Flippin’ Out

Happy December, everyone!

I wanted to write a quick blog post about something I’ve been doing in my classroom to help my students move at their own pace and get me away from the front of the classroom: making videos.

This is something I wanted to do last year, but as with any kind of mastery, it is a slow and tedious process.  Much like this quote by Ira Glass about creativity, I’ve now been teaching long enough to know how far I am from getting really good at my craft. Ah, the burden of knowledge.

Anyway, this year I started making videos to explain concepts in my class.  I use Quicktime Player on my computer to record my screen and voice while I click through a powerpoint, or record myself writing on a paper using my document camera.  I knew if I was going to start doing this, the process would have to be easy, so I did not use programs where I had to do editing or mess with an audio track.

I initially wanted to do this as a way for students to revisit instructions or catch up with the class if they were absent, but I’ve started experimenting with assigning these videos for homework.  So far, the students seem receptive to the idea of learning from a video, and I’m hoping that this will free me up to do more activities with the students, if I’ve already laid the groundwork of a concept through a video.  

Anyway, here’s an example of one of my low-fi and quickly created videos.  You can see why I asked for a USB microphone for the holidays.

Have a good one!

Alex

In the future, when we all live in underground bubble houses.
In the future, when we all live in underground bubble houses.

Touchcast: A New Look for the Screencast

For this month’s experiment in technological integration, I attempted to use a fairly new app called Touchcast. I chose to employ this application after learning about it in a course I took last summer. I liked the functionality and uses of the app. So, over the past few weeks, my students and I have been experimenting with this new app in an effort to “semi flip” my classroom.

Touchcast is new take on screencasting. For those of you that have used Explain Everything, you will be familiar with the idea of screencasting. Simply put, screencasting is when a user records their actions on their computer screen, creating a step by step video. Touchcast takes this idea to a different level. Instead of recording one’s computer screen, Touchcast allows its user to record their iPad screen. Moreover, Touchcast allows users to video record themselves or video record other individuals. While recording, or after recording is finished, the user can overlay images, more video, text, maps, and pretty much any other web based visual representation.

This is extremely useful for the classroom teacher, because once a Touchcast is finished, it can be viewed by members of the class. The reason Touchcast is so appealing is that students not only learn from making the project, but they can then view classmates’ projects and manipulate the images, watch embedded video, play with maps, games and any other vApps. (TouchCast vApps are actually just interactive web pages added on top of video. Usually, videos exist in their own box on web pages). Therefore, a finished Touchcast is more than just a static video; it is an interactive experience. The better the Touchcast is made, the more there is for the viewer to learn and do.

If all this sounds sort of complicated, it’s because it kind of is. The app is certainly a new way of thinking about technology, and there is a steep learning curve for students. Therefore, I knew I would have to give my students ample time to work on their Touchcast projects. I chose major events of the Early Cold War as the topics that my students would be covering. Therefore, my students would be building Touchcasts about the Early Cold War in place of the lessons that I would normally teach on the subject. This is the “semi flipped” classroom I mentioned earlier.

After explaining the uses of Touchcast to my students, and how it is different from a regular documentary, we embarked on a day of experimenting with the app in our school’s iPad lab. As you may recall, I am attempting to integrate technology in a classroom that does not have 1:1 technology. Therefore, lab time is essential. For the first day, students were instructed to play around on the app. A few students made goofy videos about cats and cute babies, etc.

Microsoft Word Version of the Project: Touchcast Project

I thought that the next day would be best spent researching appropriate, scholarly sources and having students write scripts to use when broadcasting their Touchcasts. I think these are important skills for juniors in high school to be able to effectively demonstrate. Accordingly, we spent the next two classes in computer labs, not to be confused iPad labs. Students researched their topics on history databases and began scripting and blocking their Touchcasts.

After these two classes, we returned to the iPad lab. I planned to give students three class periods to complete their Touchcasts, and on the fourth day, we would watch and manipulate the Touchcasts for an entire period.

The first two days of our iPad lab time went well. Students were still researching, finding vApps, and beginning the process of taping their Touchcasts. There were a lot of mistakes made, videos lost, iPads that ran out of battery, and problems that my students and I had to brainstorm how to fix (more on this in the next paragraph). Nevertheless, on the whole, the process was going smoothly.

As I mentioned, there were many unforeseen problems that we had to figure out. One of the biggest challenges was how to save student projects that were created on iPads that they did not own. One of my biggest fears was that students would work on the communal iPads only to have their projects deleted or the iPad they were working on disappear overnight. To avoid this potential issue, I had to find a way for students to upload their Touchcasts to the “cloud.” While my students were taping and scripting, I spent an entire period searching Touchcast for a solution.

I discovered a solution which proves that the fine people at Touchcast had thought about groups like mine that do not have 1:1 technology. Touchcast allows students to create their own Touchcast channels. Each of my student groups created one of these channels with a unique username and password. Each day when students entered the iPad lab, they would log in to their channel. After working on their Touchcasts, students would then upload their updated video to the cloud. After uploading their video, they are given a code by Touchcast that allows the user to pull the video down from the cloud to any iPad. This process allowed us to feel confident that student projects would still be there when we returned to the lab the next day.

Then, external events interrupted the momentum we had created. We had two, back to back snow days during classes where lab time was scheduled. Consequently, my due date was pushed back and we had a serious time crunch, because I wanted to finish the project before winter break. When we returned to school after the snow days, I gave my students two additional class periods to finish their projects. I explained that any additional work beyond those days would have to be done on their own time.

It was at this point that some of the pitfalls of the Touchcast App were exposed. Students began having difficulty uploading images and videos because of our school’s web filter. (I always joke that we are like Communist China). Other students were losing segments of their video or having difficulty understanding how to use the editing tools for Touchcast. That being said, I think many of these problems are ones that you have to expect when you are using new technology.

Shockingly, one student expressed to me that they wished they had simply written a research paper instead. I told the student not to worry, because we will be doing that next month!

After seven lab periods, students were finally finishing their projects. We had a few final hiccups were students had difficulty uploading their completed videos to their channels. However, by the last lab day, I had all of the completed Touchcasts.

In the end, I was satisfied with the final products. I have to give my students credit for creating a project using an application that was completely new to them. My students navigated a big learning curve, largely on their own, where they had to tape, edit, and imbed images and clips into a video. Impressively, they successfully did all of this and with only a few complaints.

The final projects all have issues. Some are not edited together tightly enough, and others lack a coherent story or do not include enough vApps. However, I think each video displays different strengths of the Touchcast app and the student groups that made them. Some Touchcasts use a lot of images and video clips, while others are more like documentary style videos. In the end, students provided solid content and varied videos. I think that they also enjoyed tapping into their creative side to present on the Historical event they had researched. I would definitely use this app again in the future. Furthermore, I can now say that I know how to use it.

Check out the finished videos below!

Truman Doctrine & Marshall Plan

Berlin Blockade & Berlin Airlift

Korean War

NATO & Warsaw Pact

Massive Retaliation & Brinkmanship

Duck & Cover – Civil Defense in the Nuclear Age

U2 Incident