Andrew B. Watt here…

Over the last few months, I’ve made a shift in my online footprint, from being a blogger to a video-maker. It started as a foray into video work but it’s become a part of my classroom process, homework review process, and online activity. Wes asked me to write a bit about how this came about, what I learned from doing it, and how the toolkit works for doing it.

Tool kit

In terms of both software and hardware, my tool kit is pretty basic:

  • JingPro, available from TechSmith, is the key to the operation. Without that, at $14.95 a year, I wouldn’t have the ability to make videos at all.  It does hold me quite severely to the 5-minute time limit, which is good: short enough for a kid to review during a homework session, long enough to get into some detail if I work quickly.
  • Jing works by photographing or video-ing what’s on your screen.  I’ve used Pages, Microsoft Word, Safari, and other programs as my stage, but the main one is Mimio Notebook — the software my school gave me for running the Mimio smartboard in my room.
  • An Apple MacBook;
  • D-maps.com — The guy at D-maps is a Frenchman who gave me permission to use his maps, as he does to anyone who wants  them.  For © reasons, I borrow images from Wikipedia labeled as public domain, but I’m leery; I want clean data to work with wherever I can.

Process

What  to say about process?  I find an error or a writing problem in a student paper… then I type it up, and I make a movie.  If there’s a content area which I feel the textbook hasn’t explained well, I make a movie.  If there’s a disconnect between what students write and what’s in the book, I make a movie.

I post first draft of the video; I don’t know any editing techniques yet. (If I say three bone-headed statements in a single video, I cancel those and start again.)  I don’t write scripts, but I try to have a plan in mind, unlike my podcasts at gravitysgrace.net.  I planned to make a video for each William Strunk and E.B. White rule in the Elements of Style, but moved toward a freeform approach.  When I started, it was helpful to my process to draw the diagrams as I spoke and recorded the video; now I try to do as much set-up ahead of time as I can, using the undo and redo functions to create some animations.  I thought about doing this with slideshow software like Keynote or PowerPoint, but resulting videos were clunky.  I tried to use Animation-ish, which I like, but integrating tiny clips like this one into larger pieces is beyond my current abilities.

Audience

My blog gets [after literally years online (first at LiveJournal, then at WordPress, and at Diaryland before either of those)], about 30 hits a day unless I say something radical.  YouTube started out slow, and then I had a video reach 1,000 hits.  Since then, I’ve gotten about 10,000 hits on my videos.  Most of them have gotten 9-10 views, but a surprising number of the 90 videos have over a hundred views — a much larger percentage of the whole than the number of blog posts with a hundred views.

The real surprise is the importance of search on YouTube. More than half of my viewers aren’t from my school. They’re people who are finding my video through searches.  That suggests a radically different model than blogging — I pick up blogs to read the same way you do, by deciding that I like someone’s writing or situation.  Yet people look for videos on writing help or world history by specific keywords.  They’re looking for information or advice.  The related awareness is subscription numbers — It’s taken my blog three years to reach 15 regular subscribers (i.e., recorded RSS feed followers), but 25 subscribers started watching my YouTube channel in the last six months.  Some of them are almost certainly scam/spam artists, but it seems to be easier to attract a video following than a writing following.

Style Formation

I think my videos suggest that I watched too many CommonCraft videos. Those are silly but fun, and they’re professional and playful at the same time.  I’m teaching sixth and seventh graders, so I’m trying to keep them relatively light in form and figure.  Yet I’ve had college professors tell me to my face that my videos are important, because their students don’t know how to write or how to communicate in this way.

I think I’m also opening up a larger playing field.  I know that the Khan Academy video series is out there, and that there’s a lot of controversy about whether this video-based education model is the way to go.   I know that when I start to teach in my classroom, I may get interrupted three or four times in the course of my lesson…  If I start up the video player and the projector,  on the other hand — I get silence while the lesson plays — I can help the kid who’s missing a pencil — I can answer a question quietly — and I can move right to the practice part of the lesson.  Does this make me replaceable?  Perhaps.  Does it worry me?  Not yet.  I think I’m better in the classroom than on the screen alone, and the videos are closely connected with the brand of Andrew B. Watt, not the school I work for.  It’s an unusual change, I think, for a teacher in middle school to step out of the shadow of their institution.  It makes me more vulnerable, but freer in a sense as well.

Skills-Based Instruction

Blogging was reflective, but it didn’t really help my teaching style improve directly.  The YouTube video series is much more about direct instruction.  One of the first examples of this was a video about sentence structure. Another video, about the Indian Monsoons and their effect on trade routes, is also a big hit, not just with me but with people in India.

Because there’s a worldwide audience, I find I’m much more careful about speaking what I believe is true.  I don’t want to get slammed by people around the world for saying wrong things about their country… but I also welcome the opportunity to show students the comments the videos are drawing, and showing them that I’m capable of being wrong.  My students thought the guy who thought my video was boring was funny.  They assured me that they thought the video was useful, even if this guy thought it was dull.

Vulnerability

I think the last points I want to make are about vulnerability and openness.  A lot of students are watching these videos, apparently, because there are a lot of re-watches.   People are getting useful ideas from the videos, and understanding things about writing and about history from them.  Even though I’m responsible for my students’ learning, now it’s possible that I’m responsible for some of your students’ learning, too.  Even though I’m continuing to speak to my students, I’m trying to be conscious that I’m speaking to a larger audience than just the kids in my own classroom.   Does it make me a better teacher? Time will tell.


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On this day..

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  • Thank you for the opportunity to write a guest post. I hope you’ll return the favor in the near future.

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  • Thank YOU for sharing, Andrew! I’ll be delighted to reciprocate soon. 🙂

  • GVSU M

    I am a graduate student studying education and I find this very interesting. I also have interest in using video in the classroom and think this is a unique approach. What prompted this idea?

    I can see how you can put this up and have the free time to go around and help students with other things, but I wonder do many students tune out during this process? Have you noticed any improvement in the class since doing this?

    I really like the idea of incorporating parts of technology into teaching and this is appears to me to be rather original, especially because this can make things more interesting to the students. However, I am also nervous about future ramifications (not that those are in our control). You touched on that. It goes to say if we can just create videos to teach students why do we need teachers- kind of like online classrooms.

    All things being considered, I definitely like the ideas you have presented. Thank you for sharing!

  • My predecessor used a lot of video in the classroom, both from popular films and from documentaries, in order to teach history. So in a sense, my students were already primed for video. They were taught that their visual skills were a useful modality for studying history. And of course, costume and prop, background and scene, talking head and educated narration are part of the way that we frame history these days. So this particular audience was already ready for this style of teaching.

    I feel that there has been a jump in the writing abilities of my students since I started posting the videos. The school has a homework page, and the videos are embedded in the homework help for my specific class. The data from YouTube’s Insight functions suggest that they’re watching the videos multiple times, and the written assignments suggest that they’re using the techniques I present, and incorporating the data from the content videos.

    As for tuning out, what I’m observing is that they’re tuning in. With the video, they know exactly how long this lesson is going to last. It’s not me talking for an indefinite period of time; it’s me talking for a definite period of time, and no more — followed by time for them to try out the skill, and then present their own examples or hear from other students.

    The long-term ramifications are startling and upsetting, of course. If I develop a large-enough series of videos, I can be replaced by a less experienced teacher, and the videos can be shown to a larger group of students. My work is also capable of being replaced — a more skilled team of animators, speakers, and writers can develop a much more successful set of lessons. That team could come from Italy, from India, from France, from Australia. So by choosing to present in a global market, I wind up competing in a global market, against other video-makers who can do what I do more cheaply. I also have to continue to compete in a local market, against teachers and would-be teachers who might be less expensive than me, but who could use my videos as the basis of their own teaching program. Ooops!

    In truth, I think that the combination of being a creator, an artist, and a teacher winds up being a powerful one. I’m teaching students to think about their writing on deeper levels, I’m showing them what it means to be a creator, and I’m showing them that an artist today must live in a public environment — to get noticed, to reach an audience, and to find opportunities for growth.

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  • SamE

    As an Extension Educator for 4-H Youth Development, I’ve been working on creating a summer youth workshop on videography. We’re looking at having the youth explore different purposes for their video content, one being an instructional video of their choosing. Your article really gave me some insight and I will definitely be incorporating some ideas into the design of our workshop. Here’s an idea for you as well-try Prezi for animating a process when PowerPoint fails. What’s even better is they have a free educator’s account with more storage than their typical account.

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