Just like a band – I need something to bring it all together …
In my five years of flipping I have tried many tools to aid in my flipped classroom. There are a variety of apps and software programs that have come and gone. I make it a point to collect little bits and bobs for cell phones, cameras, and microphones. Many of these items have found a place in my flipped toolkit, but there are very few that see the light of day on a regular basis. Google apps, like Docs, Slides, Drawing, etc., on the other hand, get daily use, as my school is a Google school. My webcam is an absolute necessity as I am firmly in the camp of teacher-made materials for the bulk of the independent-space learning. My cheapo document camera is a must because I learn visually and prefer to draw or demonstrate with manipulatives, and the document camera allows me to digitize and archive live drawings and demos. I also love my learning management system (LMS), Canvas.
Getting the band together
So thus far in my flipped class rock band, I have the melody instruments, like web and doc cams. I have Google apps to provide the lyrics. Finally, I have an LMS to keep the beat and keep it moving. Just like a band, I need something to bring it all together, and that is Screencastify, which serves as the mixing board, allowing me to combine all of the elements into an effective and harmonious whole that makes it all presentable to my classroom audience.
Screencastify is my favorite
I give an example of the role Screencastify plays below, but first let’s take a look at the program itself. Screencastify is a free, yes FREE, screen capture or recording extension for Google Chrome. The very simple idea behind the program is that it records all visuals on the screen and from a camera device while also recording audio from the input of your choice. That’s it. That is all it does. Simple idea, right? The beauty of Screencastify lies in how it has been developed to be easy to install, easy to use, and so effective you miss the power the extension provides to the user.
As a Chrome extension, Screencastify integrates seamlessly with Chrome and allows it to function on computers and tablets running Chrome as well as the increasingly ubiquitous Chromebooks. What this means for me is that it works on the vast majority of devices with which I create instruction. Better yet, it installs on Chromebooks in less than two minutes and has become a powerful creation and presentation tool for students in my classes, both inside and outside of the classroom. Even when I was working from Chromebook labs that wiped each time a student logged off, my students could install Screencastify, create, and upload, all within class time, and have their creation available on their Google Drive or YouTube.
By recording audio and video directly from the installed device, my students can record and narrate slide or writing items they create. Students can use the built-in webcam to record themselves or others doing a demonstration, role play, or explanation. All of this is easy for the students because as long as they can get it on the screen and speak toward the microphone, they can create without a high technology barrier. They can also do some very basic cropping and annotating. Best of all, students can quickly upload with a single click to Google Drive or YouTube, or share their creations or presentations directly.
In sum, the two major advantages are that: (1) students can be introduced to and using Screencastify in under 5 minutes; and (2) regardless of what one attempts to put on screen or how many windows are open, Screencastify dutifully records all of it.
Multimodal means better communication
Now for the example. Just today I created a training for students and teachers about Gmail. In eight minutes, I explained the organization process of Gmail and how students can use labels and filters to manage their inbox effectively. I used my webcam to speak face-to-face with students, while demonstrating the process in Gmail. What I believe was more effective was the inclusion of my document camera alongside those items with a colored physical envelope and post-it notes to explain the process of adding, removing, and filtering with labels so those emails are organized and readily accessible to students. Screencastify allowed me communicate with intonation, visual gestures and body language, digital environment, and physical demonstration in an eight-minute primer for a schoolwide curriculum. Screencastify brought all of the elements of the orchestration together naturally, seamlessly, and without drawing attention to the programming behind the curtain.
Why I pay for a free program
As a final note, I do not use the free version, as it is limited to 10-minute recordings and a maxiumum of 50 recordings a month. And yes, the paid version removes the watermark and provides a few other options. However, the primary reason I pay the $30 yearly fee is that I simply want this program to stick around. The fact is that the beauty of the program is encapsulated in the free version…it’s just so simple.