This was the first year Aaron Hickman, math teacher at West High, and his colleagues adopted a new approach to Algebra 1 – and part of that experience was no textbook. As Aaron began to get questions from parents about how they could support their children without access to a text, he decided to open a window to his classroom. He wanted to record the 20-minute lecture sections of his class and publish them where students and parents could easily access the information, at any time convenient to them.
When Aaron and I talked about a solution for bringing his lectures online, two elements rose to the top:
- Students and parents should be able to access resources in a familiar, easy-to-use environment.
- Creating and posting resources should add as little to his daily routine as possible.
Challenge 1: Where to post
We chose Moodle for a few reasons:
- As the learning management system for the district, Moodle’s interface and course listings are familiar to most students. Each student and teacher has an account, with a username and password that are the same as their Novell account credentials.
- Moodle has a built-in video player. Any .FLV file that is uploaded to Moodle is automatically embedded into a YouTube-like player.
- Moodle allows Aaron to arrange his materials in easy-to-follow blocks, each addressing one of the standards in the Algebra 1 curriculum.
Most Parkway Moodle courses are “walled gardens”, where only registered users can view and participate in activities and discussions. For this course, we opened access to guest users since there are no interactive elements to the course and the audience was primarily parents looking to access the material. If you would like to view Aaron’s work, visit “Algebra I Video Lessons” and click the “Login as a guest” button.
Challenge 2: Make it simple
Filming, editing, compressing, and publishing video can take a lot of time. For the purposes of this project, we isolated two elements that were the most important: the interactions on the Smart Board and Aaron’s voice. Students and parents what to hear how Aaron explains concepts and see the examples he works as he illustrates those concepts.
Aaron’s recording sessions work like this:
- Aaron plugs in his wireless microphone at the beginning of the period.
- He opens up whatever Smart Notebook presentation he intends to use during instruction.
- He opens the screen capture software and hits “Record”.
- He teaches.
- At the close of the lecture portion of class, he hits “Stop” on the screen capture software.
- At the close of class, he drops the video file into a converter program.
- At the end of the day, he uploads the converted file into his Moodle course.
It took some trial and error to fine tune the system, but it’s up and working now with few hiccups. Scroll down for set-up details.
So, students don’t need to come to class, Right?
I had an interesting conversation with a West High student as I was walking in to the library one morning. He was diligently comparing his answers to the ones his teacher posted online. I asked him what he was up to and he explained that he was looking over the slides his teacher had posted from the previous day.
“So, does this mean you don’t need to go to class?” I asked. His response was a quick one -
“Only if I don’t want to learn.”
This student’s perspective is pretty common from what I’m reading and observing right now. Though we have many tech-savvy teens who can grab raw material fairly quickly, they still recognize their own shortcomings – they don’t have the experience or necessary filters to make sense of most information they lay their hands on.
Students know that teachers, that mentors, make the difference when it comes to learning. MIT puts an amazing amount of lectures, syllabi, and even class notes online, and students continue to apply to attend MIT – in person.
Interested to try this out? Drop me a note. If you’re a self-starter, check the set-up details below.
Video Capture tool: CamStudio
Identifying these pieces meant that we could capture the video using a screen recording tool. We chose CamStudio, a free tool that simply and easily records video from the computer screen and audio from a microphone. CamStudio’s default settings had to be changed to accept audio from our external microphone and to save the video file to the desktop.
Video Compression tool:
The resulting video file is enormous – far too large to upload to Moodle. There are numerous software packages and online tools that could convert and compress this video. For this project we piloted a free video compression tool. As soon as it’s approved by my district, I’ll post details here. Check with your computer specialist to see which one your school would recommend.
Microphone: Sony Wireless Bluetooth Microphone
Wireless microphones are typically very costly and require some sort of mixing board in order to bring audio into a computer. The Sony ECM AW3 wireless microphone is much more affordable, can be shared among teachers for different projects, and runs off of 2 AAA batteries (with a life-span of about 3 hours per pair). Because this solution is wireless, Aaron doesn’t have to worry about where he moves around the classroom or where he projects his voice. He simply teaches.