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.

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Collaaj for iPad – An Impressive New Screencasting App to Rival Explain Everything

Screen Shot 2013-08-20 at 3.24.09 PM Since I first saw Explain Everything I have been a fan – sharing it with teachers everywhere I go.  In my opinion it has long been the clear winner in the iPad screencasting space, which is also occupied by Educreations and ShowMe.   In my opinion, price aside, Explain Everything is better in almost* every way than Educreations and ShowMe.

Now… there’s a new kid on the block, turning heads – and recording it!

Collaaj’s compelling feature.

Collaj lets you record your webcam video at the same time as you record the screen!  As far as I know, no other screencasting app (on the iPad) allows this.  Explain Everything, ShowMe and Educreations allow you to record your iPad’s screen and your voice narration, but students can’t see you speaking to them.  in Collaj If you tap the camera icon in the sidebar, voila! your face appears in a little window on the screen.  This can be repositioned if it’s not in the place you want it.  You can even move it during the recording – if you want to write on the part of the screen occupied by the webcam video.  That is pretty cool.   I love this feature because I think one of the shortcomings  of the ‘flipped learning model’ is that video explanations can loose a little bit of humanity.   Our brains are hard-wired to respond to the human face.  Seeing the face of the person speaking to you somehow makes the experience of listening to an explanation more personally accessible.Screen Shot 2013-08-20 at 5.03.42 PM

That is Collaaj’s  winning feature.  It’s a very compelling one.   But in most* other respects I think Explain Everything is still ahead.  The two possible exceptions to this are in the price, and in the video sharing options.  The school context will influence your choice here.

Note: since posting this, a reader has pointed out to me in the comments (see below) that it is, in fact, possible to record your webcam in Explain Everything.  The process is a little more convoluted but it certainly works!  Thanks for that Reshan!

*Sharing your screencasts.

Explain Everything is great if you want to share your video via YouTube, Vimeo, etc as you can easily do this right from the app.  Collaaj, ShowMe and Educreations allow you to upload the video to a private server provided by the app, and then share a link with your students.  Personally I prefer to use YouTube, but in some schools YouTube is blocked and so the “in house” option may be preferable there.  Once you have recorded your video and saved it, it goes into the Collaaj library within the app and from there you can upload it to the Collaaj server and then share a link with your students.

Slide Number

Explain Everything allows you to make multiple slides and navigate through them while you are recording – much more like using an interactive whiteboard.  Educreations, ShowMe and Collaaj each allow you to record just one screen at a time.

Laser Pointer

One feature I really like about Explain Everything is the laser pointer tool.   When I am explaining a concept, and using a diagram or graph to do so, I don’t necessarily want to write on the graph – and doing so always feels just a little bit clumsy.  Oftentimes, I just want my viewer to look at a part of the diagram.  I find the laser pointer a much more efficient tool for this than simply a pen tool.  None of the other three apps have a laser pointer tool.

Zoom

Another great feature of Explain Everything is the zoom tool (indicated by a magnifying glass).  It lets you pinch-to-zoom on part of the diagram so that you can focus on just one feature, then zoom out to look at the whole diagram once more for context.  I really like that feature and wish that Collaaj would implement it.

Fit and finish

When it comes to polish, Explain Everything is still far and away the best of the three.  Educreations and ShowMe just look a bit to plain and basic, and lack functionality in comparison.  Collaaj is kind of buggy.  You can tell it’s new in this space.  As an example, while importing images from DropBox is apparently supported – I can’t get it to work for me.

Price

All these apps are free, except Explain Everything which is $2.99.

The Verdict?

I’m torn.  I love Explain Everything.  I love the finesse with which the tools work, I love the fact that I can upload my videos straight to YouTube,  I really love the laser pointer and zoom functions.  If only it had the ability to record my webcam video like Collaaj does there would be no question as to which to use!  in the meanwhile I’m really liking Collaaj because it brings something to the iPad that has been missing.

Edit: Again, thanks to Reshan’s helpful contribution, I’m back to Explain Everything.  🙂

What Schools can Learn from Spotify

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One of my favourite quotes is from hockey superstar Wayne Gretsky (AKA “The Great One”).

“I skate to where the puck is going, not to where it is”

In a fast-moving game like ice hockey, if you skate to where the puck is, you will be irrelevant to the game when you reach your destination. The only way to influence the outcome of the game is to predict where the puck will be and position yourself there.

Music distribution trends give us a good read on where the access-to-stuff puck is going.

  • In 2002 Silverchair released “Diorama”. I waited until Saturday morning, then drove to Sanity and bought a copy, and took it home to listen to.
  • In 2007 The Killers released “Sawdust”. As soon as I got home, I downloaded it in iTunes, and half an hour later, copied it onto my iPod so I could listen to it, anywhere.
  • In 2012, Muse released “The 2nd Law”. I downloaded it directly to my iPhone and listened to it in my car on the way home.
  • In 2013 Daft Punk released “Random Access Memories” and I didn’t even have to download it first. I simply streamed the music and started listening immediately. Streaming music services like Pandora, Spotify and [my favourite] Rdio –  allow you to listen to music on demand without even waiting for a download to complete! – and without having to make a commitment to it (Ie. virtually for free).  That’s the new way to access music and everyone will soon be listening that way (if they are not already). Even Apple has started skating in that direction with their WWDC announcement of the soon to be launched and predictably titled “iRadio” streaming music service.

Just think for a moment what this represents in terms of our expectations for content delivery:  In 2002 we were fine with “wait a few days to go and pick it up”. Now we expect to “wait a few minutes for it to download”. Rapidly our expectation is shifting to “don’t wait at all!”. The importance of this is not just  increasing convenience or decreasing wait time, but it’s in how these factors change our behaviour. With the advent of online music download services, my music collection grew in both volume and diversity. Now that I can stream music through Spotify, my behaviour has changed again. My listening has become even more eclectic.

It would be a mistake to think that this trend is restricted to the music industry. I think we are seeing it in all kinds of areas of our lives. In 2002 students with interesting ‘goss’ would wait till they saw their friends the next morning to share it…

It’s remarkable how many schools block their students’ access to YouTube and iTunes, or whose teachers still offer education in a way that more closely resembles buying from Brashs, than streaming from Spotify!  “Biology is at 11:00 AM tomorrow in Room F6.”  

Or how many teachers still walk into class to write encyclopaedic-type information on a whiteboard, or hand out photocopied documents – as though that information wasn’t readily available to anyone with access to Google?

If we are providing knowledge-based information, in a way that requires students to be in a physical place at a specific time to receive it – we are not skating to where the puck is going.  Actually, we are not even skating to where the puck IS – we are skating to where it USED TO BE!

Students can now conveniently publish podcasts directly from an iPad app

Some time ago I posted about iPadio a web service that for years has been a key part of my students’ toolkit.  iPadio allows a student to record a podcast (aka “phonecast” or “phlog”) directly to the internet, for free, from an ordinary landline or mobile telephone.  In my experience this is a really easy, no-fuss way to get students to publish their learning orally, anywhere, anytime they have a phone at their disposal.

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The service also provides the ability to automatically cross-post phonecasts to iTunes, Facebook or a class blog.  That’s what I had my students do, so that my students and I didn’t have to visit 25 different websites to listen to each others’ phlogs).

I was excited to recently get an email from iPadio, announcing that they have finally released an iPad app which means students, armed with an iPad and having an internet connection can now record and publish a podcast conveniently from the classroom.  The app is incredibly simple to use and the sound quality is excellent because unlike iPadio’s free phone service, the audio is recorded on the iPad at a relatively high bitrate and  subsequently uploaded (rather than using the phone network in real time).

The iPadio app is free and available from the iTunes app store.  It is necessary for students to create a free account to use the service and they should be reminded to take appropriate cybersafety precautions, remembering that their iPadio page and the podcasts on it will be available to the public.

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.