A gasp-worthy context-aware healing brush app for iPad

2074924066-roundedEvery device has it’s particular strengths and weaknesses, and while it’s true that there are certain tasks you can do on a computer that are not as easy to do on an iPad, the list of tasks that can’t be accomplished on an iPad is an ever-shrinking list.

Photo editing is a case in point.  It’s been possible to do basic photo-editing on the iPad for years now, but anything beyond basic has always sent me back to my computer.  That’s starting to change though, as new apps such as Handy Photo ($2.49)  emerge which let me do things for which I used to need Adobe Photoshop ($9.99 per month).

Context-aware healing is a great example.  In Adobe Photoshop the context aware healing brush lets you select an object in a photo that you want to remove and Photoshop will remove it and fill in the background intelligently – guessing at, and reconstructing what might have been behind the now-deleted object, based on its context.  (It’s quite magical to watch, really).

Amazingly, you can now do that on the iPad using a remarkable app called “Handy Photo“.  It’s very simple to use, and besides letting you delete objects, lets you move them and perform a range of other photoshop-like tricks that I haven’t seen in any other iPad apps. The gap between computer and iPad is closing rapidly.

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I’ve been using Handy Photo for a while now (for personal use), but demonstrated it for the first time at a workshop the other day, to the amazed gasps of the audience.  I thought if it impressed them so much, it could be worth sharing here, too.

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OCR With your iPad

Grab it while it’s hot! – at the time of writing this app is free!1431425451-rounded

Let’s say you find a newspaper article that is stunningly relevant to what you are teaching at the moment, but the language in the article is pitched at the wrong reading level.  Maybe you teach primary students and the AGE Journalist has used too much scientific jargon in an article that is also too long. How cool would it be to substitute a few words, and delete a few paragraphs? Or perhaps you teach VCE students and the Herald Sun editor has dumbed down the terminology to make it more … accessible, but you’d prefer to edit some of that meaningful terminology back in to the article to strengthen its ties to what your students are learning.

Scanner with OCR will allow you to take a photo of the article with your iPad’s camera, and it will ‘read’ the text in the photo and give you a plain text document that contains the entire article! You can edit the text, delete sections, copy and paste bits out into another document. It also means you can save the article to (say) Dropbox, and because it is text you will be able to search its contents, later.

There are other iOS apps that will OCR a scan. The most obvious one is Smile Software’s PDFpen Scan+ which has been around for a long time now (perhaps six months or more).   That app is expensive though – at AU$9:00. It’s also nowhere near as good (although the interface is more nifty and it will let you scan multiple pages). It’s OK for a standard typed page, such as a letter, but it has real trouble with columns of text, and in my experience it makes quite a few errors even with a standard page of text. It also seems to struggle with things such as bullet points.  In one document I scanned this afternoon, it interpreted one bullet point as a “$” and another as a “0”. Also once the OCR is completed, you have to export the entire document to (say) Pages, and then edit the text there; you can’t just select and copy a paragraph, like you can in Scanner with OCR.

Scanner with OCR on the other hand was practically flawless in my testing. It rarely makes a mistake, even with bullet points – and copes with multiple columns deftly.

Normally just AU$1.99 – today it’s totally free.

What To Do With The Extra Class Time? – Teach Like a Pirate!

If you flip your classroom – what will you do with the extra class time you free up?

If a teacher’s answer to that is that kids will do the work that would previously have been assigned to them as ‘homework’, then I feel a bit sad (for their students). There are so many more valuable things we could be doing with that precious ‘together time’ – things that can’t be done any time or anywhere else.Teach Like a Pirate on Kindle app

Book recommendation: Teach Like a Pirate, by Dave Burgess. It’s not an EdTech book. It really has nothing to do with technology – but in a way, that’s why I’m recommending it. The promise of the flipped classroom model is that class time will be freed up for … whatever you want to use that time for! In my view, that time is best spent doing things that students can’t do anywhere else. Those things are scarce, and if scarce, then valuable. Many of Burgess’ classroom ideas and strategies are time-consuming, (which will be the major blocker in a traditional classroom). But that’s my point really: If you are considering flipping your class and wondering what you might do with all that extra class time, I think Teach Like a Pirate will expand your thinking, or at least give you some inspiration for time-consuming but valuable learning experiences you could be giving your students.

I especially love the thought-provoking questions Burgess has included in the book. Here are three that I found particularly thought-provoking:

  1. If your students didn’t have to be there, would you be teaching in an empty room?
  2. Do students wait to go to the bathroom until their next period, because they are afraid they will miss something unforgettable in your room?
  3. Do you have any lessons you could sell tickets for?

In a world with Google, Wikipedia and YouTube – a world where information has lost it’s scarcity, teachers need to be ever-asking ourselves what do I bring to the classroom that is scarce?, because if I am really doing something valuable in my classroom, my answer  to Dave’s three questions above will be “No”, “Yes” and “Yes”.

Schools are beginning to get it.

I’ve noticed more change in education in the past two years, than over the preceding two decades, especially regarding teachers’ enthusiasm for using technology. Hopefully that’s a harbinger of things to come. Maybe we’re finally beginning to get it.

The operative word in that sentence is ‘beginning’.

The extent of technological change that has taken place in the last two decades is self evident. What is less obvious, but perhaps more profound, is the the social change that has come with the technological change.

I think schools have responded to (or at least acknowledged) the technological change. I mean, in every school I visit I see computers, tablets, interactive whiteboards, AppleTVs, 3D printers and a range of other gizmos. But I don’t think we have responded to, nor for the most part, even acknowledged many of the social changes that have ridden in on technology’s coat-tails.

Most of our mental models about the nature, timing, location, responsibilities, format and assessment of education have really not changed much and what we need now is not so much a technological evolution but a pedagogical one. Moving forward; really moving forward will not just be about keeping up to date with technology, but about adjusting our mental models so that schools remain (or at this stage of the game – again become) socially relevant.

The IT tail wagging the pedagogical dog

I was recently talking to a teacher who attended a PD day I ran in Melbourne, when he expressed an all-too-common frustration. He returns to school after such a day, inspired to implement his new ideas – but finds his efforts thwarted by roadblocks at every turn. Roadblocks erected by his school’s computer technician who has unbending views about which web services, sites and devices are ‘best’. Teaching staff have no say in the matter.

On his school’s network YouTube is blocked. iTunes is blocked. Dropbox is blocked. One teacher wanted to bring in his own AppleTV and connect it to the projector in his classroom, but the technician wouldn’t allow it. Staff are not permitted to install software on their school-issued laptop and if a teacher brings in his own laptop to school, he is not able to connect it to the school network.

I hear teachers lamenting this situation often (more often than you probably imagine). I’ve even known a few teachers who, having started out inspired to reform their teaching, have eventually given up trying because their IT department wouldn’t support any of their initiatives.

It’s wrong.

I’m not saying some sites shouldn’t be blocked at school and I absolutely appreciate the instrumental role that a technician plays in a school (great technicians are worth their weight in gold! — this I know from my own school experience). Neither am I saying that technicians shouldn’t offer advice and guidance about technology choices. They obviously have invaluable experience, insights and knowledge. But a technician’s primary focus is necessarily on technology, whereas a teacher’s is on pedagogy. We need to remember the primary purpose of schools and keep those two foci prioritised accordingly.

If an application or service poses a real threat to the security of the network (Bit Torrent, P2P), then I think it’s the technician’s place to make that call. But in many schools, something is disallowed because the technician thinks students will waste time on it (YouTube, Twitter) or they just don’t like it (Macs, Weebly), or it side-steps a system they have spent time setting up for the school (DropBox, Schoology). In such cases it’s not an issue of network integrity but classroom management — making it an educational decision that should be decided by teachers.

Great technicians are enablers – reducing the friction of implementing new teaching ideas.  Alas, in some schools the technicians are the source of the friction.  Teachers (and principals) shouldn’t put up with that.

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.

[Edit: January 19, 2017 – if you want to purchase Screencast-O-Matic Pro with a 20% discount, you can use this link.

[Edit: December 5, 2017]

17. Screencastify

Another really great, simple screencasting tool that I highly recommend to teachers – especially Chromebook users, is Screencastify.  It’s as easy to use as Screencast-O-Matic, and has many of the same features, but it runs as a Chrome plugin, and saves your recordings to Google Drive. Having said that, it doesn’t just let you record the browser window; you can record your entire desktop and optionally even your webcam (which, like Screencast-O-Matic will appear as a cameo picture-in-picture at the lower right of the video. Screencastify also allows you to annotate over a Tab recording, and has some basic editing features  which you can use in post (if you want to).

The free version allows you to record up to 50, 10 minute videos (which in my opinion is long enough) per month, and watermarks your videos with a Screencastify message.  To remove these limitations, and to enable editing and cropping, Screencastify Pro costs just US$2 per month.

Because it runs as a Chrome extension, you need to have an internet connection to use Screencastify.

Verdict: I’d recommend it to any teacher – but especially to the growing number of teachers who use Chromebooks, for whom Screencast-O-Matic is not a good option.

 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].

 

New media. New behaviour. New teaching paradigm.

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According to Leo LaPorte on This Week in Tech (October 13, 2013) half of millennials never watch television.

When I heard Leo say this, my first thought was … “hang on.. that can’t be right!” But then came the enlightening moment when I considered my own four sons, and it dawned on me that THEY almost never watch television!

Sure, they have a television (a really nice, big one at that!) and they use it as a screen for playing Playstation, or for streaming video from their iDevices via AppleTV – but they don’t come home from school, turn on Channel 9 and watch Happy Days like I did when I was a kid.  Nor do they listen to commercial radio or read mainstream newspapers.  Instead, my sons watch hours of YouTube videos, listen to podcasts and find out about world events from websites  blogs and social media.

This is a more profound recent social change than it seems at first. Our students are the first Screen Shot 2014-02-06 at 4.30.19 pmgeneration in 400 years who consume content using media forms to which they can just as readily contribute.

As kids, we could watch the TV shows that were served up to us, but we could neither choose the content, nor contribute to it.  Our students can do both.

What an opportunity this presents in the classroom! For the most part we still treat students as though the “work” they are doing is merely an exercise; as though they are just practising for the real world; as though, like our younger selves, they have no avenue for publishing their work!  When English teachers have their students write an essay, why are they asking for it to be ‘handed in’ to them, rather than demanding it be published as a blog post? Why are science teachers accepting a lab report handed in on paper, when students could be reporting the results of their science experiment in a YouTube video?

When we were kids, publishing was out of the question. Our teachers didn’t have a choice.  We do.

The Most Important Question For Teachers in 2014

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It’s Economics 101: If people want something, it’s value is predicated on its scarcity. Before the web, because information was scarce, it had value.  If you wanted access to the facts contained in the pages of Encyclopaedia Britannica you had to pony-up $2200. If you wanted to know what was on TV tonight you had to buy a TV-Week, and if students wanted to acquire knowledge, they had to listen to their teacher and copy notes from the board. Teachers who “knew their subject” were valuable.

In 2014 Wikipedia is free (even Britannica costs only $15), there’s a free Electronic Program Guide built into your TV, and if a teacher is valuable to her students – it’s not because she know’s her subject.

So that’s the big question I have for teachers in 2014. In a world with Google; in a world with Wikipedia; in a world where knowledge has lost all it’s scarcity, what do you bring to the classroom that IS scarce?

It’s not a rhetorical question. I think teachers should be able to articulate what their value is.

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.  🙂