About this time last year, I wrote a blog post called Ever wanted to clone yourself to help teach a class more effectively? and referred to the power of screencasting when it comes to sort of pre-planning and pre-delivering lesson content. The basic idea: you pre-record the main chunky content stuff in your lesson (drawing on the audio and visual aspects of screencasting to enhance the delivery) and play it in class, leaving you more freedom to monitor and respond to students as the content is delivered.
If you'd asked me five years ago whether this was a particularly good idea, I probably wouldn't have been all that receptive to the idea. Nothing can replace the live on the spot performance of good teaching in a classroom with all its spontaneity and adaptation to audience of the moment, I would have argued.
Today I might argue something similar but with the observation that some things can enhance (not necessarily replace) the performance and effectiveness of the live "in the room" teacher. This is based on some extensive classroom experimentation, the surprising success of my online TOEFL school (which has no live or "in the same room" teaching at all), and some more recent observations of an online literacy program I have been developing for a blended learning approach in a technical college for senior secondary school students.
Here are some of the things I have noticed about "bottling" certain parts of lessons and presenting them through online screencasts (in classrooms where each student has access to a computer):
- Every student gets individualised access to the content, and by adding interactive elements (for example, requiring students to report or respond to the screencasted material) it becomes much more feasible to check how much of the content is actually being taken in;
- Five in ten students need no more than the screencast to "get it" and can then move on to the next task, effectively allowing them to learn at their own pace;
- Three in ten students get most of the screencasted material, but may need the occasional quick follow up or confirmation to proceed with confidence;
- Two in ten students have problems with the content and need more active assistance from the teacher (which has become much more feasible on account of another five in ten already moving ahead and another three in ten assisted on through it with a minimal amount of assistance);
- Students are much more willing to assist peers who get stuck or need help compared to the group teaching/learning scene;
- Students can replay and review the content at will, right there in the classroom or over in the school library or at home (or during a road trip with their 3G iPad, as a student informed me last Friday);
- More content is delivered and more take up of skills occurs, in most instances, than in the traditional one-teacher-teaching-to-a-group scenario;
- The teacher becomes less of a performer to an audience and more of a conversational facilitator and aide, creating a much less formal atmosphere in the classroom;
- Every student has something to focus on, at his/her own pace, which majorly reduces the chance of classroom distractions and disruptions;
- The teacher is able to prepare a lot in advance, which helps him to relax and move more with the flow (including adaptation and contextualisation) in the classroom itself.
Personally, I love teaching to groups and having the learners all seated in a circle or U with a shared 'stage' for the teaching and learning. I'm not about to suggest this is ineffective or needs to be shelved.
However, observational experience on my part is starting to present some powerful evidence that "bottling" (and learners pouring for themselves) certain parts of lessons is a really effective approach to education.
All of this ran through my head this morning as I was working on a new batch of LEAP Speaking material for the English Raven website. I began to wonder if it might not be a valuable addition to provide screencast versions of the materials that teachers could play in class and/or allow students to access for review or private study at home.
Remember that I'm not suggesting for a moment that pre-recorded and pre-formatted lesson material replace the in-the-room-live-here-and-now teacher... any more than it already does through things like coursebooks, of course.
But I do think digital bottling can be something that really enhances what we're able to achieve in a classroom, and what learners are able to achieve on their own.
What do you think?