Despite some potential opinions to the contrary, today I discovered that two ravens are actually much more effective than one... Image: Jim Culp
Taking risks can be occasionally hazardous, but I personally can't see the point of doing anything without experimenting and being willing to put yourself a little bit "out there" from time to time. Risk-taking has led me to some of my most intriguing and fulfilling discoveries about teaching and learning.
Risk-taking is also something I regularly employ in my professional development workshops and seminars. I've "come a gutsa" (as we say here in local parlance) a couple of times, but also found some absolute gems. Today, during an ICT development workshop I hosted for local teachers in my region, I found one of those gems.
In simple terms: I discovered a way to clone myself, and discovered what a boon this was for managing a room with 20 people attempting to learn new skills.
Knowing that this workshop was going to be all about ICT, I recalled from past experiences the situation whereby an instuctor faces a screen, tapping away at a keyboard and pointing to things on the screen, with the occasional fertive glance over the shoulder to see if the audience is "getting it" and how they might be responding to it. I wanted to avoid this and do things a little differently.
Hence, in preparation for the workshop, I used a screencasting tool to record detailed demonstrations with ongoing audio commentary of five different tech tools I thought it would be useful to showcase to my participants. I loaded them up into a Facebook groups page made especially for the workshop, but also downloaded them onto USB sticks as a back up in case the technology on the day decided to go astray (so to speak).
Now, these screencasts weren't set up in a way to entirely replace an on-the-spot live presenter, nor even to comprise the bulk of what would happen during the workshop. But I did reflect on this approach and wonder if I was taking too much of a risk... Was this going to come across as a guy just presenting training videos? Is this what people would want in a face-to-face seminar setting?
Anyway, I decided to go with it. During the workshop proper, I ran everything off the Facebook group page. Following some discussion, as a group we would select a tool to look at in a little more detail, and I then played the screencast.
As the participants watched the audio-visual demonstration of the tool on the screen, I stood off to the side, facing the audience. When I saw their reactions to different parts of the screencast, I would pause it to do a variety of things (explain a point in simpler terms, add some additional information, field a question or comments the participants had at that stage of the presentation). I also occasionally paused when I realised I'd missed something in the original screencast, or could have said it somewhat better.
The effect was amazing!
There were, in many ways, two Jasons running the workshop together. One in the pre-recorded screencast explaining and demonstrating particular tech tools, the other supporting and observing the audience, ready to negotiate what was being presented to make it more comprehensible and relevant to them.
The "screencast Jason" remained on track, organised and logical in progression. The "in the room here and now" Jason stayed in tune with his audience, highly interactive and responsive (I like to imagine, anyway!).
Towards the end of the seminar, one lady jumped, laughed and said she was startled when I abruptly paused one of the screencasts. She explained that the voiceover on the screencast sounded so clear and natural, she'd actually thought it was me there standing next the screen talking in real time (hence when I moved and the voice kept going she found herself doing a bit of a double take!). This no doubt had something to do with the sound recording quality as well as the audio system in the workshop room, but I think it also stemmed from the way I actually make my screencasts. I don't over-plan them or script them in any way. I record them generally with one take and speak very naturally - complete with pauses, recasts, ums and ahs (and even the occasional error that I need to fix on the spot while I'm recording).
A lot of the participants commented after the workshop and told me they found the delivery - incorporating screencasts - particularly appealing. I found myself enjoying the workshop a whole lot more as well. With all the "heavy lifting" having already been done in advance through the recorded screencasts, I discovered that I was much more relaxed in the actual room, and much more capable of responding to the audience's reactions and queries, as they happened in real time. I also found that I had valuable breathing space to think ahead a little, consider where the workshop might go next, based on the ongoing reactions of the participants.
Of course, the other benefit of screencasts is that they can be viewed after the workshop proper as a review and reference resource - something that is particularly useful when you are presenting what might appear to be complicated skills oriented around using technology.
In addition to the obvious value screencasts have for online/distance learning applications, a lot of teachers have been commenting of late about how fabulous they can be for giving oral and visual feedback to students for their written work. And rightly so.
But I think I have now found another potentially useful application...
Screencasts can be used to think our way through and present content, language patterns, vocabulary, tasks, etc. and record them in advance. These can then be played in class, with the "recorded" us presenting material and content, while the other "here and now" us focuses a lot more on the students themselves, monitoring their reactions to the content, interrupting it to enhance the delivery, and making a variety of decisions on ways to weave content and activities together for on the spot classroom application. Those screencasts then represent a core of material that is brilliant for private review purposes.
It's something I look forward to experimenting with more when I return to classroom teaching in October!
So, um, look forward to seeing and working with you in class, English Raven.
You too, English Raven - see you there!