Screencasts give you space to breathe at a conference

I gained an insight recently into a new benefit that we might all derive from screencasts. I gave a paper about the role of a placement tutor and, in particular, how the skills we develop as personal tutors have to be adapted to suit the role of placement tutor. I did not know anyone at the conference, and I was given the dreaded after lunch slot, so I knew I would need to keep everyone interested, or at least awake!

With these considerations in mind, I chose to show the audience, after some initial preamble, an animated screencast that I have made for my students, showing them how our academic placement scheme in English Literature works. (The screencast is in the GRASS screencast bank on this site.)

Screenshot academic placement screencast

What happened next was rather unexpected. During the few minutes of the screencast I saw shoulders relax. Some people smiled. A couple even laughed at some humorous animation on one of the slides. Nobody – nobody at all – looked at me. It was a delight. I could get my bearings whilst they watched, which helped me, but I also realised that this was really helping them. Better than any description I could have given them, this short screencast gave them the student’s eye view on how our placement system works. I felt confident that they knew exactly what I was talking about from then on, and also that they had a sense of how a student might feel during the early part of the journey towards a successful academic placement.

I have used Prezi and PowerPoint at conferences before, and sometime I have just talked to people without a visual aid, but this new experiment has inspired me to use screencasts in this setting in future.

What was perhaps most surprising was the way the audience members reacted during the Q &A session. They did ask me about being a placement tutor, of course, but I also answered several interesting questions about making screencasts and how I felt students might benefit from them. It seems that the appetite for screencasts as a pedagogical tool continues to increase – interesting times lie ahead!

Moments of clarity

Using technology is a funny thing. At one moment you feel elated because it has done exactly what you wanted. The next, you are left wondering how on earth you can have been so stupid. Take powtoon ( animated screencasts as an example. I had produced nearly a dozen of them before I decided to fix a little thing that had been niggling at me all along. When I went to these screencasts, or displayed them for others, the screen they saw (the screenshot displayed before pressing ‘play’) was a bit of a muddle, sometimes having a few words of text on it and sometimes an animated figure mid-move. I knew I had done something wrong, and set out to discover my error.

Screenshot academic placement screencast

When I went back to powtoons I had that moment of clarity that so often arrives in these situations. It was a quick enough process to work out that whatever was on the editing screen at the moment when I pressed play was the image that would appear forever as the opening screen. It was rather more laborious to fix it. I decided that I wanted an image of a character on each of my screencast screenshots, and so I fiddled about for ages, altering the timing slightly to ensure that each powtoon would display a character at the side of the screen before pressing ‘play’.

I republished each and every one of them and was rather proud of myself for at least five minutes. I decided to leave them publishing whilst I made myself a cup of tea. As I waited for the kettle to boil I realised my stupidity: why just a figure on the screen? Why on earth had I not had the sense to begin each powtoon with a proper title screen? That way, anyone could see that they were about to view the correct animation before they began.

So, a lesson learned. Am I going to make sure that, in future, each of my powtoons has a title screen prior to publication? Of course. Am I going to go back and change all of those powtoons I have just republished? It’s Week Three of a busy term – what do you reckon?!

I love powtoons too!

After Emma’s brilliant start on powtoons I have decided to follow suit! I thought it would be really difficult, I suppose because the end result looks so good, but in fact it was just as intuitive as she had promised me it would be. In fact, I am noticing that I am getting a bit better at working my way around this type of software the more I use it, which might be an encouraging thought for any colleagues thinking of dipping their toes in.

The one thing I found it hard to get my head around at first was the timing. Because each element on the screen can move on and off in different ways, and you can dictate how long an element stays on the screen, and you have to work a bit at getting it right. At first I had characters zooming in and flying out all over the place and I realised, to my horror, that when I played the ‘show’ back, slides were moving on before all of the words had appeared.

The good news is that there is a really useful little tour guide (at the top right of the screen as you are working on a powtoon, just click on ‘tour’) – the bad news is that I still couldn’t work out, for a little while, how to change the timing. (You have to click on the element – text or image – that you want to control and then you can use the timing slide bar to expand or contract their time on screen. The overall timing of each slide is changeable regardless of where you have clicked – you use + and – on the time bar.)

The two I have created so far are here:

Screenshot careers learning screencast


Screenshot academic placement screencast


Now I have a decision to make. Do I use animation to offer help and advice for topics outside the core curriculum, and still use Prezi screencasts for things like module descriptions, or should I mix it all up? I can see benefits to students being able to see from the form of the screencast whether they are looking at an ‘extra’ or something relating to core activity, but I am a little bit in love with powtoons now…

I think I will await the results of Emma’s survey to student (see her last post) and then decide.