David Besozzi is a National Board Certified secondary social studies teacher in New York who uses screencasting as a fundamental part of his curriculum. He recently contacted us to let us know how much it has changed his teaching.
As an educator, David has limited access to equipment or “studio” space. He’s learned and improved over the two years he’s been creating screencasts. But what’s important is how it has changed the way that he teaches — and the fact that students are responding positively to the change! Through incorporating screencasting into his lessons, David has been able to have a more hands-on approach in the classroom, as well as give students more autonomy over their own learning.
Bravo, David, for embracing screencasting for your students! Read the interview below to find out what he’s doing, how he’s doing it, and what he’s learned along the way.
How long have you been screencasting and approximately how many screencasts have you made?
I first started using ScreenFlow in April of 2009. Since that time I have created 86 screencasts for my Global History and Geography course and 12 for my Psychology elective.
I began the Global screencasts after discovering ScreenFlow and began assigning them to my students as early as April 2009 on a trial basis. Initial student reaction was positive, so I continued to develop more throughout the second semester. I committed myself to creating screencasts for all of my Global lessons during the summer of 2009 and had completed most of the 86 by January of 2010.
For what purposes to do you make your screencasts? Who watches your screencasts, and how do they access them?
As a secondary school social studies teacher, I developed screencasts to help in the delivery of content to my students. 9th grade Global History and Geography students are currently viewing 4 to 5 screencasts every two weeks.
I have used screencasts with the Psychology class on a limited basis, but intend to expand their use in the future (pending the arrival and review of new state standards and assessments in 2012). We do not use the screencasts in class as instruction. Instead, students access them via a web browser at two sites: YouTube and SchoolTube. These screencasts are assigned for homework and students view them at their own pace outside of class. The intention is to provide students with access to the necessary content prior to lesson activities during the scheduled class meeting time. This allows me to conduct class in a more “hands-on” way, similar to a lab in a science class. Instead of students sitting passively in class taking notes, they can acquire the notes via the screencasts at home, and then employ that information as part of the class activities upon their return. The screencasts, therefore, help to provide students with a high degree of autonomy over their learning.
What kind of studio or set up do you have? Do you have a photo of your setup?
Sorry – not much to photograph. No real studio and you can’t really see a computer at my desk in school. The old laptop on my kitchen table probably wouldn’t look so good either.
As a public school teacher, resources are limited. My initial attempts were conducted using a MacBook and Logitech external microphone. I created screencasts whenever time permitted and in whatever locations I happened to be – the public library, empty classrooms at school, or my home.
In order to improve the quality of the finished products and more fully commit myself to the screencasting endeavor, I submitted a grant to the Burnt Hills–Ballston Lake Education Foundation, a local foundation that provides financial support to educators looking to pursue pedagogical interest beyond the standard curricular approaches. With their support, I was able to acquire the funds to purchase a Mac-Mini and a license for ScreenFlow software. Coupled with existing equipment in my classroom (a Smart Technologies Sympodium interactive display from a previous BHBL Education Foundation grant) and hardware brought in from home, I was able to begin the process of screencasting. However, I quickly realized that appearance was important – there wasn’t much I could do about my own appearance, but my dress and the background could be improved. During the summer of 2009 I set up the equipment in a room with dark green walls. With a simple light fixture aimed at just the right angle, I was able to produce enough light on myself and create the illusion of a dark background. Not quite professional Hollywood, but on a budget of zero, not bad.
What do you find to be the most challenging aspect of creating your screencasts?
Finding ways to incorporate my appearance into existing PowerPoint presentations. Most of my PowerPoints had been created over a period of several years. They were never intended for use as screencasts. Finding ways to move my ScreenFlow-created video image to different locations that would not distract from the text and images on the screen was a concern. However, the tools in ScreenFlow negated those concerns. The ease by which I could manipulate and move images from the screen capture and or the video camera capture helped to make the transition from simple PowerPoint presentations to screencasts a breeze.
What’s the process you use for creating your screencasts?
The Global History and Geography screencasts employed existing PowerPoint presentations. In most cases I simply loaded the PowerPoint, set ScreenFlow into action, and lectured through the presentation while the built in iSight camera captured my image. However, I quickly learned that I was unable to complete a single lecture without pause, especially if I deviated from the script of the notes visible in the PowerPoint. Again, ScreenFlow’s ease of use and familiar editing tools, made it possible for me to seamlessly make edits, cut-aways, and fadeouts that created the impression of a single non-stop lecture presentation.
However, in the future, as I develop a full compliment of screencasts for my Psychology course, I am considering switching to Keynote as the presentation software. Doing so will allow me to redesign the presentations with the intent of capturing them on ScreenFlow rather than adjusting ScreenFlow to conform to existing PowerPoint presentations. Additionally, I would like to add other audio elements into the screencasts – excerpts from interviews, famous quotes and speeches, etc.
Are there processes you’ve changed as you’ve gotten more experienced?
Starting off was haphazard – I was new to this medium and didn’t consider the appearance of the environment in which I recorded my own appearance. I initially recorded whenever and wherever I had the opportunity. By switching to a constant an unchanging background, I was able to ensure more consistency. I eventually began to wear the same shirt for each set of screencasts I developed for individual units. Students are very conscious of appearance and dress and often remind me of my lack of fashion sense – especially in my early screencasts.
I have come to realize that developing a large number of screencasts requires some strategic and long term planning – where to record, what to wear, and how to behave, all play a part in the screencasts effectiveness in maintaining student interest. In fact, many students have asked that I move beyond lecture and develop more lively screencasts (I am currently planning the use of a greenscreen to add historical backdrops into future screencasts and have students develop their own screencasting projects to be placed online as review materials).
Do you have a screencast that you’re especially proud of?
I liked my use of some of the effects available for rotating images in my Aztec Part 1 screencast. Unfortunately, as an example of my early use of the software – my location and clothes change throughout, making the video camera capture portions a bit distracting and difficult to watch.
My Japan geography screencast is one of the more popular – it reflects my improvement with lighting, appearance, and location – although I have never been able to solve the reflection from my glasses issue. Currently it has 1,516 views in YouTube and 1,148 views in SchoolTube. It specifically addresses earthquakes and tsunami and was right on target before the events of last spring. I will most likely add a follow up screencast to update students on these more recent events, but this screencast marks the high point of my screencasting skills to date.
What other programs/accessories do you use besides ScreenFlow to create your screencasts?
I only employed the built-in iSight camera on the machines I used. Not great quality, but with limited resources, it did the job.
As for a microphone, I initially used a Logitech headset with microphone, but quickly realized that it looked silly on video. I then switched to an external Logitech Microphone. The built in microphones produced poor audio quality and the external Logitech mic. was substantially better.
I also used PowerPoint to make all of the existing screencasts. Occasionally, I use GarageBand to edit audio or music clips. I have acquired a large greenscreen for future video capture. Unfortunately, my Mac-Mini doesn’t have the processing capabilities to pursue live-capture. The school has access to Visual Communicator software, but I am a Mac user and prefer to use Mac-based software.
What advice would you give to other educators that want to use screencasting to enhance student learning experiences?
I always tell educators that they need to find hardware and software solution with which they are comfortable, especially if they are new to technology or screencasting. Without hesitation, I always try to point them to ScreenFlow, not simply because I am a Mac advocate, but because of its ease of use and capabilities. Without a doubt, ScreenFlow is the best product on the market for creating this sort of curricular resource. Additionally, my students have responded positively to the use of screencasting as an instructional device. I am certain that as young people continue to embrace technology at an ever increasing pace, educators will need to find and utilize software that will ensure that student’s education needs and interests are met – ScreenFlow is that software and screencasting the resource.
What’s the stupidest mistake you’ve made when creating a screencast?
This is more of a content issue, but I developed a screencast on Han Dynasty China. At one point I was discussing the assimilation of non-Han people into the Han Dynasty. Throughout the screencast, an image of five Han Dynasty military figurines from a tomb was visible. Eventually another image appeared below it showing five very modern Chinese young men – I was focused on the number five, but hadn’t really considered the origins of this new image – five figurines, five Chinese hipsters. Later, after I had posted the screencast, I received a frantic email from someone who had watched the screencast. Although she found the lesson informative, she pointed out that the picture of the five Chinese men was in fact a picture of five members of a Korean rock band. Needless to say, I felt pretty stupid. I should know better (I once lived in China and speak Chinese). To make matters worse, I forgot to fix it before we returned to the topic this year. I know that when I get around to doing the correction, ScreenFlow will make the fix relatively easy – provided I still have that same shirt.
Besides ScreenFlow what’s your favorite program for the Mac?
Not sure I can identify a favorite – I have been using a Mac since 1984 – the suite of iLife and iWork software is overall the easiest software package I have ever used. ScreenFlow fits nicely into that family, and is without a doubt the most useful software I have ever purchased that was not directly developed by Apple.
Thanks for the interview David!
David has suggested that we consider embedding the ability to add quantitative questioning (multiple choice questions) as a feature in ScreenFlow. Let’s hear it from some other educators: Is this something you would like to see added to ScreenFlow?