Monday, August 14, 2017

This project e-Clips-ed my summer

Call me a lunatic, but once again I've allowed a "side project" to eclipse my summer! Of course, it is only because I enjoy working on such projects, and I see tremendous value in them, that I let this happen. I spent the better part of my "free time" assembling a class manual, curating the digital materials I have developed for genetics (BIOL 102) over my many semesters of course augmentation with technology. In the waning days of summer, I sit down for the first time in a long time to update you on my perspectives and progress.


Related to my side project, I was recognized this year with the honor of becoming an Apple Distinguished Educator (ADE). This was much to my surprise, because, although I am an Apple advocate, Fresno State's 1:1 tablet program is not an Apple program. More on that soon…

To become an ADE, one has to participate in a summer academy - which I just recently completed. Each academy has a project that the participants focus much of their attention on; this year, that focus was placed squarely on the use of one of Apple's newest apps, called Clips, in education. Our task, in short, was to develop best practices for using Clips in education (K-12 and higher ed).

Although this post, like many, is couched in a discipline-specific context (and this time, necessarily, a device-specific context), I'm still striving to distill course-, grade-, and technology-agnostic principles for you to use. Please read on with an open mind!


Clips is a mobile-device-friendly (i.e. low-frills, low CPU-usage, low-memory usage) program. Its main role is as a video editing and social-media-posting app. A brief summary of its utility: with Clips, you can capture new still images and video using a phone or tablet camera. You can also import stills and video from the device's camera roll. Clips allows simple editing, like:

  • ordering various media items into a specified order
  • adding animated icons and text "posters" in between those media
  • adding a soundtrack

Most notably to many of us, one of the most novel (powerful?) aspects of Clips is its "Live Captions" function. In essence, when using Clips, the device uses speech recognition to perform on-the-fly captioning of videos. This is, as an understatement, HUGE in improving video accessibility without having to undergo a separate process of captioning videos.

For example, here is the Clips video I produced during the ADE summer academy:

Please watch the Clip in the link above so that you can tell me what you think I did wrong in my first Clip!

Clips in Education

My colleagues and I have brainstormed potential classroom uses of Clips, and here are a summary of potential pros and cons:

  • This seems an ideal app for students to use to summarize content and to provide instructors with feedback or reflections
  • We might have some fear about the glitz and "social media-ness" that Clips provides - will this seem to "sophomoric" for higher ed?
  • It isn't equitable to ask students to use Clips if not all students have Apple products (this is perhaps the biggest issue; perhaps solvable by having students work in groups containing at least one iPhone or iPad)
  • Clips isn't the only video-recording app, especially on the iPhone/iPad; we wondered: "What are the Apple-independent principles of the use of short videos by students and/or by faculty?"

To see more examples of the use of Clips for higher education, search Twitter with #classroomclips

Probable Best Practices for using Clips (or any video app)

  • Student use is probably more powerful than faculty use
  • Clips should be just that: clips. Not full-length feature films. This is, probably not arguably, one of my missteps in my first Clip (URL above): a 3:17 video, although relatively short, is probably too long to make the point it makes. How short should a Clip be? It is certainly up to you. How long do you think a student will watch? I'll guess a minute, maximum. Thirty seconds would be better.

My approach for using Clips

This summer, as I was producing my course manual, I decided that I would produce a "trailer" (a movie trailer: a preview) of the topic for each class meeting. Not counting the first day of class, or review sessions or exam days, I will have 23 class meetings this coming semester. So, I have created 23 brief trailers, "A Genetics Class Trailer" (or AGCT - for you geneticists and others in-the-know), for the semester. I have embedded these videos at the start of each "Chapter" of my course manual (one chapter per class meeting). Here is a YouTube playlist of all 23 of these trailers, the longest of which is exactly one minute long:

Why trailers?

My intentions with these Clips, to be rolled out one week from today, when I begin fall semester instruction, are to:

  • Introduce content in bite-size packages
  • Stimulate student interest
  • Demonstrate relevance of content to be covered each class
  • Give students a "hook" that will help make pre-class reading/video content more meaningful

Given the amount of effort I put into developing these Clips and my course manual, I'm very much looking forward to reporting back to you, at the end of this semester! I will let you know:

  • what the student response has been
  • revisions to best practices
  • whether the effort is worth it!

I'm sure my answer to the latter will be, "Yes!" As always, innovating in education has kept me engaged and enthused, and that might be the most important and engaging result!

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