Saturday, October 18, 2014

Explain Everything and blended learning

In today's post, I'll give my impressions on how tablets are extremely useful for helping faculty "flip the classroom" and to give students more tools for succeeding in class.

As soon as I heard about the app Explain Everything, which is my most-used app, I knew that one of the main ways I would use my tablet was to create a blended learning course (aka a "flipped classroom"). Explain Everything, which costs next to nothing to purchase, is a dual-purpose (or more!) app: I present information to students with it (like one might use PowerPoint), but it also records audio and written annotation!

Purpose 1: Explain Everything Before Class

I'm now using Explain Everything to voice-over (and annotate) pre-lecture content. Before every chapter of my textbook, I record a brief (5 to 20 minute) screencast lecture to try to convey the basic, factual information that the students will need to engage in what we do in class: work through problems and examples and answer student questions. To ensure compliance watching these videos in advance, I have a low-point quiz on every pre-lecture video.

Pre-Class Workflow for Screencasting

  1. Create slides (little text - maybe just a title) containing graphics (photographs, primary data, etc.) that I wouldn't want to reproduce by hand. I use PowerPoint for this
  2. Export slides as a PDF file
  3. Copy the PDF file on my computer to my Google Drive
  4. Open the multi-page PDF file in Explain Everything (which converts each page of the PDF to its own slide)
  5. Press the record button and start talking and making on-screen annotations using my finger and the tablet touchscreen (only audio and touchscreen-based activity are recorded - not video from the tablet camera - so the students just see what's displayed on the tablet screen and not the instructor's face)
  6. When I'm done navigating through the presentation, I export the presentation (audio plus all of my live annotations) as a movie back to my Google Drive account
  7. I upload the movie to YouTube (although I could export directly from Explain Everything to YouTube, I like keeping a copy of the presentation as a movie file on my laptop)
  8. I'll describe the YouTube side of the workflow in a later post, but briefly: students know where to look on YouTube to find the videos I upload (I provide a link to my YouTube channel on our learning management system website).

Purpose 2: Explain Everything: Presenting In Class

I also use Explain Everything for my in-class presentations, which, keeping true to the blended learning approach, usually comprise activities/exercises I've devised for doing in class. Practicing applying the knowledge the students gained before coming to class (by reading the textbook and watching the pre-class video) is a really valuable use of the face time I have with students.

In-Class Workflow for Presenting

  1. I create slides in PowerPoint and export them as a PDF file, or I create a worksheet/activity in Adobe InDesign (page layout program) and export that as a PDF
  2. Import the PDFs to Explain Everything for presentation. Available tools for Explain Everything include basic shapes, a pen with variable width and color, an eraser, a text tool, zoom tool, and more advanced tools (layering, locking objects, etc. and a LASER pointer tool). Another fabulous thing about Explain Everything is that each slide can be drawn on (and, of course, those annotations are displayed by projector to the class)
  3. I draw on my tablet (or use the LASER pointer tool to draw attention to particular parts of the slide), and students see that in real-time. This is writing on a digital white board, on top of graphics that I provide! And, of course, because I always upload my lecture PDF to our learning management system before class, all of the students follow along on their tablets (many of my students are taking their own hand-written annotations on their copies of the lecture slides).

I should explicitly mention that I'm not having students themselves use Explain Everything. Because the app is not free (though only a couple dollars and change, the last time I checked), I'm not requiring students to purchase any apps for this class.

In my flipped classroom, when I write here about designing exercises/activities, those are things that the students are doing on their tablets. This is most frequently by distributing to the students a PDF of the exercise, asking them to annotate/draw on the PDF (the topic of yet another future post), and then return the annotated PDF to me by e-mail attachment - in cases where I want to collect evidence of their work. Some of my colleagues are having the students purchase Explain Everything and then use them to produce and deliver presentations on content, which is certainly another great use of this app.

Purpose 3: Recording during class

What comes next is the very best part: I always record my in-class presentation! The audio picks up my voice, and I try to remember to re-state student questions so that they are audible on the recording. (One minor drawback is that recording only occurs while in Explain Everything, so when I switch to a different app during class, that part doesn't get recorded). As with the advance screencast lecture capture, the audio gets recorded along with all of the on-screen annotation with the Explain Everything tools (pen, LASER pointer, etc.) After class, I export and upload every class session as a movie to YouTube, just like the screencast lectures.

In a future post, I'll delve into evidence I have that students are taking advantage of these resources (the pre-class screencast lecture content; the in-class recording)!


Here's the first pre-lecture video I ever recorded (this was for a graduate course I taught in a previous term, as practice for tablet teaching this term):

I'm not pointing you toward my current-term videos because I'm trying to limit views of that content only to current students. For reasons mentioned earlier: I'm gathering data by tracking viewing habits, and while I would be honored to have you watch those videos as well, I'm afraid you'd skew my data. So, maybe I'll more broadly advertise my current tablet course videos after the term ends!

Happy teaching to you all!

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