Flat Prezis…deep Prezis …still deciding…

An unexpected question has come up this week and I am still pondering it…

Our Part One module convenors are all doing a great job of producing Prezis for our modules descriptions, which we will turn into screencasts. I hope that they will also be voiced by the convenors so that it is not just my voice on every screencast. All well and good, you might think, until we all got together.

One thing became clear as soon as we started to talk about the screencasts – each person was very attached to the Prezi template they had chosen, but they were very different from each other. This is not a huge problem, but it did lead to discussions about how standardised these things should be. Should a department (and/or school) ensure that all of the screencasts issued for a certain purpose (say, module descriptions) are based on the same Prezi/PowerPoint template?

Prezi wikimedia image

Emma and I had already had a similar discussion, considering whether animated screencasts and Prezi-based screencasts would sit comfortably together in a group of related screencasts, so I should have expected that this discussion would arise with my department colleagues.

For now, we have agreed to create all of the draft Prezis (seven of them) and then compare. Given that Prezi will allow for different colour themes in one template, it would be possible for us to choose one template for all of them, or leave them as they are.

The second question that emerged was about how ‘deep’ the Prezi template should be. Should it comprise a series of connecting sections which sit flat in front of a background, or should the sections draw the viewer through an experience, such as along a road or into a building, or up mountain? I had no idea that colleagues would have such vivid ideas about this, but they do. We talked about whether we wanted our module descriptions to look like a journey with a goal at the end – on a Part One module? Isn’t that meant to be the start of a journey? Also, would it make the process of choosing a module look laborious if they wandered through a labyrinthine screencast to get an overview?



‘Flat’ style Prezi – easier to take an overview? Not interesting enough?



‘Deep’ style Prezi – more interesting and appealing? Too complicated?


I realise that we are academics and so can have a tendency to overthink everything we do, but I take heart from this experience. Who could have predicted that we would all come to care so much about screencasts?!


Could screencasts help our new students learn to be team players?

Being asked to think of a team-building exercise to run with my new personal tutees in Welcome Week got me thinking about the best way to do this. So, naturally, my thoughts turned to screencasts! I have come up with an idea which I think should work…

I am going to produce a series of screencasts about topics relevant to our new students (in my case, English Literature, being a student, living in Reading…that sort of thing…) and each of these will contain one or two lies. (For any of you who listen to ‘The Unbelievable Truth’ on Radio 4 or who watch ‘Would I Lie to You?’ on TV, this will be starting to sound familiar…).


I am hoping to join up with a few colleagues for this, so that we have some decent-sized groups of tutees. The new students will watch the screencasts and then will work as a group to identify the lies. I am hoping that five screencasts will suffice for an hour of activity.

I will be giving out a prize to the winning team and I hope they will also have had fun and got to know their new university peers.


What I am not sure about yet is whether to divide them into their personal tutor groups, so that each set of personal tutees can bond as a group. I also can’t quite decide whether to lodge the screencasts on our YouTube channel so that they (and the world) can look at them in advance. I think the element of surprise is probably best, but I am going to give it some more thought.

One of the pleasures of a group project like GRASS is the way that we can help each other and share ideas. When I took this plan to Emma she immediately decided that she could do something similar, but rather than using screencasts based on Prezis or animation, she is going to ask her colleagues to film themselves reciting a script which contains some lies.


This would have a huge advantage in that the students would see some of their lecturers on film before they meet them in person, so I think it is an improvement. I was planning to ask the personal tutors to recite from a screen showing the screencasts, which has the benefit of letting me ‘volunteer’ colleagues at the last minute, but does not leave a lasting record of their speech.

Hhmmmmm…it seems that whenever we find one way to do something, another way pops up….

As with all of our projects, you will need to keep watching the blog to see what worked best on the day…

Actually PowToon really is packed full of “awesomeness”

OK so I’m normally pretty sceptical about the claims made by companies about how brilliant their new software is but……PowToon really is absolutely awesome. This is a relatively new animation package which allows users to create a combination of a standard presentation and a cartoon. It’s actually surprisingly different to other forms of visual presentation software like Prezi and VideoScribe. Prezi’s USP is the zoomable feature and whole range of easy to import templates. VideoScribe is brilliant if you love trying to guess what the pen or hand drawn picture is going to be. For me PowToon is just fantastic for the enormous range and quality of the animation available. Like Prezi, it’s totally free and like VideoScribe it’s entirely intuitive and unbelievably easy to grasp. Just to prove this I made the one minute PowToon below two hours after I first opened my free account on Wednesday night AND (this is very unlike me) I didn’t even watch the tutorials….

BFD powtoon

I admit that I did use part of a PowToon template to make this one but creating this was so quick that I grabbed a bit of spare time yesterday to see what I could do on my own. I loved the animated characters so I stuck to this theme for an American Government module summary. Having played around a bit with whole animated families, transitions, the use of props, flipping images and backgrounds I made this 50 second PowToon in about two hours and I had an enormous amount of fun along the way!

AMG summary

I admit that this is really cartoon focused but PowToon is perfectly capably of making much more ‘grown-up’ presentations using much more ‘business like’ animations. The range of characters, backgrounds and transitions is huge so the range of styles the user can adopt is massive and this makes PowToon a real winner for me. But that’s just me!!! I haven’t been an actual undergraduate for a long time now so I really wanted to find out what my students would think. It’s how to get their attention that interests me. So I’ve e-mailed all my personal tutees with three very different types of one minute module summary to see which they like best and why. On offer were:

1. My PowTooned American Government summary:

AMG sum2

2. My VideoScribed British Government summary:

BFD summary

3. My Prezied Work Experience Year summary:

WEP image

I’m just starting to receive replies so I’ll update the blog as soon as we have a winner! In the meantime I’m back to PowToon to see what else I can muster up over the weekend!

‘Screencast Bank’ is up and running!!!

BankMore exciting news-The ‘Screencast Bank’ section of our website is now populated with a whole range of different screencasts. Head over to this section on the titles bar and you will find a variety of UG and PG student information and support screencasts, staff training, module summary and screencast project overviews.

I created the majority of these last Autumn for staff and students in my own School of Politics, Economics and International relations. Most of these have been made using screen captured Prezis but one or two are screen captured VideoScribes.

Together they have registered 1,924 views since November 2013. The vast majority of viewers are Reading students although surprisingly Google Analytics tells me that my screencasts have been seen in Sydney (12 views), Florence (5 views), Alexandria (2 views) and Monrovia (3 views). I’m actually registering views in almost every continent!

This ‘Screencast Bank’ should be a useful place to start if you are thinking about different ways of incorporating screen capture in your teaching or student support provision.

Just finally-there are no prizes for spotting that, at last, I bought myself an actual microphone a few weeks ago rather than relying on the internal microphone on my laptop. The sound quality on the floating island screen cast overview is infinitely better. At last it sounds like I have left what might have appeared to be a noisy tin room! Exciting times!

Our first GRASS newsletter

We have had a positive response to the first of several newsletters we hope to produce during our GRASS project. For those of you who have yet to see it, you can find it here: GRASS newsletter

We hope to keep you updated with all of our activities as the project progresses and we also aim to include case studies and examples of best practice around the university – so watch this space!

Hugely exciting weekend with VideoScribe!!!!

With the end of term last Friday and the end of another unbelievably busy exam season I found myself with a few spare hours on Saturday morning. At long last I had some breathing space to find out more about an intriguing piece of software a colleague from Modern Languages showed me all the way back at the start of June-Sparkol’s VideoScribe. Having failed to find the software the first time around (because I was spelling it incorrectly on Google) I was thrilled to finally find it and….oh my goodness….it was worth the wait! Thank you Enza Verruccio. You were right. Videoscribe really is fantastic. Like Prezi, VideoScribe is incredibly simple to use, highly intuitive and is accompanied by user friendly, short video tutorials. Within half an hour I had a made short video and by the end of the weekend I had created a two minute piece of animation.

I was already looking for a way to create 1-2 minute module summaries for the benefit of prospective and current students.  Screen captured Prezis were the obvious answer but, having used Prezi all year, VideoScribe gave me a new avenue to explore-new graphics, new animation possibilities, a new style of student support material. I had to e-mail this to Cindy as soon as it was finished…and here it is!

BFD summary

I’ll be improving my VideoScribe skills as I create a whole suite of around 15 module summaries over the summer but what an exciting way to start the post-term period!

Welcome Week needs screencasts. Cindy Becker

I’ve been a bit worried recently about Welcome Week, and particularly the module fair. How, I have been thinking, are supposed to let our students know all about our fantastic modules if we can do little more than hand out some outlines and answer questions. Then the solution came to me. We could screencast! With some trepidation, I emailed all convenors of Part One modules in English Literature, asking if they would be prepared to come along to a meeting to talk about it and, despite some trepidation, everyone agreed to think about joining me in the project.

Emma and I then had a chat. Would it be reasonable to ask colleagues who have never used presentation software to use Prezi? Indeed, is Prezi the right vehicle for this? Maybe I should just ask colleagues to send me snippets of text and then I could insert them into a Prezi template? But then would that be leaving them out of the fun of the process? We both thought that having just our voices on every screencast we produce might get a bit boring for our students, so we came to the conclusion that we should probably offer to produce a Prezi and turn it into a screencast, if colleagues would agree to do the voicing over.

Then two things happened today to make me smile. The first was an email I received from a colleague who admits to being a technophobe, yet there within the email was a link to a perfect Prezi she had made over the weekend to show off the Part One module she convenes. Within minutes of looking at it I received an email from Emma to share with me her module description screencast, which uses amazing animation software which I really, really want to learn to use.

It’s amazing how screencasting can brighten up your day…

techno smiley copyright free

Watch this space later in the year – Emma and I will be debating the relative merits of differing approaches to module description screencasts – by then we will have tried out several tactics and will be able to support any colleague who is interested in doing the same.

Screen capture success at Maastricht and Aston! Emma Mayhew


I’ve had great fun over the last week presenting my screen capture work and introducing Reading’s new GRASS project at two major conferences.

I wasn’t actually able to go the First European Conference on Teaching and Learning Politics, IR and International Studies on 26th June due to the French air traffic control strike and a prior engagement in Bordeaux BUT the conference organisers very kindly let me present virtually. I made a screen cast of my presentation which was rather appropriate given that I was outlining the varied and flexible nature of screen capture technology! I was thrilled to hear that some members of the audience were “blown away” by the use of screen capture technology and even more thrilled to be asked to give follow up talks at two other universities.

Following initial ‘virtual’ success I was excited to be attending the Higher Education Academy’s Annual Conference in Aston on Wednesday in person. I was right to be excited. The lunch and cake buffet tea break was absolutely amazing AND my session was really well received. I’ve spent quite a bit of my day today sending links to my screen casts to interested conference delegates from Edinburgh all the way to Denmark.

I’ve included a link below to my three minute Maastricht presentation which offers a very quick summary of my screen capture work and how this feeds into the GRASS project. Please click on the floating island!


The flurry of progress surrounding the GRASS project is great to see at the moment and we’re still a full two months before the project actually launches. This will be an exciting year!