Monday, March 31, 2008

Videos for writing courses

There are many tools to help you teach writing in the electronic environment. Almost every term I try something new, and in most cases, I find that new tools aren't just bells and whistles; instead, each one can help you refine and expand the way you teach.

As I've mentioned, I think the online environment is ideal for a writing class because almost everything that happens in such a class is text. So while tools have evolved that allow students to communicate in ways other than writing, I still want them to rely on their writing (and reading) in the course.

That begin said, video can be a great asset to you as a teacher. Of course, the use of video is booming on the Web, at times even dominating Internet traffic (1). How could you use video in the class?:
  • To introduce the course--Especially in a fully online setting, it might be useful for you to deliver a 10- to 15-minute video course introduction. This way, students actually see you, which could help them in terms of framing you as an audience for their writing projects as well as simply associating a name with a face.
  • To deliver content--Many online courses deliver content via video. Using voiced-over PowerPoints can be a good, simple way to deliver some content in the course, and there are more sophisticated ways to record and share course "content" lessons.
  • To conduct workshops--I have found great use for writing workshops delivered via PowerPoint. Much like a fast-paced in-class workshop, I'll ask online students to perform certain focused tasks on their drafts in a fixed period of time.
  • To evaluate student writing--I have just written a book chapter about using video response; I think this is a very intriguing way for us to respond back to our students, creating a kind of "virtual conference" effect.
  • For student projects--Just because you're teaching online doesn't mean you have to abandon student presentations. Students can use videos tools not just to receive materials from you but to produce and submit their work as well.
Although I do get a lot of use out of videos, I hardly consider myself an expert about methods of creating and delivering videos. To create videos, I primarily use Camtasia, a screen capture program that I have found flexible and easy to use. Other tools like Impatica can help you condense and share PowerPoint presentations. Some of us may shy away from using a Webcam to capture our faces, but Webcams can have advantages, and they are inexpensive and easy to set up. There are also freeware options for screen capture programs, although I don't have experience with them.

Using video, of course, hinges on your providing your students with access to this material. At Drexel, we have a very fortunate IT situation. We have a superb IT department that provides faculty with an easy way of sharing via a streaming server Weblinks of videos that we create. You could also use YouTube or TeacherTube. If you're using videos in a hybrid course, you could even ask each student to provide a CD or USB memory drive. Email could work, although many email programs will have problems handling large videos files, and students will need fast internet connections.

Ultimately, you can use video to create an "extra-writing" presence for yourself in your online courses. Sometimes, the sights and sound of video can simply personalize the message you are trying to deliver; more substantively, though, perhaps by using video you are helping to appeal to your students' different learning styles.

1) In "Online Video: Data Tidal Wave?," Philadelphia Inquirer writer Bob Fernandez mentions how BitTorrent's peer-to-peer technology may at times account for 50% of Internet traffic (Sunday, March 23, 2008).