Make screencasts interactive with eduCanon

I’m daily investigating teaching tools in the hope of finding one that gives me the dopamine hit I get from discovering a really great one. Every once in a while, something comes onto my radar that immediately stimulates my brain’s reward and pleasure centres. That’s what eduCanon did.

Like most great ideas, eduCanon is based around a really simple concept; it really only does one thing – but it does that one thing very well. It allows you to embed questions into any screencast (or any video for that matter) hosted on YouTube, Vimeo or TeacherTube, and it tracks your student’s responses to them.

As students watch the video (from within eduCanon), and the playhead reaches the time marker at which you’ve inserted a question, the video automatically pauses, and the question slides in from the left. Once the student has read and answered the question, she clicks “Submit”. Then your explanation appears, either explaining why the response they chose was incorrect, or confirming that it was correct. On clicking the “Continue” button, the video automatically resumes playing until the next question is reached. It’s really quite a fantastic thing to add to your video lessons, helping students to stay focussed and leaning forward while watching.

Because eduCanon uses HTML5, rather than Flash, playback works great on an iPad, too.

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The first time students watch a video, they are unable to skip through the video; they have to watch the whole thing from start to finish and attempt every question. Once they have watched it once, however, they are then able to come back at a later date and skip around the video reviewing specific parts. This is useful if (say) they understand the introductory concepts in a video, but want to review more sophisticated concepts toward the end.

The process of building questions into your video is utterly friction-free (that’s one of the things that impressed me most about it). You paste in the URL of the video, then watch it play. When it gets to a point at which you want to ask a question, you simply click the “Build Question” button. Then you type in the question, two or more (multiple choice) answers, click the radio button beside the correct answer, type in an explanation for each of the multiple responses, and click the “Save Question” button. Simple!

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You have the option of publishing your videos as “public” which means you can share them with anyone to use for personal learning/revision. If you would like to see it in action, have a look at this sample which I have published as a public video. The answers people choose in a public video are not collected by eduCanon.

The real magic happens though, when students link to you (using your teacher code). You can assign a video to the class, and then eduCanon collects data for you on your class’ completion of the task and their responses to your questions.

One of the most commonly asked questions I receive about flipped and blended learning is “How can you know if your students have watched the video?”. Well, this is one way to know!

I think it’s remarkable that all of those features are 100% free! (and that includes add-free). An optional “premium” subscription ($48/year) gives you additional features, such as the ability to export your class data as a .csv file so you can import it into your own class record-keeping software or Excel spreadsheet. A premium subscription also gives you the ability to create free response questions (whereas the free version only allows multiple choice questions).

Verdict: This is the most exciting new web 2.0 platform I’ve found this year so far. I’d recommend it for anyone who makes screencasts or educational videos for their class.  The small investment of time required to type in the questions should see a big payoff in student engagement.

The best screencasting software for teachers

As an edtech consultant, a common question I’m asked by teachers and school leaders these days is “Which screencasting software is best?”

In this post I’m going to recommend the screencasting tool that I think is the best for the majority of teachers.  But first I’ve briefly reviewed each of 15 other contenders, in each case outlining it’s pros and cons – and pronouncing a verdict on it.

There is no single best tool to use.  So much depends on the type of computer you use (Mac or PC*), how comfortable you are with video-editing software, how much time you want to spend making your screencasts and how professional and fancy you want your screencasts to be. There’s also an element of personal preference regarding interface design. So my recommendation at the end of this post is no more than my professional opinion.

I’ve bought and used each of the software titles below, and I’ve run Professional Development workshops on each of them over the years, as well as making screencasts for my own students since 2006 and having students make and publish screencasts as part of their own learning journey.

[*NB. In this post I have focussed on computer screencasting tools - if you are interested in iPad tools have a look at this previous post]

1. Adobe Captivate

Like most Adobe software, this is a tool for über-professionals.  It’s adobeously expensive (@ $435 per license), and its interface and workflow is frustratingly non-intuitive for the uninitiated, and it takes me hours to do what I can do in other software in minutes, but you end up with very slick screencasts, and file sizes that are relatively small.  If you are a professional screencaster (Ie.If you’ve been employed to make screencasts and that is your whole job) then you should probably have a look at it. For everyone else, keep reading.

Verdict:  I don’t recommend it for teachers.

2. Camtasia Studio

Very powerful PC-only software that lets me do almost everything I would want to do in an educational screencast, but I rarely recommend it to teachers who are starting out in screencasting because it costs $179 per license (education pricing) and requires a very steep learning curve.

Verdict:  I recommend it only for teachers who have already done some screencasting, are quite comfortable with a PC and demand a professional result. 

3. Camtasia:Mac

Although also made by Techsmith, Camtasia:Mac is not the same as Camtasia Studio.  It has some really cool, but arguably superfluous features (special effects and filters), is less complicated to use than Camtasia Studio, is less expensive (but still costs $75) and is still somewhat fiddly to use until you get familiar with its tools.

Verdict:  I recommend it for teachers who are fairly comfortable with their Mac, have already made some screencasts and want to experiment with cool effects.

4. Screenflow

Telestream’s Screenflow is my personal favourite screencasting tool (by quite a margin) and the one I most often turn to for my own screencasts, but I seldom recommend it to teachers because like Camtasia:Mac it’s expensive ($110), is Mac-only and is so feature-rich that many teachers are likely to find it daunting and time consuming. However, if you are a Mac user and fairly comfortable with multi-track video editing software, I think it’s worth both the money and the learning curve.  It has a high power:complexity ratio. It punches well above it’s weight in that regard.  

Verdict:  I recommend it for Mac users who are pretty good with a computer, have made some screencasts and now want screencast super-powers.

5. CamStudio

Please don’t confuse CamStudio with Camtasia Studio.  It has almost nothing in common with Techsmith’s powerful offerings (except that it has shamelessly piggy-backed on Camtasia’s good name).  CamStudio is an ugly, basic, kludgy, PC-only, dinosaur.  There are no good reasons to use it. Even if you don’t want to spend a cent, you’ll find better choices below.  Keep reading.

Verdict:  Keep walking, there’s nothing to see here.

6. Screenr 

Screenr is a web-based, Java tool.  As such it doesn’t require you to install anything on your computer (you simply go to screenr.com and click the record button) but the downside is that you have to have an internet connection and it’s slow to use because you have to wait for the video to upload before you can then download and save it.  It doesn’t let you record your webcam, and only lets you record for 5 minutes. This is the sort of software that seems simple to use – but ends up creating frustration.

Verdict:  Maybe if your IT department won’t let you install software … but even then, there are better options. (See Screencast-O-Matic below.)

7. Jing

Jing is another screencasting tool by Techsmith. If you take all the pros and cons of Camtasia Studio and flip them, you have Jing.  It’s completely free, has a super-simple interface (probably the easiest of all the tools to use), but it lacks features: You can’t record your webcam, you can’t annotate your videos. It also has significant limitations: You can’t record for more than 5 minutes and worst of all, it only publishes videos in .swf format which won’t play natively on iOS devices.  That’s a deal-breaker for me.  What’s even worse, the particular .swf files produced can’t be converted to mp4 even with professional file-conversion utilities.  This means there is no way to edit them – unless you buy Camtasia Studio, which can edit Jing files.

Jing is free for a reason. Techsmith has positioned it as a gateway drug – it starts with Jing and before you know it you’re using SnagIt or Camtasia.  

Verdict: Friends don’t let friends use Jing.

8. SnagIt

Techsmith is smart.  They know that Jing is going to frustrate you.  So they provided yet another simple tool that is very similar to Jing in every way but without some of the frustrations: Ie. you can record for as long as you want and your videos are published in mp4 format.  But this time it’s not free. It costs $30.  It’s reasonably good but expensive for what you get.  It punches below it’s weight.  

Verdict: A nice program – but lacking features and expensive for what it is.  I think it’s worth $10, not $30. 

9. Microsoft Community Clips

Community Clips is a Microsoft labs experiment.  It’s available for free from various sites on the web (but not directly from Microsoft, anymore). It does a reasonable job of recording the screen, but that’s all it does. It’s probably about equal to SnagIt – except it’s free. The videos can, of course, be edited in Movie Maker if necessary.

Verdict: If you are a PC user, this is a better choice than Jing – at least the files can be edited in MovieMaker.  Still, there are better choices for features and flexibility.

10. Microsoft Expression Encoder

[Thanks to Thomas Gaffey for reminding me to include this one].  Expression Encoder is more full-featured than Community Clips and is still able to be downloaded from Microsoft. Like Community Clips it’s free – but unlike Community Clips it allows you to record both your screen and your webcam and it affords you basic editing options once recording is finished (you can cut sections out, for example).  The workflow is less obvious than some other apps.  You first record the video and then send it to a separate editor application.  This always feels a bit confusing to new users at first but don’t let that put you off. It’s not difficult to do once you’ve done it once. And doing this will stand you in good stead, should you decide later to upgrade to Camtasia Studio – because that is how Camtasia works, too.  It’s not hard to do once you understand the workflow.

Verdict: I’d recommend this to PC users as a good option. If you are a PC user, currently using Community Clips, SnagIt, Jing, Screenr, or CamStudio, you’d be better off with Expression Encoder. 

11. Apple QuickTime Player

[Thanks to Chris Russell @choirguy_ for pointing out that I had neglected this one in my original post - shame on me! ] QuickTime Player comes installed on every Mac.  What lots of people don’t realise is that it has a screen recording feature built right into it!  Simply go to File > New Screen Recording.  It actually works very well, though it’s fairly featureless – being about equal, feature-for-feature with Community Clips and SnagIt.  But it is free (unlike SnagIt) and a huge boon is that it’s already there on a teacher’s machine, installed and ready to go.  Unfortunately QuickTime Player for Windows does not have this feature – so it’s a Mac-only boon.

Verdict: For Mac users wanting to quickly make a screencast with no fuss and without even downloading / installing anything – QuickTime Player is already there at the ready.

12. Snapz Pro

Snapz Pro (Mac only) has been around for years. It’s the first screencasting tool I ever used. It has similar features to SnagIt or QuickTime Player but even more expensive ($65).

Verdict: Not my choice anymore, and too expensive. 

13. iShowU

iShowU by Shinywhitebox is an evolving platform.  It used to be too feature-poor for the price tag ($30) but now they have added the ability to record the webcam, editing and other power-user features similar to some of those in Screenflow and Camtasia.  So far though I’ve been disappointed with its performance. It seems to crash a lot and is a bit buggy.

Verdict: I think it will eventually be a great choice for Mac users, but I can’t recommend it at the moment – It’s still too buggy.

14. Voilá

I hear a lot of buzz around Voilá but personally I think it’s over-hyped at $32.  It’s a pretty handy screen capture tool (for still screenshots) but that is not what I am really reviewing in this post. As a screencasting tool, Voilá would not be my choice.  It allows you to record your screen like any screencasting tool does, or it allows you to record your webcam – but disappointingly, not both at the same time. So for screencasting I’d say it’s about as useful as SnagIt – at about the same price.

Verdict:  M’eh. 

15. Collaaj

Collaaj does something that no other platform discussed here does. Not only does it work on Mac or PC but there is also an iPad app.  It’s pretty good too – it lets you record your webcam as well as the screen, and all the video is handled by Collaaj’s servers which makes for very easy sharing with your students and vice versa.  It lets you record your webcam (or FaceTime camera on the iPad) – which is something SnagIt and Jing and several others don’t allow.  Unfortunately the free version only lets you record for 2 minutes which is just too short to be useful.  There are a range of paid plans (a subscription model) that range from $5 – $75 per month depending on your needs.  For some schools this might be a good choice but I think the subscription model is probably a deal-breaker for many.

Verdict: I may recommend it, especially in a BYOD school, depending on your budget.

16. Screencast-O-Matic

I think Screencast-O-Matic hits the sweet spot in terms of features, ease of use and price. It’s free. It records your webcam as well as your screen, it couldn’t be very much easier to use, and it has some really nice features that you don’t get in any other free screencasting software. For example, when you click your mouse, it inserts a visible and audible click.  There is a Mac version, a Windows version and you have the option of launching it as a Java applet from screencast-o-matic.com without installing any software on your computer.  This makes it really versatile and useful.  The huge advantage of it being free is that you can ask students to install it on their computers without worrying about hitting the pocket-nerve of their parents.

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Videos can be saved to your computer as an mp4, uploaded directly to YouTube or published to Screencast-O-Matic’s own video-sharing server (useful if YouTube has not yet been unblocked by your IT department).

While Sceencast-O-Matic is free to use, it will limit you to 15 minutes and puts a small “Screencast-O-Matic” watermark in the lower left corner of the final published video.  There is a Pro version which unlocks a LOT more features.  The pro version gives you video editing (delete that cough!), the ability to record system audio, and the ability to record for longer than 15 minutes.  It also records videos in higher definition, allows publishing in more video formats, removes the watermark – and more. I think most teachers will find that the free version is all they need. But for those who want to take it up a notch – without going all the way to Camtasia Studio or Screenflow, the Pro version of Screencast-O-Matic only costs $15/year.

Verdict: I’d recommend it to almost any teacher who is starting out in screencasting. The free version is better than any other free tool i’ve found and it’s even better than most of the paid tools.  The Pro version (for just $15) is better than anything except the really pro tools such as Screenflow and Camtasia, but much more affordable, and easier to use.

 These are not the only choices of course.  This is an exploding market. Have you used one that you would recommend?

[Edit: I have - and it's so compelling I wrote a whole new post about it here].

What Teachers Can Learn From Air New Zealand

If you have flown Air New Zealand recently you will be familiar with their latest air safety video. If you haven’t, watch it here.

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Normally while taxiing to the runway, a bored flight attendant stands in the aisle and mimes a robotic demonstration of seatbelt fastening, and life vest inflation. This scheduled interruption to my reading, is only made tolerable because I can amuse myself looking at the faces of fellow passengers. Very few are really watching. Some, out of a sense of obedience/courtesy, are gazing in the general direction of the hostess – but they are not really watching. They are judging her hair style and guessing her age. Many passengers just ignore her and continue reading.  (I’m sure I don’t need to spell out the similarities between this and some classrooms).

Things are quite different on Air New Zealand flights. There, the cabin crew don’t perform the safety mime. Instead, safety information is delivered as preflight entertainment. The safety video is so creative and well made that passengers really want to watch. It’s far, far more effective than the live demonstration perpetrated on passengers by other airlines. Air New Zealand’s most recent safety video features characters from The Hobbit: elves, orcs, dwarves and wizards. Brilliant! It’s safety demontainment. By putting the safety message into a recording, they have presented it in a style that would be impracticable as a live safety demontration. In doing so, they have made it watch-worthy; memorable.

A second, but equally significant advantage is that the actual, human flight attendants are no longer tied up performing a dehumanised, routine act during those precious pre-flight minutes. Instead, they are able to move freely through the cabin, interating with passengers, asking if they are comfortable, and ensuring their seat belts are fitted and their baggage is stowed safely.

A recorded safety message has not degraded the Air New Zealand passenger experience at all. Quite the contrary, by automating the routine components of a traditional air hostess’ role, and freeing her to focus on the rest, the airline has made passengers’ experience at once more fun and more personal.

I think there is much we as teachers can learn from that. If a concept needs to be explained at all (a matter for a furture blog post), and if you find yourself explaining that same concept, in the same way, over and over, year after year. Maybe it’s better to record it once, really well, and thereafter instead, focus your attention and time in class on the things that can’t be automated because they are interpersonal.

Aside: If you live in Victoria, and are interested in attending a workshop on doing exactly that – recording your best explanations in ways that are more effective than if you presented them live in class –  I have several such workshops coming up.  Each has sufficient numbers to run already (Ie. this is not a sales pitch ;-)).   If you’d like to attend, contact me and I will furnish you with the details.

This is new! Record a video of iPad’s screen in any app

DEAR READER, PLEASE NOTE: The App Disp Recorder no longer works – BUT Great news! those of you looking for a way to simply record your iPad screen, iPad audio and your voice narration – rejoice! As of yesterday (10th July 2014) there’s a new simple way to do it – and it’s really fantastic.  I’ve written a follow-up post about it HERE – and here’s a short little video I made demonstrating it:


 

And here is the original post that you searched for (which is now obsolete but I have left here for posterity):

There are numerous options for recording a video of one’s computer screen, from the free and simple, but limited Jing to more powerful, and correspondingly expensive offerings like Camtasia or Adobe Captivate.  There are also a number of free Web 2.0 options such as Screenr.  On a Mac you can even use the built-in QuickTime player that ships free on every machine!  But until recently recording the screen of my iPad was limited to within an individual app.  Apps like ShowMe and LivePaper have been around for a while and the excellent ExplainEverything is far and away my favourite for recording a screencast from my iPad.  But even using these tools, one is restricted to recording the screen within that one app itself.   Sure you can import images or screenshots and doodle on them, and the app will record the screen and the self-talk you are providing to narrate. What they do not enable you to do, though, is record video of your home screen, or a tutorial on how to use another app like (say) a graphing calculator.

Enter* Disp Recorder.

The Good:

Disp Recorder lets you easily record anything that happens on the screen of your iPad: navigating through the Home screens, changing options in the Settings app or working in another app such as GarageBand or Google Earth.  It will even record a Keynote presentation complete with the virtual laser-pointer etc – an option for having students record a presentation of their work to share with their peers.

While recording, you can leave the Disp Recorder app and open another app.  When you do this, the menu bar pulses red.  Tapping that red menu bar at any time takes you back to the Disp Recorder app, where you can pause or stop recording. It’s very similar to what happens when you are are on a phone call, and navigate to another app.

The recorded video can be saved to the iPad’s Camera Roll, or uploaded directly to YouTube.

It’s a universal app – it works on the iPhone, too.

The Not-Quite-So-Good:

For CPU intensive GUI-goodness like turning a page in iBooks, I have found that the video can appear a little jerky – even on the new iPad, but for most operations, it works remarkably well.

In applications where the menu bar is visible at the top of the screen (Eg. the Home screen, iBooks) the menu bar pulses red while recording, and this pulsing is recorded too.  I think this is a bit distracting when watching the video.  This is not an issue in apps where the menu bar is hidden (Eg. GarageBand).  It would be nice if there were an option to turn that red pulsing menu bar off.

I also think the $10 price tag is a little high – but on the other hand it’s the first app to offer what it does, so it really has no competition, and I don’t mind paying $10 to support an innovative developer who is extending the functionality of the iPad.

*Thanks to Shane Williams at Hunter TAFE for showing me this app.

[  September 11, 2012  10:19 AM:   Since writing this post, there have been a number of people who have said that they don't think it would work - that the app is a scam and doesn't do anything, etc.  (see one such comment below).  All I can say is that on my iPad 3, which has never been jailbroken, and is in Australia with the region code set to Australia, it works as advertised for me.  Here's a video I recorded with it this morning. https://dl.dropbox.com/u/4495191/11.09.2012%208-04-14%20AM-521.mp4  It seems that most of the people who are saying it won't work, have not actually tried it.

It is worth mentioning that there was apparently another similar app called DisplayRec produced a few months ago (no longer available) that did not work outside the USA (or at least the iPad's region code had to be set to USA for it to work).  I am not sure if this app is made by the same developer as that one.  But this one does work.  Some people have suggested that it is likely to stop working after the iOS 6 launch.  That remains to be seen.  I'll add a note here at that time to let you know. :)  ]

Update

Having now installed iOS 6,  I can confirm that Disp Recorder is still working.

Update

As of the 8th December 2012 this app is no longer available at the App Store.  If you already downloaded it though, it continues to work on your iPad.

Less is More: Why audio podcasts are more powerful than video for flipping a class

It’s counterintuitive.

Most of the talk around flipping classrooms assumes the use of video.  That’s understandable.  One would intuitively think that a vodcast or screencast is more effective than a humble audio podcast, but that is not my experience.

I have been flipping my classroom using audio podcasts (see example) since 2005.  Then, as screencasting tools became increasingly user-friendly, I started in 2008 to make e-podcasts and screencasts (see example) – thinking that the visual element would augment the effectiveness of my out-of-class tuition.  I was wrong.

The response my students gave me was quite unanticipated!  Almost unanimously they said that they preferred the audio podcasts!  While this was initially unexpected, their reasons actually make sense, and highlight a fundamental advantage of audio podcasting.

One boy explained that he likes to listen to the podcast while working on the farm on the weekend.  He could no longer do that now that he had to watch the screen.  Another said he likes to listen to the podcast while working out at the gym.  One of the girls said she likes to listen to the podcast while soaking in the bath, another on her morning walk.  Yet another student said she just likes to sit on the bus after a long day at school, shut her eyes and listen – without having to look at anything.

We all have daily activities that preclude us from watching a screen: driving, washing the dishes, walking the dog, shopping or mowing the lawn.  An audio podcast fits perfectly in that space, allowing a student to focus his mind on biology (in my students’ case), while using his hands and eyes for some other mundane chore.  It’s a win-win.  The Podcast makes the chore less boring, while the chore makes the learning feel like a good use of time!

A video on the other hand, can’t be multitasked with anything else.  It competes for time with reading, traditional homework, watching TV and in fact, with most of our other daily activities.

There are of course, some topics that can’t easily be explained in an audio-only podcast (think: calculus, fine art or in my case, genetic pedigree analysis). That’s where video is the right, and only choice.  But in my experience, when there’s an option, audio podcasts have proven more effective and certainly more popular with students.

As an indication of their relative popularity, my weekly 90-minute biology podcast gets more than 1000 downloads per day on average.   Even my most popular 10-minute YouTube screencasts might only get 1000 views per month.

Have others found this too?