Ever wanted to make a quick tutorial demonstrating how to do something on a computer for your students or a friend? You could create a screencast, but if you are like me, you would want it perfect which means investing a lot of time making it. There is a simpler way.
Clarify by Blue Mango Learning Systems allows you to capture computer screenshots and annotate them. Although there are any number of apps that allow you to make screen shots including utilities already built into your computer’s operating system, the beauty of Clarify is that you can combine your screenshots with how-to instructions and even non-screenshot images to create step-by-step tutorials. The program is easy to use allowing you to quickly create your tutorial document which can be exported as an attractive PDF; copied into Word, Evernote or other applications as RTF; or converted to HTML via upload to clarify-it.com. Clarify is available for both Windows and OS X for $29.99 or $39.99 for a cross-platform license. For Mac users, Clarify is available from the Mac App Store. However, there will soon be a new, major upgrade version (Clarify 2), and if you buy from the App Store, you will need to repurchase when it becomes available. By purchasing from Blue Mango directly, you will be eligible to get the upgraded version. Clarify 2 is now in public beta and has some really great new features.
Want to give Clarify a try? You can download a free 14-day trial at Clarify-it.com.
PowerPoint gets a lot of negative criticism because so often presentations (and class lectures) using it are filled with slides crammed with words, tables full of hard to read data and mind numbing lists of bullet points….but is that a fault of PowerPoint or the way in which so many people use it?
I had the opportunity to attend a full day workshop on Keynote 6 (an Apple product) presented by Les Posen of Melbourne, Australia at MacWorld/iWorld last month. I have to say that Les is truly a presentation magician, and I was really sorry when it was time for the workshop to end! Although I own Keynote, I had never played around with it. I have always been a PowerPoint user. It is true that there is a lot of really cool stuff that you can do in Keynote that you can’t really do in PowerPoint, but there are a lot of things you can do with PowerPoint to make engaging presentations. Although Les showed us a lot of interesting things we could do with Keynote, the main content of the workshop was the psychology of presentations (Les is a psychologist) and how to design presentations to engage the audience. First on the list is to get rid of slides filled with words, which is something I already try to do. Some of the worst slides I have ever seen for engaging an audience are the stock presentation slides that come with chemistry text books often comprised of entire pages of paragraph length bullet points. Who designs these things? Have they ever actually looked at them on a screen?
My thoughts are that rather than blaming the software (although there are lots of areas in which PowerPoint could be improved), perhaps we need to change how we think about what we put into a presentation and how we can make it more engaging for our audiences.
There are a number of tricks that you can do to bring animation to slides with static drawings or to make data on tables, graphs or charts more visually appealing with trends easy to see. Since I use PowerPoint as the screencast base for the recorded lecture videos I use in my flipped classes, I have had to come up with a number of techniques to allow me to animate objects on slides that you can’t animate directly. I will post some of the things I do as I find time.
If you are interested in learning more about how to make great presentations, I would suggest that you check out Les Posen’s blog, “Presentation Magic – The Art, Science and Magic of Presenting“. Although Les is a died-in-the-wool Keynote man, his tenets apply to any tool you might want to use to prepare presentations.
We are all aware that the “millenials” (today’s 18-25 year old college students) are more plugged into technology than students of the past. They are more apt to get their news from the internet than a newspaper or TV, communicate with friends and family by texting and are constantly plugged into social media. The bottom line is that they respond differently to content presentation than past generations. They do seem to respond less well to being passive vessels absorbing course content via lecture…. I wonder if passive learning has really ever been such a good idea …..
“I hear and I forget. I see and I remember. I do and I understand” is a quote attributed to Confucius that shapes many of my approaches to education. As much as possible, I try to incorporate “doing” into my instructional methods either by having students actively interacting with the course material during class time or by using Project-Based Learning (PBL) approaches where students become responsible for their own learning through the in depth research needed to produce a product that will be used to inform classmates and/or the public instead of assignments only viewed by an instructor. I have experimented with PBL-style instruction in classes for non-science students as well as those for chemistry majors and graduate level in-service teachers. Since most of the projects have involved student use of technology, they also fit into the scope of this blog.
For the last couple of years, I have delivered my organic chemistry class in the “flipped” mode. Students watch short video lectures outside class rather than hour-long in-class lectures. During the class period students actively review the material and solve problems using student response devices (“clickers”).
In some other courses, this online video technique is combined with a PBL approach (which also allows students to use writing skills within a scientific context). My environmental chemistry course was one of the University’s online offerings this year. Video presentations of materials was combined with current interest, online discussions and a project in which each student was to present a current topic to the members of the class. This was done by each student producing a “podcast” in the vein of the “How Stuff Works” podcasts. My energy resources class uses video lectures coupled with a major class project, the writing of an electronic textbook while teams of students in my liberal arts core general science class for those in the University’s Honors Program produce video documentaries that are publicly screened.
Flipping your class and facilitating student projects is quite labor intensive, but I am very satisfied with the fruits of my labor and can’t imagine reverting to a lecture-centric approach. I will write future posts with more details about the technology used in creating online video materials and by students in their projects.