Tuesday, December 01, 2009

A Bit of Toast for My Substitute Teacher

One of the challenges of being a technology integrationalist is leaving realistic lesson plans for a substitute. Many of the subs do not feel confident enough in their tech skills to accept a sub job in a tech class. This is true even at the elementary level where I teach.

I want both the students and substitute to have a productive, enjoyable day when I am absent from school. I want the students to continue with our planned lessons whether or not I am there to teach them. I have finally found a way to do that.

The idea grew out of a past ISTE article that detailed how a team of high school teachers had turned their classroom upside using podcasts. They began to podcast their lectures in advance of the lesson being taught. Students viewed the podcast as homework and then came into class ready to discuss the lecture/demonstration and to complete the lab work. It gave them more 1:1 time with individual students, and student achievement was growing significantly.

That project is beyond the scope of what I am able to do in my classroom at this time, but the idea of podcasting my lessons in advanced seemed like the answer to the lesson plans for substitutes problems.

Most of the time, I need a way for the substitute to show the students how to do something on their computer. This lends itself nicely to using one of the online screen recording programs that are available online.

Chris Betcher makes many instructional screencast tutorials so at his recommendation I decided to try ScreenToaster.

Setting up a ScreenToaster account was quick, free and easy. After a few rehearsals, I was ready to click the big record button and create my screencast. My first attempt was done on my Lenovo X200 tablet and it was not able to render the video and the audio fast enough, so the audio lagged behind.

For my next attempt, I created a tutorial for my staff. I opted to create the screen recording without audio, and to then go back and record the audio as the recording plays back. ScreenToaster makes it very easy to do this. This method worked better. It kept the audio synced with the video.
When the video is finished, you have the choice to download the video or to upload it to various places. I choose to upload it to ScreenToaster's own site. This free option allowed me to save the video in a higher quality format that if I were putting it into You Tube. I felt that was important since a tutorial isn't much use if the screen recording is too blurry or pixelated to read.

When the videos is published, it can be viewed on the ScreenToaster website. You are also provided with an embed code so you could embed the video into a blog or other online tool. I run the video's URL through a URL shortening site such as TinyURL so that I have an easy URL to add to my lesson plans.

So far, both uses of ScreenToaster seem successful. Today will be a big test as my substitute will be using it two different screencasts with three different classes. I am eager to read her notes and to see the progress the students made.

I haven't used any other screen recording applications lately so I cannot say how ScreenToaster compares to the other options available. I do wish ScreenToaster gave an option to do some editing of the video before you post it, even to clip the ragged ends of the video but I have not found any editing tools in ScreenToaster. You can strip out the audio and try again if you don't like how it sounds.

Are you using screencasts in your school or classroom? What screen recording software have you tried? Which would you recommend? I'd appreciate hearing of your experiences and recommendations.