Posted by Paul Hill on January 20, 2011 in CPD, e-learning, Web2.0

voicethread logo

Educational gold dust

Voicethread is a tool for collecting and sharing group conversations online. It enables you to upload images, documents and videos and allows your students to comment on them using text, recorded audio or even video (via a webcam). Students can even annotate a diagram or picture to help them communicate their ideas.

There are a number of blogs and wikis that provide detailed reviews, instructions and reflections on the use of voicethread, so what I aim to do here is to provide a summary and an opportunity to share our ideas.

Here’s a step-by-step guide to help you set up and use voicethread with your students.

Now let’s share some ideas about how we could use voicethread with our students. Please add your ideas about how each exemplar slide or video may be used to promote learning.

Thanks to Nick Varney for developing the helpfile and contributing to the ideas for reflecting on the uses of voicethread.

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Social Media for Teacher CPD

Posted by Paul Hill on August 27, 2010 in PLN, Twitter

Finally I have the time to complete the story of how social media tools can help teachers with their career and professional development.

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Twitter for Teachers – a professional development tool

Posted by Paul Hill on June 16, 2010 in CPD, elearning, PLN, Twitter, Web2.0

Twitter is one of the most powerful social media tools to help teachers with their professional development. The video below explains why.

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Creating your first Podcast

Posted by Paul Hill on May 19, 2010 in audio, e-learning, Podcast

Technology has made the recording, editing and distribution of audio easier and more accessible. Free tools such as Audacity allow anyone with a computer and a microphone to record and edit audio. A number of VLEs also allow students and teachers to record audio directly onto their VLE.

The potential for the use of audio (Podcasts) in teaching and learning has extended beyond their traditional use in MFL and Music.

Use of audio by teachers
Teachers can use audio for a number educational aims. Here are some guidelines to help make your Audio Podcasts more effective.

  • Avoid including complex and content–dense material that includes lots of facts and figures
  • Keep the focus of an audio recording narrow – don’t try to communicate too much material in a single recording. Identify the important concepts and develop a recordings that addresses these
  • Recordings of classroom exposition often come across overly formal and stilted and important visuals are excluded
  • Use of audio by students
    Enabling pupils to record and share audio recording opens up new ways learning and communicating. Using audio may:

  • remove barriers from pupils who struggle with their written skills
  • provides variety in the work that you ask them to do
  • Improve oracy skills
  • How to record high-quality audio
    To record high quality audio you will need to use specialised audio software, such as ‘Audacity’ which can be downloaded for free. This will allow you to edit your audio recordings and enhance the sound quality post-recording.

    Top ten tips for recording high quality audio
    1. Place your microphone in the right position – Too close and you get a distorted sound; too far and you pick up ambient noise. Set the microphone 6-12 inches from the narrator.
    2. Record a demo to make sure it all sounds right – Listen to the audio playback with headphones rather than with speakers – headphones help isolate the audio.
    3. Make sure your script is conversational and easy to read – Practice reading it a few times to make sure it flows right.
    4. Stand up while recording – You’ll feel more energized and be able to breathe better.  If you do sit, don’t slouch.  Sit up straight and keep your chin out.
    5. Don’t ad-lib – Stick to the script and don’t ad-lib.  Odds are that you’ll have to do multiple takes.  If you ad-lib, you’ll rarely have the same break points for editing.
    6. Have plenty of liquids available – Keep your vocal chords hydrated with clear liquids
    7. Get rid of the plosives – sounds that create the “popping p’s.”  Speak over the mic rather into it or make your own mic shield
    8. Record 10 seconds of silence – By recording some silence, you have a way to sample just the ambient noise and use a noise removal process to filter it out. 
    9. Relax and don’t rush your words – Practice reading the script.  Create a conversational tone.  Pretend like you’re talking to someone rather than just reading a script.  If you mess up, leave a noticeable pause and keep on going.
    10. Mark your retakes – If you do multiple takes or start and stop, leave some sort of marker.  A good simple way to do this is to leave about 5 seconds of silence (so that it’s easy to find when you look at the wave form) and then indicate what it is, like “slide four, take two…”.

    Enhancing your audio Podcasts
    Using background music throughout your audio Podcast, and particularly at the beginning and end of the Podcast can make it sound more professional and engaging. However, there are real copyright issues relating to the use of commercially available music. The good news is that there are a number of web sites that offer royalty-free music that you can use in your Podcast under a creative commons license. Amit Agarwal has written an excellent blog post ‘Download Podsafe Music in MP3 format for Podcasts‘ with a list of these sites.

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    Pencasts – on demand

    Posted by Paul Hill on May 13, 2010 in e-learning, pencast

    “We want worked examples of difficult exam questions”

    This was the response many of my students gave when I asked them what they wanted from our VLE next year. These students have been using our VLE extensively; accessing web pages, animations, quizzes and simulation for EVERY topic in our AS Chemistry course! It had taken us two years to develop this content and we only had two months until the start of the A2 course – so it was time to cherry pick and come up with new ideas.

    It was clear how ‘worked examples’ could help them, since there was sound pedagogical theory to support this approach.

    While studying a worked example working memory is …free for learning!”, Clarck & Mayer, 2007)

    Using the VLE to give them more opportunities to access ‘worked examples’ seemed like a good use of technology (even if it was replication of classroom practice and not necessarily innovative e-learning).

    So, how to do this? Simply recording a teacher scribbling on a whiteboard often fails although there are some good examples.

    To address the problems of not being able to experience the exposition from the teacher and see the text clearly I have previously used a ‘picture in picture (PiP)’ videos. Below is an example, where I recorded a colleague explaining some calculations steps and showed the workings using PowerPoint making it easy to read.

    Get the Flash Player to see this content.

    But this took me 6 hours to prepare, record and edit and I need to see my kids!

    I needed something that was quick to develop and would allow me to capture both the sequence of steps involved and the rational for carrying out each step. The solution – a ‘Pencast’: recording your scribbles in synch with audio.

    There are a couple of technologies available to do this:

  • a Tablet PC with software like LectureScribe
  • a Smartpen (e.g. Livescribe Pulse or Logitech io 2)
  • I tried a tablet PC and a pen tablet but found that they didn’t give sufficient precision for recording detailed writing. So I chose the Livescribe Pulse Smartpen. This is a pen containing a high quality microphone and a minature camera that records your scribes made on special dotted paper. The software with this pen allows you to download your ‘Pencast’ from your pen to your PC using Livescibe desktop. The ‘pencast’ can be shared and embedded on web pages using Livescribe’s hosting service. Livescribe provide up to 250Mb of “free” space (when you buy a pen), with a 13 minute Pencast using about 88Kb. Following a couple of test runs I found the precision with which the writing / drawing is recorded was impressive and the quality of the audio recording was surprisingly good!

    The next challenge was how to use this Smartpen to ‘Pencast’ a worked example. There are a number of great examples of where people have done this effectively – Tim Fahlberg produced the following video which he called a Mathcast.

    The issue I had (and still have) was that I wanted to show how we extract information from a complex exam question, like the one shown below. The ability to do this was key to the effectiveness of this technique!

    Unfortunately, the only way to get this information onto the Pencast was to hand write the question onto the special dotted Livescribe paper – disappointing! In order to distinguish between the question and the answer it is possible to make the text different colours. To do this you need to write (the question in this case) on the paper without recording any sound and then write the answer whilst recording sound. To make the distinction between question and answer easier I asked one of my colleagues to write the question in their hand-writing (which is unfortunately much neater than mine!).

    A couple of lessons learned before I show you my first Pencast…

  • The ‘pause’ button only pauses the audio recording, the Pencast continues. I’d hope to pause at several points, to allow myself to collect my thought a key points. I ended up with lots of playback with nothing happening. The upshot is that you have to record your Pencast in one take – not easy when you’ve got a 13 minute complicated exposition to do!
  • The Smart Pen does not pick up the writing / drawing unless you press quite hard on the paper!
  • With this type of Pencast it takes practice to show to the viewer where you want them to focus – leave yourself room for ‘underlining’ and ‘ringing’ and make several underlines or rings to allow the user’s eye time to catch up with you.
  • So, here my first attempt at a Pencast, embedded from the Livescribe site:

    In case you didn’t notice, there is a great feature when playing back the Pencast that enables you show everything up front, or see the scribbles that are going to be made (in grey) or hide these completely.

    Even better, if you keep the future scribbles visible (grey) you can navigate the Pencast by clicking on different parts of the Pencast to rewind / fast forward the Pencast to the part where that writing / drawing was made. That’s in addition to using the progress bar at the bottom – give it a try!

    Unfortunately you cannot edit your Pencast using the Livescribe application. If you want to edit your Pencast you will need to play it back and record your screen using software or a site like Screenr.

    So that’s it, Pencasting…not in Wikipedia yet; I wonder how long that will take?

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    The Power and Point of using Prezi in the classroom

    Posted by Paul Hill on May 4, 2010 in e-learning, elearning, Prezi

    For my first post I am going to write very little…and let Prezi do the talking…

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