Posts Tagged ‘Screencasts’

Doceri vs. Explain Everything

September 4, 2014

I create a lot of screencasts for my classes. I have evolved to mainly using screencasts to provide solutions to quick questions, of which I have roughly 400 this semester. Because of this, I can save a lot of time if I can import my PDF file of quiz questions to my screencasting software so that I do not need to re-write the questions.

It is not convenient for me to create videos at work. I have a Linux box in my office, but it is a bit unreliable for screencasting, and I do not have complete control over it to make it reliable. For instance, I had screencasting in my office figured out a year ago, but now my Wacom Bamboo tablet has stopped working. I do not have the permissions (I don’t think) to fix this, since we have a central Linux administrator (I also don’t immediately have the know-how to fix this tablet issue, although I think I could figure it out).

Another alternative is to use a Windows machine elsewhere on campus, but I don’t really like leaving my office.

Instead, I decided to start screencasting from my iPad at home after my family has gone to sleep. This has a number of advantages: there is comfortable furniture, I can see what I am writing on the iPad (as opposed to the Bamboo tablet), and there are tasty snacks.

The main issue me was deciding which screencasting app to use. I have toyed around with Doceri previously because it is free, but I was concerned that it did not support importing PDF files. I had heard great things about Explain Everything—it supports but I was wary of committing to a $2.99 price tag. I am merely a consumer of both Doceri and Explain Everything; neither company has paid me anything to write this post.

Because I have 400 videos to make, I decided that importing my PDF quiz file was important enough to spend $2.99. The file imported well, and I was able to create a couple of screencasts.

But the problem came in when I started uploading the files to YouTube. It was taking Explain Everything roughly 10 minutes to upload a two minute video. Because I have 400-some videos to create, it is simply unacceptable to spend 500% of the time I spend creating the video in uploading the video.

So I went back to Doceri. It turns out that there is a very easy work-around for import PDF files in my situation. I can open my PDF quiz file in Dropbox, take screenshots (press and hold the power button, then press the home button) of the questions I want to do, and then I can import the screenshots easily into Doceri from my Pictures app.

The great part: Doceri takes about 10 seconds—rather than 10 minutes— to upload a two minute video. This has worked extremely well—I was able to create 35 videos in two hours last night (as opposed to the roughly eight videos I would have been able to create with Explain Everything).

I was so happy with Doceri that I paid them $4.99 to remove the watermarking on my screencasts.

[Edit: Andrew Stacy and Dale Buske reminded me that I meant to write about the Explain Everything Compressor. This is a $15 app for a Mac (not the iPad) that does the compressing for you so that you can continue to make screencasts on the iPad while the Mac compresses. I was very close to purchasing it, when I decided to give Doceri another chance (Robert Campbell was very encouraging here). The bottom line: I get to save $15 and avoid having to use two machines by going with Doceri. Additionally, I found some reviews saying the compressor was mediocre, and I didn’t want to spend $15 on something that doesn’t work well.]

I hadn’t read anything about this being an issue with Explain Everything; I imagine that it might be because Explain Everything has greater editing capabilities, so it stores more information. But this is not a feature creating quick and dirty screencasts.


Again, a new IBL-Peer Instruction Hybrid Model

December 24, 2013

I am continuing to try to figure out a way to effectively use both IBL and Peer Instruction (“clickers”) in my classes.

First, my main constraint: my favorite grading scheme requires students to be given many chances to get questions correct. Ideally, this means that we would finish with new content for the course 1/2 to 2/3 of the way through the semester.

Here is the approach I have been using up until now:

  1. First part of the semester: Students get the content from reading the textbook.
  2. First part of the semester: Students assimilate the content through Peer Instruction.
  3. Second part of the semester: Students do something that resembles (but isn’t actually) IBL.
  4. Second part of semester: Assess the students a lot.

Below is the same model I discussed last summer for my abstract algebra class. That abstract algebra class was closed due to low enrollment, and I was assigned linear algebra instead. I am keeping the same model, although I have a lot more exercises/theorems/conjectures in my linear algebra notes than I do for my abstract algebra notes.

Here is the new approach:

  1. Mondays and Fridays during first part of the semester: Use IBL and student presentations to introduce the content.
  2. Wednesdays during first part of the semester: use Peer Instruction to review and solidify ideas learned on the previous Friday and Monday.
  3. Second part of the semester: We review the most difficult material through Peer Instruction and in-class practice.
  4. Second part of semester: Assess the students a lot.

Here is the main problem that I am facing: I have 312 exercises in my IBL notes; I basically wrote the notes that I wanted—including many examples to build intuition—and I am now trying to figure out how to shoehorn all of the content into 1/2 to 2/3 of a semester. This works out to an average of about 7 exercises per day if we did IBL work every day of the entire semester, 10 exercises per day if we did IBL work on Mondays and Fridays (and review on Wednesdays) every day of the semester, and 20 exercises per day if we did IBL work on Mondays and Fridays (and review on Wednesdays) every day for half the semester. So I want to see if I can do between 10 to 20 exercises per class IBL class period, which is too much to do without some modifications. Here are the options I can think of to make this happen:

  1. Cut some of the content. I don’t want to do this.
  2. Provide screencasts of some of the exercises. I want to do this anyway, since part of the goal of our linear algebra class is to introduce students to proofs, and I believe that it is very useful for students to see worked examples. But I don’t want to have to provide 10–15 screencasts each class period.
  3. Simply do not cover many of the intuition-building exercises in class; Dana Ernst suggested this to me yesterday, and I think that it is brilliant. There is not reason why I have to do everything in class. Perhaps I could just take questions on any intuition-building exercises after we do the main theorems; I could provide screencasts for some of these if we run out of time.
  4. Other ideas?

Right now, my plan is to have students present and thoroughly discuss roughly 5 problems per IBL day, I would do screencasts for roughly 5 problems per day, leaving roughly 10 intuition problems to leave for the students to do.

Do any of you have ideas about how to improve this?

Screencasting in Linux

December 10, 2013

I just got myself set up to do screencasting on my Linux machine. I use Fedora, and it was not too bad. I just want to record my set-up and recording process so that I don’t forget anything.

First, I would like to thank my Linux administrator for helping me (he is awesome), and I would like to thank Vincent Knight and Andrew Stacey for giving me the outline and encouraging me.

To set up, I had my linux administrator install recordMyDesktop (I tried to do this, but I either don’t have permission or I don’t know how to do it properly. Or maybe both). But initially, the video would freeze, creating a lag between my voice and the screen. I was able to fix this by using this solution.

But it all works now. Here is my process:

To record:

  1. Open gtk-recordmydesktop.
  2. Open MyPaint.
  3. Use my Wacom Bamboo tablet to write in MyPaint.
  4. Record the screencast with recordMyDesktop.
  5. This records in ogv format, which does not play well with YouTube. To convert to avi, I type the following into the command line: ffmpeg -i foo.ogv foo.avi

I welcome feedback on how to improve this process. In particular, I am not certain that .avi files are the best to upload to YouTube.

Video Quiz Solutions

November 30, 2012

I have been using standards-based grading for calculus I and calculus III this semester. In short, I quiz the students on questions from roughly 12 “topics.” These “topics” are the mechanical skills that students need to know to do calculus (e.g. “take derivatives,” “compute integrals,” “find tangent lines”). Each quiz question is tied to a topic, and labelled as such. Students need to get four questions correct on each topic by the end of the semester.

Dana Ernst made me realize that I can create video solutions for these. This has the dual effect of

  1. I can give the students more worked examples without taking up class time. Also, these worked examples are very relevant to the students, since they just thought about the problems.
  2. I can save time grading. I comment a lot less, since students can see how to do things correctly if they are just a little off (if the student completely misses the problem, I will still comment).

I post the solutions to my course management software (Moodle); I organize them by topic. So if a student has trouble finding tangent lines, they can simply go to that section of the Moodle page to see several worked examples in the same place.

What oral exams taught me

June 8, 2012

In my course for elementary education students, I once again gave oral exams—this time for the final exam. Here are two take-aways from the oral exams.

First, I need to do some peer instruction next time. In particular, students had a difficult time understanding the difference between the “whole” of a fraction and the “denominator” of a fraction (Consider “\frac{1}{2} of a mouse” and “\frac{1}{2} of an elephant.” Both have a denominator of “2,” but the whole of the first is “mouse” and the whole of the second is “elephant.” This leads to different meanings. I think that three clicker questions would eliminate this.

Second, I was shocked at how ineffective my lectures were. The oral exam questions (which they also had to create screencasts for) were ones that were previous done in class (for example: why does inverting and multiplying give the correct answer to a division problem?). The process was this: students would figure out why the algorithm works, and then present at the end of a class period. I begin the next class period by giving the same argument. Other class periods begin with students presenting on similar questions, the class evaluating the presentations, and—if needed—me presenting the correct explanation.

Furthermore, I gave the answers to each of the oral exam questions on the last day of class. Test test So students saw the answer to each oral exam question at least three times, and probably more (especially since I had students view other students’ video solutions).

I was concerned that students would simply memorize these explanations. This simply did not happen. Either students understood the algorithm (I can tell from the oral exams—these students could answer any question that I had on the algorithm) or students did not understand any portion of the algorithm.

Most puzzling is that, in my student evaluations, some of my students complained that they were never shown how to do the algorithms correctly. This is in spite of seeing a completely correct solution to every problem between 3 and 10 times. I can only explain this in two ways:

  1. Somehow students did not understand that the solutions they saw were solutions to the problems from the oral exams and screencasts. This would mean that I did not clearly communicate the intent of presenting the solutions.
  2. Lecture was monumentally ineffective in helping them learn—so much so that students did not even remember that they occurred.

Do you have any other ideas?


April 19, 2012

My elementary education students are creating vlogs that explain why different algorithms work for different operations. They have been creating roughly one video per week, posting them, and then getting feedback from the course grader. The only graded part of this is at the end of the semester after many drafts.

This week, we did a jigsawing-type activity to improve the videos (like most everything else, this idea was inspired by Andy Rundquist. On Tuesday, I split the students into four groups: one for addition, one for subtraction, one for multiplication, and one for division. The students came to class having watched all of the videos on their particular operation, and the class period was spent deciding what makes for a good explanation for that operation. At the end of the class, we split into new groups where one member of the group had just studied addition, one subtraction, one multiplication, and one division.

Today, we spent the entire class period reviewing videos in these teams. One team member was an “expert” on each operation from Tuesday, and they made suggestions on how to improve the explanations.

I asked everyone if this was useful enough to repeat on our fractions algorithms, and every student said that it was (most were emphatic). This appears to be a success.

My one reservation: although I am not sure, it appears that some students are trying to memorize a good explanation rather than understand. I know that I will be able to tell which students really understand from the oral exams, but I am wondering if it will be clear from the videos. Does anyone have any experience with memorizers?

An Inverted IBL Frankenstein

January 19, 2012

I am teaching complex analysis this semester, and I have decided to merge the inverted classroom approach that I used last semester with an Inquiry-Based Learning (IBL) approach.

The inverted approach will follow this flow: the students read the textbook and watch videos before class. In class, we answer clicker questions (to get a conceptual understanding) and get practice on the basic skills (taking derivatives, doing contour integrals, etc).

The IBL approach is this: I give the students a list of problems (created by Richard Spindler). The students do the problems at home (they can work together), and present them in class. One of the main benefits (as articulated by Dana Ernst) is that students are more skeptical of other students’ work than they are of the professor’s work. So the students will need to wrestle with the presentations, since some of them will contain errors (much like my presentations, but students will care more).

The basic idea is this: the inverted classroom approach will be used to quickly give the students the basic skills required for the course AND an overview of the course. The IBL approach will give students a deeper understanding of the course material.

The first half of the semester will be 2/3 inverted and 1/3 IBL. We will be able to get through the entire textbook in this half, although the understand will not be as deep as I would like.

The second half of the semester will be about 2/3 IBL and 1/3 review of the textbook. This is where the deep learning will take place.

I am not thrilled with the course policies—in particular the homework policy—but I will post about this later.

Screencasting is surprisingly easy to do (if you do not care about about making beautiful screencasts)

January 12, 2012

I am in the middle of finalizing my plans for next semester, but I am not quite ready to blog about them yet. In the meantime, I recently sent an email to several people on screencasting, and I am re-posting it here. This is nothing groundbreaking—other people have said it better elsewhere. But I’ll describe what I do anyway.

I started screencasting last semester, and it is surprisingly easy as long as you do not want too polished of a project. Here is what I did:

  1. I bought a Bamboo tablet.

    There were some screencasts that I wanted to look nice, in which case I created a Beamer presentation for the text. Most of the screencasts, though, were of the quick-and-dirty variety (which take less than half of the time of a Beamer screencast to create). A tablet works great for this.

    So you do not need this, but it can save you a lot of time.

  2. Get a free account for Jing and download it to your computer. This is the actual tool that creates the screencast. It is ridiculously easy to use (you need to click on roughly three buttons). You can store the screencasts easily on This is an online storage site that makes it really easy to store screencasts and get links to the screencasts. It is by the same people who created Jing (Techsmith), so your Jing account doubles as your account.

    One potential drawback is that you can only create five minute presentations. However, I actually l like this, since it does not cause me to worry about planning the screencasts too much (in particular, it is really not worth editing them, even if you wanted to) AND it matches with the attention spans of anyone who might watch the screencast.

  3. If your computer does not have a built in microphone, get one of those, too.

If you are interested in screencasting, I urge you to download Jing right now, play around with it for five minutes, and see how easy it is.

Extra credit: If you get Jing Pro ($15 per year), you can upload the screencasts to YouTube (again, one click). I just started this, and I imagine that it will make things a little easier for some students. It is easy to watch YouTube videos on a smart phone; it is less easy to watch them on Moodle, which is where I put the screencasts last year.

Here are several examples of screencasts. The first was done in Beamer, and the last two were done in Microsoft Paint with a Bamboo tablet I use . Note: it looks like I write like a second grader in those. This is because it is difficult to write neatly with the tablet. I normally write like a fourth grader.

The first example is to show you what it looks like with Beamer. The second example is a standard “whiteboard” screencast (note the use of different colors). The third example is to show you an example where I use a Java applet to supplement my whiteboard work. The last two examples are to show you a possible drawback of Jing: if you go over five minutes, you need to split it into two screencasts. Again, I don’t think that this is much of a problem, since I think students would probably prefer two 5 minute screencasts over one 10 minute one.

  1. Beamer Example
  2. Standard “whiteboard” Example (note the use of different colors)
  3. Java Applet Example (you can do more than just draw in Microsoft Paint)
  4. Two Part Example (Part I, which demonstrates a potential drawback with Jing—there is a five minute limit)
  5. Two Part Example (Part II)
  6. Intro to \LaTeX Example (Part I) (screencasts are great for these non-content things that the students need to know)
  7. Intro to \LaTeX Example (Part II)

Semester Reflection, Part I

December 12, 2011

I am back to blogging after a semester of figuring out how to be the parent of two kids.  We are slowly figuring it out.


Anyway, below is a summary of what I did for the semester followed by how I would change in future semesters.  Recall that I am teaching real analysis.


  1. Students read a section of the text and watch some screencasts before class.  Students had to answer some questions online before class; if students did not answer the questions, they got a nagging email asking why.  This led to a very high completion rate.

  2. Students could request screencasts, thereby giving them a customized lecture (of sorts).

  3. For the first 60% of the semester, students spent about 75% of the time answering clicker questions (individually and in teams of three).  The remaining 25% of the time was spent starting homework problems.

  4. For the last 40% of the semester, we reviewed.  Students had to re-read a chapter before class.  In class, I gave the students four proofs to do in teams of two on a whiteboard.  Two proofs were very basic, and two were more complex.  I went around and gave feedback to each of the teams individually.  The idea was to run through the proofs of these four problems by the end of class (I put the proofs on slides), but we rarely got to all four questions.  I would also present the proof of a major theorem from the chapter about halfway through class.

  5.   Students were graded according to a midterm, a final, a portfolio, and a “practice portfolio.”  The exams are fairly standard.  The portfolio is a collection of each student’s best proofs throughout the semester, and the student has to provide evidence that he/she understands each of the course topics.  These are yet to be graded.  The practice portfolio was the same idea mid-way through the semester; this was graded on completion only, since the purpose of the practice portfolio was to get the students used to this different way of grading.

  6. Students who wanted to get an A for the semester had to do a project.  This means that they had to create screencasts on a section of the textbook that we had not covered during the semester (I used Abbott’s textbook, and he has them designated as “project sections”).


What went well:


  1. The clickers/peer instruction.  Analysis is full of ideas that are difficult to understand; if you do not understand them, it is even more difficult to prove anything about them.  The clickers really gave everyone—with virtually no exception—a solid idea of what was going on.

  2. The last 40% of the class was terrific.  We essentially went through the textbook twice, and the students made huuuuuuuge improvements the second time.


What I would improve next time:


  1. During the “clicker” portion of the semester, the class time spent starting the homework was not effective (in part because I did not give it enough time, but I don’t think that it would have been great with ample time, either).  I would recommend giving them the “basic” proofs that I did in the review portion of the semester each class period instead.  Perhaps do 50% clickers each class and 50% “basic proofs” (two would probably suffice, and most teams would probably only get to one).

  2. Do the practice portfolio much earlier.  I did it right after midterm, and that did not give students enough time to digest it.  Also, I recommended whether someone should do a project based on this, and students would have more time for projects if the practice portfolio went earlier.

  3. I also did two Calibrated Peer Review assignments. These failed due to errors on my part. First, I had students put their proofs on Moodle, which they linked to on the CPR site. This was a problem because students do not actually have access to the files on Moodle (it worked when I tested it because I have more permissions). Second, I told the students the wrong deadline for the second assignment. I think that this tool has a ton of potential, but I need to eliminate the user error first.
  4. I screwed up the standards a bit. For example, I was missing “Cauchy sequences” and “Limits” (Limits!). I was able to come up with fair workarounds for the students, but I think that I will only release standards to the students as we reach them in later semesters. This should force me to think through the standards an nth time, and I likely won’t miss anything major by doing this.


The jury is still out on portfolios.  We will see.