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Planning back to school?

Usually at this time of year, I write an encouraging blog about planning for the new school year. This year it is still somewhat uncertain what our school and education system is going to look like. We are not sure if teachers will be in a classroom surrounded by students or if the only view in front of the teacher will be a screen full of studious individuals in the form of talking heads. Perhaps it will be a combination of the two. Regardless, teachers will be working with young people and the learning will continue.

In this blog post, I'm going to give you strategies to set up your own video as a 'Reusable learning unit' (RLO). Whether you will be in a traditional classroom this year or offering an online course, producing your own RLOs will facilitate addressing individual student absences or allow you to give the flipped classroom concept a trial. Even if you are teaching online, the student experience will surely be enriched through using a flipped classroom approach which includes access to RLOs designed by you for your own curricular design.

One of the first things you need to do, whether you are planning a unit or a single lesson, is to create your story board. There are many methods to do this from simply sketching it out on paper to sophisticated computer apps. For years, I have used PowerPoint. Here is why I like it. I can use the slides like recipe cards to sketch out my ideas. I can then move the arrangement of the slides around to create the flow that I desire, and I can change my mind and swap back and forth again. As I flesh out the ideas, I can add supplementary notes or even insert more slides. An additional very big bonus to using PowerPoint (or equivalent) is that when I have collaborated with other teachers, we can send it back and forth to share the ideas.

You’ve got your storyboard, now you are ready to make your video. I found one of the simplest methods to make a video was to create a PowerPoint presentation using my own pictures as illustrations and the narration tool to add my script. Finally, I ‘save as’ an MPEG-4 (.mp4). The embedded YouTube video “It's Larch Season in the Canadian Rockies!” was created using this method.
You can also use a camera, smart phone, or computer with video recording capability to create your RLO. The recording may be quick and easy, just aim and talk. The time-consuming part of this process comes when you edit. There are quick and easy editing software programs as well as very sophisticated studio quality open source programs all available with no/low cost. Find the ones you like. Give them a try. If they are not intuitive, search YouTube and you will be able to find tutorials on how to use them. Try very small projects to start with. The programs don’t all work as well on all computers and phones. Make notes for yourself when you do something you like. That way, when you go to do it again six weeks later, you can still remember what you did and you don’t end up doing trial and error all over again. I have had success using OpenShot video on my computer and Vlogit on my phone. There are many alternatives available.

Finally, sometimes you want to record your screen to illustrate some concept. For example, most newer computers have the capability allowing you to draw on your computer as if it were a whiteboard. PowerPoint has a ‘screen recording’ option under the insert menu. I don’t use that method as the aspect ratio has been harder for me to figure out. I have been very satisfied for many years using ScreenCast-o-matic. It gives me a variety of options. One lesson I learned is that I needed to use an external microphone. Otherwise, the sound of your pen on the computer screen becomes an amplified distraction. The equivalent app that I use on my phone is called DU Recorder. As I mentioned above, there are many alternatives available. It partially depends on what is compatible with your devices and what you get used to using.

Maybe after you have created a few RLO videos, you can demonstrate the techniques to your students so they can create additional learning materials for you to use when an absentee student returns to school. Get in touch with me (gward [at] genomealberta.ca) to let me know which programs you have found useful for coping with teaching during the pandemic.

You can also tweet me @gwardis

Planning back to school?

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