Instructor presence, though it can be defined more technically, is a perception that the instructor is there and available to the student during a class. Lately, in addition to my weekly summaries and guidance in the discussion forums, plus announcements and messages with individual students, I’ve also been using two other elements: an introductory video at the beginning of class, and a Voki introduction to each week.
Here’s the introductory video for this coming summer:
Here’s video on how I create my weekly Voki:
While both are clearly presentations rather than interactivity, I think the spontaneity is important in encouraging students to see me as a real person at the “other end” of the class. That’s why I prefer cheap and easy methods like these (webcam and iMovie for the video, free Voki for the animation) rather than more “professional” means.
Next semester I am completely textbook-free, having dropped even the historical atlas so I can do other cool things with my new Honors class. My Western Civ text is a compilation of my online lectures, which I’m editing over break. Everything else is Wikipedia “context reading” and my extensive online written lectures. All else is student discovery, posting, interaction, practice, etc.
In the meantime, I receive emails from the bookstore demanding my book orders. The assumption is that I must order books. Also in my email is notification of a subcommittee meeting on campus about affordable textbooks and what to do about those high prices.
Is the textbook era over? No. If I loved a book, if I used every page, if I followed a textbook slavishly in my class, I’d order that book.
What’s over is the era of the half-assed textbook adoption. The classes where the prof has students buy a whole hardback textbook but only use half of it, or only assigns a few chapters, or has students read “selections” from it. We can’t, in good conscience, do that when textbooks are so expensive and bookstores just can’t find that previous edition, or sell it used at exorbinant prices.
I didn’t intentionally dump them all, you know. I looked carefully for a book, as I noted in last month’s post.
But this semester I used a new book in my early Western Civ, an on-site class. It has good sources and its own methodology, which corresponded with mine — collecting primary sources and analyzing them together instead of engaging in narrative. (Narrative, I’ve decided, is Wikipedia’s job, or mine if I have a particularly good story to tell.) And we used this book, and they did homework from it, and they mined it for documents on open-book quizzes.
But I wasn’t really into the book. I didn’t love it, I didn’t quote it, and we only examined its contents intensively in class a few times. So why did they have to pay $80+ for it? Not good enough.
So go ahead and adopt that textbook. But do it wholeheartedly, because it’s the basis of your class. Because it fits so well with your pedagogy you smile when you open it. Because you know that $150 for the new edition is totally worth it, since it gives your students such an excellent educational experience.
This post has too much embedded media, so you might have to reload the page — just experimenting!
In an effort to increase my presence in the class and personalize my lectures so they don’t seem like a textbook, I recorded short talking-head videos for each lecture in History 111. This took me one full day. My process was:
Opened iMovie and recorded each video, talking while I looked at a printout of each lecture to make sure I covered everything.
Exported as .mov with H264 video and AAC audio (high quality and YouTube’s preferred format).
Uploaded to YouTube.
I had access to captioning services through a grant at MiraCosta, so I re-exported the audio only from each .mov and sent them in to be captioned. BUT if I hadn’t had this service I would have used the captions YouTube creates (they appear in a few hours), downloaded them, edited them, then uploaded again. I didn’t put it in the video, but disabling the Machine Transcription can make sure it plays your version.
Uploading a prepared caption transcript
Using YouTube’s captioning and editing it
Then I used the YouTube embed code to put these in my lectures.
And here they are:
Incorporation & Immigration
Silver & Empire
The Great War
The Great Depression
World War II
The Cold War
War & Activism
Inclusion & Exclusion
For the record, yes, I have problems seeing myself on film (much less so many photos of me in this post), but over time I’ve just gotten used to it. We once titled a workshop on making talking-head video “Get Over Yourself”, and that’s what I’ve done.
Edupirate Pete likes to share clips from motion pictures as examples in his US history class. YouTube doesn’t always have the exact clips he wants, so he rips them off DVDs using MactheRipper or Handbrake, selects the scenes using an old copy of Cinematize then uploads them to YouTube.
He wants to caption them to make them easier for all students to understand (yes, you may call it legal accessibility or Section 508, but Pete calls it universal design). Luckily, YouTube will try to machine caption for you. Sometimes.
And when it does the results are always interesting. Here’s a scene from The Seven Year Itch.
Pete downloads YouTube’s caption file, cleans it up, then uploads it again, and it works great. Then he embeds the clip in his webpage (or in Blackboard to hide it from prying eyes) and there is the clip, with captions.
But sometimes Goo-Tube figures out it’s a copyrighted motion picture. Interestingly, this happens to more obscure films. But recently, their way of dealing with this has to been forbid embedding and add advertising to any clips it decides contain copyrighted content.
This is unacceptable to Edupirate Pete. So he uploads his clip to Blip.tv or Vimeo instead, but they don’t have machine transcription. Since he’s already uploaded to YouTube anyway, he downloads the caption file, and cleans it up. Then he pastes the clean text into this free converter, which converts YouTube’s .sbv captions file to the .srt format everyone else uses. He opens the URL of his Blip.tv or Vimeo movie clip into Overstream.com, then pastes in the .srt format he got from the converter, and it creates a very nice overlay of captions onto the original file, and gives him the embed code.
Here’s a clip from Invasion of the Body Snatchers, which Goo-Tube decided was a copyright problem although The Seven Year Itch was not.
For extra credit in my online classes, I usually have students make a slideshow detailing a historical theme they’ve created.
Don’t tell, shhhhh, but: I despise slideshows. They take too long to grade, because they are hard to skim. Worse than audio.
All on one page, that’s my ticket.
So students in my 8-week summer Western Civ class asked for some extra credit, and one mentioned a poster (he also mentioned slideshow, but I’m ignoring that). So I went to Glogster, which I’ve never used for any sort of assignment, and created one as an example.
Then came the embed horror. Since speed is my goal, I want these suckers embedded firmly in a simple forum post, so they’re all one one screen and can be marked easily with a ratings drop-down.
Well, Glogster’s embed code sucks, and Moodle’s forum helpfully strips it to completely useless. And if you used Glogster’s “embed this poster” embed code instead (which is iframes-based), Moodle’s forum strips it all. So I tried to include special instructions as part of the extra credit assignment itself:
Then I looked at my cleverly embeded poster, and it wasn’t there. My own Firefox said I needed a plugin, but my Shockwave Flash is up to date. I looked and Safari sees the embed just fine. Naturally, I was contacted by a student almost instantly saying they couldn’t see the sample poster. I worked on it all morning, and finally had to use this Moodle hack, which creates a database. Took about a dozen tries but now students should be able to do this:
I am planning my first class without a textbook, which starts June 6. And I have just gone over my online lectures and finally added my Creative Commons license to them all (I hadn’t done the Western Civ or History of England, though it’s been on my To Do list for two years).
As I added these licenses to each lecture, I began to realize what a huge resource I’ve written (and recorded – they are all audio recorded and downloadable, which makes them hard to change).
Textbooks are also hard to change. People say, “you should write a textbook”. I say, “oh, no, I’ve already written all these lectures…”
All these screens, and so much of it is factual information combined with my interpretation. It’s a secondary source. It’s a textbook. All these lectures. I’ve written textbooks.
When I wrote these “lectures”, the audio feature was very trendy. Now a “lecture” means something different: a video on YouTube with a talking head, a screencast, or a Slideshare Slidecast (I’ve got lots of these too, from my on-site Western Civ).
This summer, I am getting rid of the textbook, so they can focus on my lectures for the information, then work on primary sources and constructing theses. So, I’ve already begun to turn the lectures into the textbook, just by shifting the weight.
If I go all the way, my lectures for every class could become the new textbook. So I could create new lectures that do what historians do. Not present factual information, but interpret, connect to the trends of today, bring up an issue in detail, or present some new research.
New pedagogy. The kind of stuff that keeps me going.