Teaching with Screencasts; or, the Problem with Communication

This past week in class, we talked some more about what separates “experts” from “novices,” and then we got into our first “technique” we will be learning and practicing in class this semester: the screencast. The screencast, typically, is a video production in which a teacher records his/her screen, along with vocal instructions (and perhaps other additions – such as highlighting parts of the screen, using interstitial titles for clarification/organization, etc…) in order to teach a certain skill. Due to the nature of the screencast (i.e. it’s a recording of a screen), this technique is most typically used to teach software and web application skills.

I have had a number of teachers who recorded their lectures along with the screens of their machines in order to create a sort of “lecture-length” screencast. I have found this technique helpful for picking up certain techniques in my more tech-heavy classes, as I am allowed to just pay attention during the actual class, because I can go back and figure out the specific techniques later on, without having to have taken notes on every cursor move and mouse click. I have also used screencasts in order to answer specific questions I’ve had about particular pieces of software. For instance, if I am trying to learn how to edit a vocal track in GarageBand, I could simply go to Google or YouTube and look for “GarageBand Vocal Editing Tutorial” or “GarageBand Vocal Editing Screencast.” In these instances, I have found screencasts to be easy to follow and usually more helpful than trying to follow written instructions to solve my technical learning questions.

However, I have found one major issue I have withs screencasts as an instructional method: the lack of ability to communicate in real-time. Now, to be sure, this issue can be mitigated, in certain respects, by the technology used to deliver the screencast. YouTube comments can be made, questions can be asked, and the screencast creator (or other users) can offer answers. Apps could be developed to allow the screencast creator to get a text message or an email with a learner’s question, to facilitate quicker feedback. Nothing, however, will change the fact that screencasts can’t entirely replace face-to-face learning. In class we talked about the possibility that we need to “just go where the students go.” I think this is important – we do need to be where students are, and it is clear that many of our models of learning and instruction, which were developed long before the Internet and the digital revolution, need to be rethought in light of these new developments. However, I think it is also extremely important that we at least attempt to maintain that face-to-face, student-to-teacher connection in some way. Whether we need to make sure we leave space for the more traditional methods in our repertoire of techniques, or whether we simply need to help develop the technology that will allow us to bring the more traditional into the 21st century, it seems clear to me that nothing can replace a teacher reacting to a student’s puzzled look, or a student being able to ask for clarification IMMEDIATELY upon having a question.

In general, I tend to prefer new ideas to old ideas. One thing I seem to be learning, though, is that I think of instruction in much the same way I think of baking. New technologies and techniques are great, but they can only enhance, and not replace, the traditional.


About rclement643

I am currently a graduate student at University of Michigan's School of Information. This blog is being kept as a place for reflections on the readings for the class
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One Response to Teaching with Screencasts; or, the Problem with Communication

  1. northernwood says:

    Never a tech-savvy person, I also find online tutorials in Youtube immensely helpful. They are great in guiding me through the process of accomplishing some simple tasks or giving me a brief overview of certain programs. As the old saying goes, “a picture is worth a thousand words,”–a moving pictures with sound is so much better than written instructions in solving the learners’ “technical” problems. But as we discussed a lot in class, and as you have pointed out the “lack of communication” problem, screencast is probably not the perfect tool to impart cognitive skills.

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