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Real Life Stories

Published February 23, 2016 | English (Second Language)

Using Screencasts and Flipping the Classroom to Increase Student Success

Have your students ever grumbled when you change the slides in one of your presentations too quickly? Do they start to panic when you erase crucial material from the board in your classroom? Perhaps they are at the end of their rope because they don’t have enough time to take notes the way that they would like. Screencasting may be just what the doctor ordered!

A few years ago, I thought it might be worthwhile for my English as a Second Language students at the 102 level to have some complementary explanations of different grammar concepts. I posted tutorial videos on YouTube from 2 different teachers, one of which was from a Canadian source to ensure that our rules of grammar were represented. The students watched them, but then told me that they preferred the way I taught grammar. As for my 100-level students, I felt bad that I was spending so much class time explaining concepts while students passively listened, rather than having them actively engaging in conversations. As time went on, I also noticed that there seemed to be more and more students with learning disabilities in this section, and that they needed extra time to grasp the various concepts.

Time for a Change

I decided to look into making my own videos for my students so that they could play, pause, rewind and watch the videos again as many times as they needed to understand the concepts. I didn’t want to simply post the presentations and have students press next, next, next. I started researching technologies that would allow me to broadcast the videos within Moodle.

I met with a computer support technician and our college’s IT-REP to see if they were familiar with screencasting technologies. The free software that they had tried came with a 5-minute limit for the produced videos and required that you upload your content to YouTube. I couldn’t work within the 5-minute constraint and didn’t want to post the videos to YouTube. I continued my search for a suitable piece of screencasting software and finally found Webinaria. There was just one downside, which was the save format for the tool (.avi). I found another piece of software to convert my AVI files from Webinaria into the Flash Format FLV. The product’s rather unimaginative name is Free AVI to FLV Converter!

When I started making the screencasts, I hadn’t yet learned to use PowerPoint, so I had to learn both pieces of software at the same time to start practicing the screencasting production process. Soon I was using the PowerPoint animation, fades and other transitions like a pro. Once my videos were created, I had to upload them to Moodle and create links to the Video.

Example of Screencast

Incremental Development

The videos I developed were created during the semester. It was a fair amount of effort, as I ended up working 6 days a week. Having co-authored a companion website and a textbook in recent years, I became used to dedicating my Saturdays to educational material development! I had originally thought about doing a live shoot of me working with a whiteboard, but didn’t like my initial tests. Instead, I decided to create PowerPoint presentations, and I found a background at that looks like a chalkboard. I think that it gives the videos more of a classroom feel. I also opted for simple voice-over narration rather than expose my students to a distracting talking head on a webcam. It was also very important to me that my students felt the amount of effort and care that went into the videos, and I tried to inject my personality and some fun into the videos. I didn’t want them to feel that they were being abandoned.

I clearly remember the day I informed my students that we were going to do things differently. I announced “I have a new system!! You can watch a series of videos on-line from home whenever it is convenient. You can also slow it down and repeat the videos as many times as you need until you understand.” The whole time I was relating this to one of my classes, there was a young man who was nodding and getting more and more excited. Finally he slapped his hand down on his desk and proclaimed “That’s exactly what I need! If only I would have had that in high school I wouldn’t have had all the problems I had!!!” Finally, someone had understood and catered to his needs.

The Benefits of Screencasting for Teachers and Students

With the screencasts in place, I freed up most of the class time that used to be spent on theory. By assigning the videos as homework, I was now able to spend more time on conversation and application in class, and adopted a more active approach in my lesson planning. I have students work in groups reviewing their notes and they then vocalize the different grammatical rules. This generally takes about 20 minutes, then the students do a quiz. After this, I may run a variety activities, like having them show a photo of their family whom they present to the class, describing the personalities and interests of each member of the family.

Students also record themselves speaking English in Moodle using a plug-in called PoodLL. I’m from the behaviourist school of thought and believe that if students vocalize and move their mouths that the brain will learn English on its own, adapt as its exposure to the language continues. Getting students to tune their ears so that they can self-correct is also important. If you speak English with your own voice, your ear is going to hear it and your brain will make new connections. I also think it is important to remember that the flipped classroom has a high degree of social elements. Once you group students together, they slowly get comfortable working with the members of their group. So try not to change the groups throughout the semester.

Another benefit of changing my approach is that I feel that I don’t really teach grammar anymore, and that the screencasts allow for consistent delivery from section to section and semester to semester. This is also important for the language labs, as students come better prepared and seem to struggle less than before. The process is also much more enjoyable for me, as I don’t feel like I am cramming things down the throats of my students all the time.

As for students, I have witnessed students developing their own self-discipline. They are taking an active role and responsibility for their learning, which will serve them for years to come.

Getting Students to Work from Home

I recently attended the Canadian MoodleMoot conference where many attendees were interested in how to get students to do the homework that is assigned to them in a flipped classroom model.

Students don’t always like the blended environment. It puts a lot of responsibility on them.

The presenters and attendees agreed that using a point system works really well, but you must also do collective exercises that require students to use their homework assignment to reinforce the importance of doing their homework and thus you develop a habit.

For my students I assign additional marks for the quality of the notes my students have taken, they can theoretically get 105 out of 100 if they have excellent notes, but can lose marks if they speak French in class. The 100-level students were required to keep good notes and use highlighting, underlining, and using different colours. They were motivated, but with the old way of doing things, I was going too fast. With screencasting, students now had plenty of time to do the notes they desired. I also do a quiz to see who has acquired the knowledge, right after we have practiced the application of a grammar rule. I was thrilled to see students that have not passed English in their entire lives getting 70s or 80s. It gave them such a feeling of success that they felt empowered and motivated to continue!

Where to Next?

My journey in screencasting is ongoing. I would like to film my process to share with others, maybe with the help of our media students, as well as create some guides. I believe this would be a good way to demystify flipped classrooms. I am also helping some of my colleagues, providing them with advice and guidance for their own screencast projects. I’d also like to get some release time to further develop our use of PoodLL at the college, and work on integrating other complementary solutions in Moodle to enrich the flipped classroom experience.

I’d really like to know if there are other teachers out there doing screencasting and flipping their classes like this. If so, what kind of fun things are you doing? Please use the comments feature below to connect with me and share your ideas!

Editor's Note: Patti Holter presented some of the advantages of using screencasts and her development tools at a meeting of the IT Representatives' Network (REPTICs) held in 2015. You can download a copy of her presentation in PDF format here (600ko).

About the Author

A native of Saskatchewan, Patti Holter is an English as a Second Language Teacher at College Lionel-Groulx, where she has taught for the last 25 years. Prior to this she taught in Saskatchewan and Nova Scotia. Ms. Holter co-designed pedagogical support material for Chenelière Éducation and was recognized with an Award in Pedagogy in the Collective Category in 2000 for her early efforts to implement the changes in line with the Reform. During a two-year hiatus, Patti moved out west and was the proprietor of a bed and breakfast. She learned HTML to create a web page to promote her business, and has been actively using technology ever since, and was one of the first college teachers in Québec to use Moodle into her teaching practice.

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