Wednesday, August 15, 2007

In Search of...

The wheels are turning, our preparations are in full swing, and we've lined up over 40 teachers, two rather sizable grants to really round out the project, when all of a sudden....

There is no more project. Well, sort of.

We had been relying on a product, which will remain nameless here, that we had used in the past to create video podcasts of live lessons. The kicker was that they weren't really videos of teachers teaching, but rather actual PowerPoint or whiteboard slides coupled with audio and live penstrokes: essentially, they were Java-based screencasts. However, the real bonus about this product was that it had two features which really set it apart from anything else.

The first feature was a question and answer feature that allowed viewers to ask questions of the lesson author directly in the lesson. So if I were a student watching the lesson on fractions and did not understand the lesson, I had the option of asking a question by right clicking and typing my question. The question would then get forwarded to the author's email address where the author could answer the question and then embed the question back into the lesson for the next viewer to see, thereby adding to the overall experience.

Secondly, it created a feed that allowed users to download through iTunes every time their teacher posted a lesson. We loved this feature because it made us available to the world at large, a la Dr. Tim Tyson and the Mabry Middle School. We are proud of our staff and the work they do, and we wanted it out there.

Days ago, we were informed that the product was going back into development and would not be ready again until Fall 2008. After initial disappointment, we have redirected our efforts to try to find something in its stead. Here are the particulars:

  • Windows-based screencasting software, preferably something that would live natively on our machines
  • The ability to export as mp4, or at least create a feed that would be accessible through iTunes
  • Price needs to be workable, without a yearly fee for services.
I am also thinking of obtaining a server solely for this purpose that can house these projects. My real aim here is to begin having our teachers produce content that is usable by more than the students they see; we want to contribute to the creation of usable content. Also, it has to involve quick setup with minimal downtime as teachers have had problems with this in the past. A plug and play situation would be ideal.

It's always this way, isn't it? When you are geared up for something so exciting and progressive, a twist is thrown your way. This could have been worse, but now the solution doesn't seem as singular and self-contained, but rather one that will involve a few more steps to complete.

Any opinions or suggestions would be greatly appreciated.

4 comments:

Bach said...

In Caldwell we use the screen recorder feature from SMARTtech (SMART Board software). It is free and it saves as an .avi so it can be "VOD-Casted". (This idea was developed by Gregg Festa from Montclair State University)

Clay Burell said...

What a drag, Patrick, and what a great idea.

Not sure if something as simple as Screencast-o-matic.com would help or not. Have you checked it out?

It's web-based. It will download screencasts (15 min. max.) as .mov files, and also host them on your SOM channel. They allow time-stamped notes, viewer comments and ratings, and more.

You can download the casts, import into iMovie, edit with other content, etc.

Again, not sure this is what you're looking for.

Good luck, man. And thanks for trying on that monumental piece of bad Skype timing yesterday!

Patrick Higgins said...

Bach-

Thanks for the advice. We ran into some licensing issues with SMARTtech and the cost became prohibitive, so we decided to go another route. How do you guys manage the cost? If you want you can email me privately at orangehiggins(at)gmail(dot)com.

Clay-

I pitched that one to the higher ups, but the extra steps associated with converting it and then sending it out to iTunes turned everyone off. I love it as a straightforward product that can be embedded right where you need it.

We'll see where this goes.

Sarin Samuel said...

My Screen Recorder Pro is a better screencast software tool. Records your screen and audio from the speakers or your voice from the microphone - or both simultaneously. The recordings are clear and look great when played back on your PC or uploaded to YouTube. It will record directly to AVI, WMV, MP4, or FLV. Just perfect for creating tutorials, demos, and presentations. Plus, java is not required and there are no limits on recording length. Also, the recordings play back on any device.