Screencasts and Education by Paul McGovern
Paul McGovern is one of our most vocal and loyal ScreenFlow supporters. It just so happens that as a lecturer in digital media & game design in Northern Ireland, he has a wealth of experience using ScreenFlow in creative ways to aid his teaching. So I asked Paul — e-learning & educational technology enthusiast, self-proclaimed lover of pizza, the Mac platform & geek culture — to write a piece for the blog giving some examples of how he uses ScreenFlow in education. What he’s come back with gives some very interesting insight into the future of education, as well as some great examples of using technology to aid in the engagement in, and enhancement of, learning. Read for yourself, and enjoy!
By Paul McGovern
I believe the concept of learning is changing. Learning has become a non-static entity and educators need to adapt and make use of the technological frameworks that exist to support 21st Century learning. I believe we as teachers owe it to our students to embrace educational technology to deliver the best learning experience possible to our students. Now more than ever students are more technologically aware, have access to powerful and affordable technology and make extensive use of technology in their everyday lives. Not using concepts such as virtual learning environments, screencasts, or discussion forums is, in my opinion, a reluctance to maximize the pedagogical process.
One of the most fundamentally useful of these educational technology tools is the screencast, the capture of one’s computer screen for the purpose of demonstration, communication, or evidencing of work.
In a recent blog post, ScreenFlow & Education I talked about the use of ScreenFlow for the development of screencasts and looked at the functionality it offered for such development. In this article I want to focus on the rationale behind the development of screencasts for learning and highlight some of the ways in which I have made use of the concept to support my teaching.
Screencasts to support learning
I believe there are a number of reasons why screencasts are extremely effective as educational tools and I have outlined these below:
1. Time-flexible learning
2. Support Web 2.0 expectations of learners
3. Enhancement of the learning process
4. Enhancement of learning engagement
Let’s take a look at these one by one.
21st century learning needs to be time flexible. Gone are the days where we can realistically expect students to learn in a given place at a given time. Of course students need effective time management skills and indeed need to be present for course lectures and practical activities but they also deserve the entitlement to manage how they make use of their time. Students should be able to learn when it suits them, in a location of their choosing, and more importantly, at a pace that suits their level of absorption or cognitive action.
Older students may have part time jobs meaning that much of their studies take place late in the evening, some students may appreciate the opportunity to go over taught material several times to clarify a particular concept or theory. Screencasts support this concept very effectively and I personally have had thanks from many students for providing access to lectures in screencast format, in particular in instances where, due to circumstances beyond their control, students could not attend a particular lesson.
Support Web 2.0 Expectation
We live in a Web 2.0 world – the majority of my students have Facebook and Twitter accounts and make use of services such as Last.fm and Dropbox. This is no longer something reserved only for the geeks and computer aware among us. I recently surveyed 100 of my students – 93 of them had Facebook accounts, 77 used Twitter with regularity and 98 had watched a YouTube video in the past week. That’s a staggering level of interaction and exchange of information! Wouldn’t it be great then to provide a similar exchange of information and interaction in an educational context? Again screencasts support this; they allow students to watch personalized learning content, comment on what they see, recommend content to others and participate with learning objects in a Web 2.0 context.
A common example of this is when students are working on a group assignment or even an individual piece of work – through use of a course forum they will recommend screencasts to one another. This year I introduced a rating system within Moodle whereby support materials could be sorted depending on the student rating. Such interaction really appeals to students.
Enhancement of the Learning Process
Students learn in different ways. I think most educators would agree with that statement, but personally I think that modern students learn differently from those in the past. The use of textbooks and practical demonstration is of course effective and has its place, but screencasts provide a much more effective way of learning. Firstly the clarity of teaching is evident; students can be shown exactly how to perform a given task or be educated on a given subject matter. Moreover, the easy access to repetition of this teaching through repeated plays of the content can help establish understanding.
Often in my screencasts I will introduce sections for reflection or activity; the screencast will request the student to stop the video and comment on what he has learned or attempt a problem in relation to what he has just seen. This provides a very guided mechanism for teaching, while giving the student the opportunity to apply knowledge obtained or reflect on what has just taken place. I have found this structured approach extremely useful, in particular with students that perhaps need extra focus as they learn.
Enhancement of Learning Engagement
Let’s cut to the chase, screencasts can be really cool. I have had students come into my classes for the first time and be introduced to screencasts. The looks on their faces never ceases to amuse and reward me. Having never been exposed to them before and expecting more of the same in the form of text books, taking down notes, etc., they look at one another almost embarrassed by their admiration and amazement. Taking it to the next level, when they get feedback on work done in the form of a screencast where perhaps I have made use of functionality such as Picture-in-Picture (PIP), they are blown away. The direct one-to-one experience that a feedback screencast provides not only impresses the students and helps them engage with what they are doing, but it also helps them to enjoy learning, which is paramount to the teaching process.
Screencasts for student feedback
It should be starting to become clear that screencasts offer a wealth of positive enhancements to modern learning and greatly enhance the learning process for both teacher and student. In addition to using screencasts for instructional purposes I use them extensively to provide feedback to students. I used to hate weekend marking, sitting down to perhaps 30 pieces of work to which I had to give comment on and attribute performance markers. This was particularly time consuming in my field of digital media and game design where marking often involves a range of digital assets. I had to open up files and explore them in software and make notes as I went. Now I simply launch ScreenFlow, open up students’ work, and talk and navigate my way through. No typing, no writing, no hassle. I have cut my marking time extensively and I actually have content that students cannot lose in the end.
Upon making amendments to work done, I can easily check if students have taken advice on board my making use of markers for areas I want them to improve upon within the screencast. It’s a win-win situation.
I also make use of screencasts for office hours. There are times in the week where I make myself available for contact by students through Moodle to answer any questions they might have. In the past this was a very one-dimensional process where text information was conveyed to students in response to their questions. Now students can submit screencasts to me with problems they are experiencing and I, in return, can send a screencast solution back. It’s powerful and engaging providing both parties with an easy and concise way of overcoming areas of difficulty.
Screencasts for evidence of learning
In a recent meeting with a chief examination moderator of one of our exam boards I put forward the question, “Could screencasts be used to completely support evidencing of learning outcomes?” A lot of work students do with software tools require the creation of a digital diary where they record screenshots of actions done and comment on these in text – a somewhat laborious and time-consuming task. The moderator was keen to see how screencasts could be used and has agreed for them to be a suitable form of evidence for next year’s submissions. That means that students can now show evidence of learning outcomes through screencasts; they can sit down and perform tasks in Adobe Photoshop, Final Cut, After Effects, Maya or any software application and record their on-screen actions. As they do so, they can record audio comment on what they are doing and incorporate other media elements to support their evidence if so required. It’s an extremely competent and highly engaging method for documenting evidence of learning.
Students can also record evidence of research done, planning for projects, group-based activity, problem solving and many other common learning objectives effectively and intuitively through use of screencasts.
Screencasts to support teacher-to-teacher communications
Screencasts are not just for teacher-student interaction however, they can also be used to support teacher-to-teacher communication. Often in our line of work there is a need to share lesson plans, schemes of work and approaches to assessment between colleagues. While this is entirely possible through face-to-face meetings, our busy lives and even busier schedules often leave it difficult to achieve. Communication then can take place through screencasts where we can exchange ideas, comment on student progress, showcase approaches to teaching and generally do the things that would normally require us to be present in a given location and a given time. In fact, in the next academic year I believe that we are going to use screencasts to facilitate in-house staff development where teachers will have the opportunity to learn new skills through the screencast medium.
21st Century learning is here and we as educators need to embrace it or run the risk of not fulfilling the potential of our students or, indeed, ourselves as instructors of the work force of tomorrow. Educational technology must be harnessed as a tool to enhance and evolve the educational process and screencasts are one powerful, affordable and highly effective way of doing so.