Friday, January 11, 2013

Don't Just Tell Them: Show Them! (Application Sharing and Lecture Capture)

With the Web conferencing tools incorporated in CCC Confer, you can reach students visually as well as orally, and in more dramatic fashion than is usually possible in the face-to-face classroom environment. As our friend Donna Eyestone says, "With CCC Confer, every student has a front row seat." Would you show a blank wall to a student sitting in the front row?

Why Bother?

Confer lets you record and display anything your computer screen can display, and talk about it while you're doing it. For example, you can demonstrate software and how it works, or show students how to log into a Web application you want them to explore. You can enhance your lecture materials for both synchronous and asynchronous viewing (i.e., flip your classroom to allow for more in-class discussion and practice). Application sharing makes it possible to provide how-to instructions for assignments, and is a great solution for providing remedial materials. You can even allow students to use this tool to provide their own presentations, demonstrations, or assignments.

This is a way to avoid the typical pitfalls of lesson delivery. In a typical class, you spend a certain amount of time (say, 10 to 20 minutes) introducing a topic and trying to get the students to understand it or become interested in why it's important. You may spend some more time providing supportive materials - slides, whiteboard screens, your own notes, anecdotes, textbook content, etc. - with the hope that the students will warm to the topic and relate to something you've presented. And you spend a good part of the remainder of class time repeating the process because students didn't catch it the first time or missed something critical in your explanation, demonstration, or presentation.

Why not record what you have to show them before you ever meet with them in real time? That allows your real-time interactions to skip the 40 minutes or so you've spent repeating yourself because they've already let you do that (they can play your recorded demonstration as many times as they like in order to understand it). You now have class time for independent practice, and even to present students with more difficult or nuanced aspects of your topic. The most distracting and difficult part of the typical class - the time when individual students have to be shown how or what they didn't understand - has been moved to the pre-class period, when they're viewing your pre-recorded material and re-playing it to their hearts' content. Absent students can also benefit from this approach because they haven't missed everything.

General Guidelines

If you'd like to see how this is done, visit the Confer archives to see how others have done this. We have several tutorials on the subject, along with some helpful videos from experienced instructors. 

You'll need to be confident: this can and does work, and you can do it! Learn the basics of the software and start practicing. Record a few sessions and see what you're doing right and/or wrong. Get some good sound equipment, start writing a plan, and plan to make mistakes and learn from them.

Tips for Good Application Sharing and Recording

Plan well before you start your application sharing and recording. Write a script if you're at all uneasy with the process. Winging it inevitably produces "uhs" and "ums" that annoy your online audience. Having a storyboard for the process - where will you make transitions, what effects you want to include, which screens to bring up - will help you stay on track. Know which applications (software) you plan to use, when you want to use them, and whether or not any logins or forms need to be filled out. 

During the recording, speak slowly (this is my biggest downfall) and clearly. You don't have to talk all of the time, so don't ramble. Stick to your script if you have to. Begin with an introduction of what you're going to demonstrate or discuss and end with a summary of what you did: this helps with the casual viewer. 

Even though this is a video demonstration (mostly), the audio quality is critical to its success. If the sound is poor quality, students won't watch it. It's a good idea to test-record at least part of your demonstration to ensure good sound. You should also find a quiet place to do the recording to eliminate background noise or interruptions. 

Clean your desktop (computer screen) before sharing it with students. Too many background icons or gadgets will distract attention. Turn off applications you're not going to be using, especially those that
produce pop-up reminders and notifications. Resize the windows of the applications you'll be using so they'll fit optimally in the area of the screen you'll be sharing.

When you're sharing your desktop or an application, use slow mouse movements. When the mouse jerks around or makes circles on the screen, your students will not be amused. For similar reasons, make sure that any text you'll be showing or discussing on the screen is large enough to read and that the font is easily legible.

In the age of short commercials and frequent commercial breaks, it's a good idea to limit your recordings to 5 minutes or less. Do several short demonstrations rather than a single long one. Separate sessions will also ensure that you're at your best for each of them.

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