Friday, July 15, 2011

Screencasting 101: "To be or not to be?"

I've been screen-casting and smart-boarding in various mathematics and computer science classes for over 5 years now. So, I thought it would be beneficial to some of you who haven't had that much experience with all this technology if I were to summarize some of what I've learned though out all my trials and tribulations!

(1) To Smarttech or not to Smarttech?
There are alternatives after all! Many teachers swear by their Promethean or Interwrite products. Even 3Comm has an interactive whiteboard based on infrared pens! I did all my so called smart boarding for the longest time without any Smarttech products at all! I use all Smarttech now as my High School finally upgraded all our classrooms. If I had my druthers, I'd use a Tablet PC such as the Lenovo X201T connected remotely to another PC with a PC Projector via RDP. So, "To Smarttech or not to Smarttech?" Not!

(2) To Smartboard or not to Smartboard?
Again, there are other options here. When I started out smart-boarding for my students, I used a Wacom Graphire 6x8 Bluetooth remote mouse. I call it a remote mouse rather than a tablet as its not like today's tablets. The Graphire was a great solution that would take over the function of your mouse from anywhere in the room typically used by graphic artists to make freehand illustrations. The one drawback was that you could not see what was written on the tablet itself. It had a magnetic sensitive 6" x 8" (capacitive not resistive) writing surface and a magnetic pen. So, I had to crane my neck to see what I wrote on the PC Projection Screen way across the room! One good thing about this setup was that all you needed was a PC Projector, no Smart Board need apply! Also, I could hover the pen over the writing surface moving the mouse pointer around on the screen without writing anything so I could use the mouse pointer as if it were a laser pointer! So, "To Smartboard or not to Smartboard?" Not!

(3) To Smart Notebook or not to Smart Notebook?
I've used other pen apps in the past as well. For example, I used to use Xournal all the time. Since my school recently upgraded every classroom to Smarttech, I've been using Smart Notebook a lot. However, I just use Smart Notebook to record what I write in class as a pdf. I even installed Smart Notebook in Linux to record my Computer Science notes! However, I do not use Smart Notebook to prepare lessons ahead of time. I refuse to waste hours of prep time using all the bells and whistles in Smart Notebook to make every class into a PowerPoint presentation! Anyway, most of the Smart Notebook features seem to me to be designed more for Elementary School or Junior High, not High School or College. So, "To Smart Notebook or not to Smart Notebook?" Not!

(4) To Smart Record or not to Smart Record?
Whenever I am teaching a new topic, I also record my desktop as a video, usually in *.mp4 format, for students to review as needed. All I add to the mix is a wireless 75Mhz Lapel Mic (from Radio Shack) to record all I say as I write. I love as it encodes videos very quickly. Also, if you don't have time to encode right away, screencast-o-matic stores a cookie on your PC that points to a temporary file stored on their website that you can encode later. The only drawback to screencast-o-matic is that you need an internet connection the entire time you are recording. Also, you are limited to 1 hour and that's if you subscribe as a "Power User" for $12 per year. If you want to record offline, there's other solutions. In Smart Notebook for Windows, you can use Smart Recorder which records as lomg as you want. This application encodes quickly if you use the *.avi format, but these files tend to be huge! You can set Smart Recorder to encode *.mp4 files which are smaller but take a long time to encode! In Linux many users like RecordMyDesktop as it has a nice GUI. I have had better results with ffmpeg, however. So, "To Smart Record or not to Smart Record?" Not!

(5) To GC or not to GC?
I am convince that using TI-81s, 82s, 83s, 84s, 85s, 86s, 89s and 92s constantly for the last 20 years or so has contributed to my needing reading glasses! So, I never use an actual hand-held Graphing Calculator, I use an emulator such as VTI on my SmartBoard or a Computer Algebra System such as So, "To GC or not to GC?" Not!

(6) To Windows or not to Windows?
As you know, "I don't do Windows, and neither does my Maid!" So, most of the hardware and software solutions I recommend above work well in Windows and Linux! I use a Smart Board or Tablet with Smart Notebook or Xournal and Screencast-o-matic or ffmpeg in Linux: 
ffmpeg -f alsa -ac 2 -i pulse -f x11grab -r 30 -s 800x600 -i :0.0 test.mpg 
I find that the 32bit Ubuntu Desktop 10.04 LTS works quite well and is easily customizable to accommodate all the above! So, "To Windows or not to Windows?" Not!

(7) To Tablet or not to Tablet?
I've used a Smart Airliner Slate for years now. Its really a relabeled Wacom Graphire 6x8 Tablet that's more commonly used by artists to make sketches on a computer. It has a magnetic pen and a capacitive surface but you can't see what you write on it directly. You need to look at the remote desktop connected via Bluetooth or a PC Projection. I've used this setup instead of a SmartBoard for my ScreenCasts. I now have a SmartBoard, so I only use it on the road at conferences or at the local college. The picture above is of a Tablet PC from Lenovo model X220T. It converts to a regular ThinkPad laptop and back to a Tablet PC in a flash. If I had my way, I'd be using this device instead of the Airliner or the SmartBoard! Take a look at this rock-solid update to the X201T,

So, it seems that I've come down on the side of "Not!" for all of the above, but that's really just my personal preference! Perhaps, now you have some food for thought?

I hope you found all these screen-casting tips useful! What do ya think? 
Teaching with Technology, 

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