Month: February 2013

Screencasting (Proof of Concept)

Inspired by the awesome ways in which Andy Rundquist has been using screencasts with his students (here, here and here), I decided to try to adopt this technique with my small class of six AP Physics students this year. I’ve always likened grading to a strange form of archeology, one in which the teacher works to unearth understanding from the artifact of student learning that is a written assessment. Too many times, students have come to me with a marked up paper and said “But I really meant….” or I see a final numerical answer that is correct and it is built on incorrect physics concepts. Instead of relying on only the written work, screencasts require the student to present their written work and narrate their solution. You might think of it as an¬†asynchronous oral exam.

I’d decided to pilot this now as our school is transitioning to a 1-to-1 laptop program. In another two years, all of my students will have this technology available daily and I want to find meaningful ways to utilize it. For the first test run, I assigned a lab problem involving the Flying Pig (available from Science Kit & Boreal Labs).


In class, I set up the flying pig, timed it as it made 10 revolutions and then put the stopwatch in my pocket. Given a meterstick, the students made measurements of the pig and it’s motion. For their first screencast, the students had to determine what the reading on the stopwatch was. The students signed up for Jing accounts and executed the assignment without any real trouble. They reported that the act of talking to themselves was awkward and that their nervousness caused them to spend time practicing the presentation, so that overall the assignment likely added about 10-15 minutes of extra work.

We had our second run at these two weeks ago. After introducing the dynamics of simple harmonic motion, I assigned a pretty standard AP problem (Knight, Chapter 14, #49) that involves a box attached to a horizontal spring on a frictionless surface. A second box rests on top and the students need to find the coefficient of static friction between the boxes that is required to keep the top block from slipping off as the system oscillates. This time, I specifically asked the girls to send me only the link to their screencast via email. The results were again great. This time, they were less nervous and had navigated the setup of Jing, so the screencast took less time and the narration sounded more confident. In both cases, I was able to pick up on some misconceptions including ones that might not have come across only in written work.

For the second run, I also made screencasts providing feedback for the work they did on their screencasts. As I listened to the student’s narration, I scribbled down notes, sometimes including timestamps, and then simply checked these off as I recorded feedback. The process of “grading” these screencasts was quick and easy, but I ran into some snags with the workflow involved in sharing the feedback-casts with the students. As it stands now, my workflow looks like this:

  • Receive link to screencast from student by email.
  • Watch their screencast, making notes as I listen.
  • Open Jing, record feedback with their original screencast open in the background.
  • Upload the feedback-cast to my account.
  • Get the link for that cast.
  • Reply to the original email with the link to feedback.

The process felt cumbersome as I worked through the class, so I’m looking for ways to make it more efficient. The shuffling of emails back and forth will have to go, as that is not scalable if I want to expand this next year to include more of my classes. Downloading the .swf files to my computer only to upload them to a Dropbox or Haiku (our LMS) leads to folders of files that I’d like to avoid. However, I may decide on a folder for each student that is on a shared drive or available via Google Drive. As the year progresses, the student and I could build a “set” of screencasts for each assignment – her original and my feedback which she could refer to throughout the year or even use in a digital portfolio.

The other thing I’m trying to figure out is how to implement these in class. Right now, I’m thinking about a screencast per week involving a challenging homework problem, perhaps randomly selected from that week’s homework. The problem would correspond to a learning objective and be scored. Of course, this starts to bring up the possibility of students working together outside of class, so I still need to sort that out. I’ll see if I can post an example of student work and my feedback soon.