Social Networking and Screencasts: A Powerful Combination
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The goals of this presentation are...
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1) To introduce you to other sites for social networking beyond Facebook and Twitter
2) To talk about ways they might be better for the classroom than Facebook or Twitter
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3) To show you how to combine social networking with screencasts (brief recordings of you
explaining a topic or tool in conjunction with your computer screen’s display) in order to get
students more engaged in their work and get them excited about your class.
Here’s a little information about the course where I used this approach in Fall 2009. MCJ 10,
Media Writing, is an introductory writing course enrolling about 20 students per section.
This was an experiment to try a non-Blackboard site to encourage more teamwork among
students, and to help them feel more buy-in to the class.
I also wanted to provide more contemporary interactive and multimedia interface for students
than Blackboard offers.
I chose to use Ning as our social networking tool. http://ning.com
It was free, though it did include advertising. This may be changing, as I’ll discuss in the
epilogue to this presentation.
I chose Ning because I wanted a place to gather course materials, but also to encourage
discussion of them directly. I wanted to embed videos directly into the class site, rather than
having students leave Blackboard, etc., to locate multimedia. Essentially, I used Ning as a
socially enabled course management site.
Ning is easy to design, and you can include videos, a forum, an event calendar (great for class
deadlines), polls, and other applications.
Here are the different features of the Ning site. I was also able to embed my Twitter feed on
the page, along with RSS feeds of headlines from our school newspaper and alumni
association, so the page always felt new and fresh. This dynamic content, I think, is a lot
more compelling to students who are accustomed to real-time updates from Twitter and
Screencasts are recordings of your activity on the computer screen, typically with some
narration from the user who describes his or her actions.
I chose to use Jing (http://www.jingproject.com/) for this task. It’s free, and is a small piece
of software that you install on your computer. It’s available for Windows and Mac both. It’s
very simple to use. There is a 5-minute limit for recordings.
Recordings can be automatically uploaded to Screencast.com, and you can then get a link
that you can put on your social network, on Blackboard, on a blog, or just send in an e-mail.
When someone clicks that link, they’ll be taken to your screencast, which is just like watching
a video on YouTube.
In fact, Jing Pro, which costs $14.95/year, will upload to YouTube directly as an option. It
also allows you to capture video from your webcam if you want to demonstrate something or
be on camera yourself.
This is how I used social networking and screencasts for a class session when I had to be off-
campus. Not wanting to miss the chance to cover some class content in this very fast-paced
class, I assigned the students four screencasts to watch, and required them to discuss the
material in the Ning discussion forum. One of our liveliest discussions resulted. Students
responded very positively to this lesson and, as I’ll describe, many of them returned to the
screencasts and the discussion later in the semester for review.
Here’s the link: http://www.screencast.com/t/MzliNjhmMT
You can hear my laptop fan start to run on this one - but at least my dog didn’t bark this
Here’s what students reported about this Ning + Jing experiment: they...
★Discussed the content actively in forum
★Could see each other’s activity and photos, which provided motivation
★Reviewed screencasts multiple times and worked at their own pace
★Enjoyed a new teaching technique
★Were able to continue learning while the instructor was gone
Seattle Municipal Archives on Flickr
So, in a screencast, you can describe some type of class content while demonstrating it
onscreen. You can show pictures, slides, or even a video on mute with your own voice-over.
This is a great strategy for visual and auditory learners especially, who will beneﬁt from re-
watching and re-hearing your explanation.
You can also use screencasts to provide students easily accessible explanations of software
tools they’re using for class, and to explain class-related administrative tasks like how to use
particular Blackboard features or how to submit a paper to Turnitin or ETS Criterion.
Essentially, take anything you can show onscreen or on a webcam, use ﬁve minutes to make a
screencast about it, and you’ll save yourself the time of explaining it repeatedly. Students will
also be pleased to have immediate access to the information 24/7 - as in at midnight when
they’re trying to remember how to submit their paper on Blackboard before your deadline!
Flickr user mandyxclear
Here are some of the challenges of social networking and screencasts to keep in mind:
★Prepare to manage your social network throughout the entire semester
★Watch out for spammers
★Encourage (and/or require!) active participation
★Remind students of what is public and what is private on your network
★Follow accessibility guidelines and be ready to adapt
★Keep grades in a secure system, e.g., Blackboard; some education-oriented sites
integrating grade features, but proceed with caution
★Rehearse difficult screencasts, and don’t be embarrassed to listen to yourself
So, in summary, here’s what you get by using this combination of technologies.
Ning is eliminating free accounts, and may offer some sort of discounted plan for educators,
but it’s not yet known. The handout I’m providing (visit this blog post to get it) lists some
possible free alternatives to use for class social networking.
I haven’t tested all of these, and some may work better than others for your particular class.
It never hurts to experiment, and students will likely enjoy getting to know the new
technology as well. They are surprisingly open to trying these new techniques if you come
across as conﬁdent about them and are obviously enjoying them yourself - so have fun with
developing your own social network and screencasts.
Good luck with your explorations!