Friday, November 16, 2012

Students as Screencasters: Flipping the Professional Development Model!

I love solving real-life technology problems with my students.  There's nothing I enjoy more than getting my middle school kids to dive into examining the opportunities and challenges that technology both creates and solves.

One of those growing problems we examined recently is the issue of adults keeping pace with new digital tools while in the midst of so many unfunded mandates handed down from our state politicians.  Between the new teacher evaluation system to increased standardized testing I feel like my job as a teacher is evolving more into the role of a data and assessment analyst.  I prefer to spend my time refining and developing new projects, however that all takes a backseat when so much attention is now needed on developing bubble tests and added paperwork.  I thought the teaching field was about working with people and not numbers all day long!

So unfortunately when it comes to learning new technologies our classroom teachers are commonly heard saying things like "we don't have time to learn yet another new thing" (which I agree with completely).  However, most educators are only familiar with the passive "sit and get" model of Professional Development.  What of there was a way to leverage modern technology to deliver information another way?
  
As a parent these issues concern me greatly, as I'd prefer to have my child in a classroom with teachers who can connect with my child on a personal basis AND be highly proficient with 21st century technology tools.

So here's the essential question my seventh and eighth grade students and I pondered over this semester:
How can we teach people things anytime and anywhere?

Our answer--screencasting!  A screencast is a narrated video created on a computer or mobile device.  Imagine capturing a teacher's presentation digitally so information is now available on-demand to watch and re-watch anytime--not just when the teacher is ready to deliver information and the students are mandated to absorb it.  Or consider taking the traditional "stand in front of the class" student presentation to a whole new level.  When students record their presentations as a screencast, their audience now can be the whole world--not just the kids in the same room.  Time and place no longer have to be a limitation to learning!

This led us to develop a new project we called "Tech Under 90 Sec".  The premise was to create short tutorial videos on how to use new technology tools.  Our intended audience was our teaching staff in the Amherst Central School District, however some kids quickly pointed out that really anybody could learn from our videos as they would exist online at MrZclassBlog.org

Using Google Forms, we began with a 2-question survey asking our teachers to tell us what they wanted to learn.  Using the survey results helped guide us to what topics we needed to focus on.  We then created our screencasts using Snagit software by TechSmith as the cost was reasonable and the software had many features that free software lacks.  The end result was over 200 screencasts were made by students and are now viewable on our classroom blog site MrZclassblog.org  This collection will likely grow over time.

One of my superstar students, McKenna Witkowski, had noticed that the videos were randomly organized within our blog.  She realized this might make it unnecessarily challenging for teachers who might be unsure where to start.  On her own time, she organized a series of her screencasts into a nicely organized menu that we intend to provide to our staff.  I just love it when kids take projects to a whole new level that the teacher never even considered!

An Unexpected Surprise

We were pleasantly surprised to discover that this concept of "flipping" the model of professional development was not really talked about.  Having students teach their own teachers via screencasting was a new concept in the educational technology world.  As a result, two national publications had requested phone interviews and later published articles featuring the work of our students:  

Article 1:
In This Flipped Class, Teachers Learn From Students' Video

Article 2:
Q&A with Rob Zdrojewski: Students teaching their teachers how to use technology

We are both humbled and appreciative of the positive PR this has brought our students and our school.  Moving forward we are now looking at more ways to use screencasting technology to deliver instructional content in an anytime, anyplace format.  With digital learning taking place via screencasting, no longer does learning have to be confined to a place and time!
This leads us to another question to ponder-- in 2012 should schools be banning or encouraging digital devices that could be used to consume such screencasts?  Sounds like another blog post for another day!