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On Screencasts: Something Familiar, Something New

posted: 6.24.13 by archived

When I first stumbled upon Jing, a free tool for recording and storing screencast videos, it made a kind of intuitive sense to me right away. Jing offered something familiar and something new.

As an undergraduate English major at UNH in the early 1990s, I had had an instructor who used audio-tapes to provide feedback to me and my classmates on our writing. I had experienced, first-hand, the process of sitting down with my paper and hitting “play” to hear my teacher’s assessment of my work and then trying to revise accordingly.Thus, when I first encountered Jing, I knew from first-hand experience that talking to students about their work instead of writing comments in the margins was an effective way to give (and receive) feedback.

But Jing offers something more than just the opportunity to talk to students about their work–it offers the opportunity to show them things…like what a particular comment means or how to actually edit/revise a particular section of text. This, I think, is something entirely new–something with great promise for writing instruction.

In this post, rather than work through the potential benefits (and limitations) of using screencast software in writing classes, I’d like, instead, to think through the ways I am already using Jing in the Paperless Writing Class. If I am to be honest, it’s all a bit hazy for me at this point. While I like the tool and use it often, I don’t yet have an official “policy” for myself on the use of screencasting. Rather than think it through carefully and cautiously from the start, I sort of just jumped in with Jing a few years ago and have been experimenting with it ever since. This blog post will give me the opportunity to begin thinking through my existing practice.

The first thing I note as I take stock of my use of Jing over the past five years is the haphazard nature by which I use the tool itself. As I look back at the full range of introductory, general education, in-major, and graduate courses I have taught, no pattern seems to emerge, in terms of when I go to Jing to give feedback and when I stick to the more traditional method of inserting marginal comments and writing a letter at the end of a draft. In some classes, I don’t create screencasts at all. In others, I create screencasts for just one assignment. In no classes have I shifted to Jing entirely to provide students with feedback. This leads me to my first question about the use of screencasts: When (and why) do you use them?

Next, as I review a sample of the screencasts I have made, I realize that, for the most part, I use this tool to respond to student writing. But this morning, I used Jing for a different purpose. In all my classes, I try to post “models” for each of the essays/reports that I ask students to write. Usually, I take the time to go over the model in class, but there isn’t always time for this, especially during summer sessions. So this morning I made a screencast video of myself talking through a model essay and explaining what students should notice about it and try to emulate (or avoid). This experience leads me to a second question about the use of screencasts: What do you use them for?

Finally, my research on my own screencasts reveals that I use this tool in different ways as I talk to students about their work. At my most pedagogically ineffective, I have the student’s paper open on the screen and I tell the student there are two or three issues I’d like to address and then I address them, often getting side-tracked by niggling problems that come up along the way. I think such recordings reveal me at my worst. As I watch them, I, myself, get lost. There is no roadmap–it’s just someone talking.

In other cases, I have already commented on a paper or created a written list of topics to discuss at the end of the paper and I run through this list, point by point (sometimes I have the list in an email, which I send the students, along with the link to the screencast, when I am finished). I notice that when I create a kind of “agenda” or itinerary for my screencasts and share that with the viewer in the beginning and then refer back to it throughout the screencast recording, I am perhaps at my best–most able to follow myself.

These observations about the “how to” of a program like Jing lead me to a third question about the use of screencasts: What is the most effective way to create accessible and actionable recordings?

While I’m guessing that there is some research out there that can help me answer these questions I’ve found that, at least around my campus, it’s a lonely world our there for screencasters. I know of very few, if any, faculty experimenting with tools like Jing. In a workshop I gave on screencasts a few weeks ago, my sense of the room was that I wasn’t getting much buy-in. When I pointed out that if screencasts seemed like too much to tackle, one could just experiment with the “insert audio” tool that comes with all new Mac computers, folks seemed to perk up right away. That somehow seemed more doable to members of my audience (e.g. “You mean, instead of typing the marginal notes I insert in student’s papers I can just speak them and the computer will type them for me???!!! That’s AWESOME!”).

For now, I’ll continue to experiment with screencast tools and think through this familiar yet new teaching practice. I welcome your comments, questions, and observations if you have experience with creating screencasts in your teaching.

Categories: Michael Michaud
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