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Published December 16, 2012 | Physics

Old Fashioned Technology

Evolving Narrated Solutions

Sometimes information technology is incredibly simple! A hand-written problem appears on screen. As the problem's solution appears, there is a voice-over, someone narrating, explaining the reasoning behind every step, explaining the algebra and explaining the symbols.

I wanted the problem solutions to be extremely simple. What you see is just one image after another: just the image of the problem and a voiceover explaining the process.

These narrated solutions are made in a very old fashioned way. I scan my best possible hand-written version of the solution and then I split up that image into thirds and put it into PowerPoint. In PowerPoint I use a picture of a white block to hide the pieces of text that I don't want the students to see immediately. Then, I make one PowerPoint slide per step in the problem, reducing the white block progressively to expose the image gradually as that part of the problem enters into the conversation.

I record my explanations using Audacity, one soundtrack per slide. Because the soundtracks are very short, they're very easy to edit. It's also very easy to go back and start over because it's only ten seconds to one minute of talking.

Although there are ways of recording directly into Powerpoint, that makes huge files. Camtasia is a screen capture software that allows you to film a PowerPoint presentation and record over it. I found, however, that that was impractical because if I made a mistake, it's a lot to redo. Camtasia wasn't quite adapted to my needs.

I like the fact that narrated solutions are on demand. If someone understood something on the first try, then they don't need to watch them.

At around the time that I was working this out, Cheryl Jenkins of the JAC Economics Department organized a three day session on Adobe Premiere, which is professional grade movie editing software. Although I learned a whole bunch more than I needed to know during those three days, I got the idea that this was the product that I wanted to use. Best of all, the instructor helped me figure out the easiest way of doing it.

Essentially what I'm doing is using Adobe Premiere to capture jpg images of slides generated by PowerPoint. I import the images and then import my soundtracks from Audacity. Adobe Premiere just stitches them all together.

Although the Adobe Premiere instructor taught movie editing and fancy transitions, I wanted the problem solutions to be extremely simple. What you see is just one image after another: just the image of the problem and a voiceover explaining the process.

There's a magic button in PowerPoint that allows you to replace a picture with another picture without changing position. As long as your images have the same number of pixels, you can make an identical screen and have a seamless transition from one image to another. Viewers are under the impression that lines are appearing one by one, but really it is one image after another like an animation.

One of the shorter solutions "spreading the joy of Physics!"

Narrated Solutions – Students and Technology

I started using Narrated Solutions in January for my Electricity and Magnetism Class. The goal was to free up class time in order to have more interesting things happen, and I've been able to scrape a couple of minutes together here and there. As a result, I've done some mindmapping exercises. I've been able to get in one class where we did much more complicated group work, and I have firmly established peer instruction into my classroom now, an ongoing process over the past semesters where I'm using these capsules as tools. The narrated solutions are not driving my class but simply facilitating a pedagogical direction that was already taken.

I like the fact that narrated solutions are on demand. If someone understood something on the first try, then they don't need to watch them, If someone prefers using a textbook or looking at a piece of paper, that's fine too. In fact I've also posted the piece of paper I used to make the video on our course management system in the form of a pdf on our course management site for students who don't want to hear me talking.

I think bringing new technology into our classes is what we love doing as well. We've been trained to experiment and to try something to see if it works. I think that's certainly a part of the excitement that's going on in Physics.

Although I would like to think that I'm almost done developing a package for the course on Electricity and Magnetism, that's not going to happen because part of my package includes assignments from one class to the next. At the end of each assignment there is a box which says, Is there something which you did not understand? Is there something that we should review during the next class? So I would say that about 1/4 to 1/2 of my class time is spent addressing what is in my comments box at the end of the previous assignment. We have this ongoing conversation where I say, All right, you guys didn't get this, let's go over that. Then we've got a little bit of lecturing and a little bit of peer instruction and maybe one example, but that's all the time we have. Then, they go home, they watch the video, then they do the homework. They misunderstand new things, and that's where we take up; we have this cycle.

In Physics, we have a background in experimental science. That's what we do; that's what we trained for. We were trained to use computers. We were trained to collect data. We were trained to try and track things and to try to improve things. So, I think bringing new technology into our classes is what we love doing as well. We've been trained to experiment and to try something to see if it works. I think that's certainly a part of the excitement that's going on in Physics. We're probably less scared of technology because we've been using it.

There's no reason why these skills shouldn't transfer to the classroom.

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