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Using screencasting to explain a concept / revise

This is the 3rd entry in a series on ‘putting the fun back into fundamental learning’.

I have become a huge fan of screencasting, especially since I discovered screenr – a free web based tool, that is really easy to use for this purpose. I often use screencasts as a way of producing ‘how to videos’ as part of my work. In a previous post on this blog, I highlighted how this idea could easily be used to create revision aids. Which either the tutor could create for the learners, or the learners could create themselves (and then share with their peers?)

Another slight twist on this would be to challenge the learners to create a concise screencast (which if you use screenr limits you to 5 minutes) that explains a concept succinctly and accurately to other people. Maybe setting a series of criteria against which the screencasts will be judged, and offering a prize for the best one (out comes my trusty air guitar that I keep giving away). Criteria could be things like accuracy of information, artistic merit, communication skills used, etc.

If you had students working in small groups where they had to plan what they were going to do, how they were going to do it, who was going to talk etc. then you have a really good activity, covering lots of Personal Learning and Thinking Skills, as well as some Functional Skills. You may need to think about where the learners actually do their recording, as doesn’t work having lots of people in the same room, but if you have access to another small room nearby which once prepared the learner(s) can sneak into to do their recording then brilliant.

If you don’t want to use screenr, which is web based and therefore needs accounts etc, then the free camstudio, would be an option – this can either be installed onto the computer or run from a USB memory stick (and is part of the eduapps suite). This will allow you to create more than 5 minutes of recording, and keeps the output off the internet (unless you share it later) so some may prefer the extra ‘safety’ of this method, but it is more fickle to set up and get the audio settings right etc. Or you can use screenr, but in a way that you keep the end products private, as shown in this screencast.

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Changing the menu items on AccessApps

Anyone that follows my work, or this blog will be aware that I have been a big fan of AccessApps – the suite of free software that you can download from http://www.eduapps.org and put onto a memory stick, and then give to learners and staff. Something that a lot of people don’t realise is that you can actually edit the appearance of AccessApps, so it is possible to rename programs, hide ones that aren’t likely to be needed, and change the arrangement of the menu structure.

For some learners, there may be only 2 or 3 items on AccessApps that they need, and these could be made more obvious (and the others hidden if necessary) to make it easy for them to find them, as with the full range of options in AccessApps the software itself could present barriers.

Another thing that people often don’t realise is that it is possible to add other software packages to the sticks, so for example if you are giving staff the sticks, and your organisation uses SmartBoards – then you can download version 9.1 of the SmartBoard software that runs off a USB stick, and you could then add this to AccessApps so that it appears in the menu.

I worked on a project recently, where we gave the learners a copy of AccessApps, although we created our own version (by using the MyApps option on the eduapps website) to remove some of the software that we thought that they may not need. We then renamed some of the items (e.g. we renamed RapidSet – to ‘Changing background and font colours’ as this made more sense. We also changed the names of the items within OpenOffice to ‘Wordprocessing, Spreadsheet, PowerPoint alternative’ etc. as this made more sense to the learners.

I have created a short screencast to show how it is possible to add software to the sticks, and then a brief description of how to format the menus.

When you start looking at the folders that come within AccessApps, you will realise that you could create your own ‘launch page’ using Word, PowerPoint, Excel or similar. All you need to do is create the file and save it to the memory stick, then add the names of items that you want to link to, and then hyperlink to the .exe file for each piece of software in turn. With this the learner would open this file to access their software, rather than launching the application (which puts the little blue capital letter in bottom right corner of screen) – the beauty of this is it is then very easy to make the menu much larger, in different colours, or even be based on images rather than text.

Access Apps – CommonCraft style

Access Apps appeared on the scene about a year ago, and I hav used it in may training sessions since then, and think it is a superb tool. The people that developed this (The 2 Scottish RSCs) have put togther a video in the style of CommonCraft videos, explaining the principles of this software.

The suite of software has now been expanded to include LearnerApps (for mainstream learners), TeachApps for teaching and support staff and an option to create your own package called MyApps. These different suites are now packaged as Eduapps