhJ05o1S.

How do students respond? I haven’t done a formal study, so all I have are anecdotes which are generally very positive. I’ve had students describe it as having me “read their paper over their shoulder.” Yes, I thought that sounded creepy too, but they intended it as an endorsement. I find that students can understand me better, as they can hear my tone and emphasis. They can also replay the video whenever they want . (Another under-appreciated benefit, in my view, is that they have to listen to the whole thing to understand my evaluation— they can’t skip to the end or just find “the grade” to see what I thought of the paper.) Like any assignment and feedback, what you put in a Jing screencast is only as good as your feedback, and the structure of your assignment. I typically assign papers that can be revised and resubmitted; students have a good motive to listen to my feedback in that case (whether it was a Jing, or not). I also find that students have fewer misunderstandings about what I’m referring to in my feedback—some errors or problems can’t be easily located using a pen on paper (arrows, circles, everywhere!!) but with a Jing, they can see you draw or scroll to the areas you’re focused on. (See the logic screencast above for a good example of that .) I used to screencast on a convertible tablet, using a pen to scribble on documents as I read and talked (awesome); now I have a plain laptop, but I can indicate passages clearly just by moving the mouse (great, not awesome).

I do also use Jing to screencast tutorials; if you’ve ever had students complain they don’t know where to find something on Blackboard, use a screencast to answer that once, then post it somewhere you know they can find it. I also run an off-campus hosted wiki as a coursework site for students; Jing eases the learning curve, since it’s something they’ve never done before . (It’s a unique type of wiki.) Here’s an example: screencast.com/t/0yUQrYYQYvM.

About the author:

Kirk McDermid is an assistant professor of philosophy at Montclair State University. As a philosopher and physicist (BSc in physics from UBC, MSc and PhD in philosophy from the London School of Economics and the University of Western Ontario, respectively) interested in the philosophy of science and epistemology, he has published in Physics Letters A, Religious Studies and Teaching Philosophy. He is also associate faculty at Royal Roads University in Victoria, British Columbia, Canada, team teaching a course on critical thinking for Justice Studies students with a law enforcement veteran. He is always interested in exploring innovative pedagogy and instructional technology as ways to increase student engagement and make differentiated, student-driven learning manageable for instructors. His current research interests center on developing an epistemology of student plagiarism, examining the philosophical import of variational methods in physics, and implementing a semantic wiki to manage student learning and collaboration.

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