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Heather VanMouwerik is a doctoral candidate in Russian history at the University of California, Riverside. You can find her @hvanmouwerik or at her website.


On most campuses, the debate over whether or not technology has a place in the undergraduate classroom is over. Lectures without PowerPoint are a rarity, while Blackboard and other learning systems dominate grade reporting, syllabus distribution, and student-teacher communication. Technology won; however, the discussion over the form, format, and pedagogical role of this technology has only begun. As a result, engineers have turned their attention to developing software for the classroom, graduate students have hacked social media to facilitate communication with their students, advisors have helped students harness the power of Twitter, and professors have learned how to create games and apps.

Assignments requiring the use of technology are now commonplace on syllabi. For a history course I recently taught, for example, students were required to actively participate in an online forum, post to a class blog, submit and peer review all assignments online, and meet for digital office hours on Google Hangout. While great on paper, the learning curve for all of these systems was steep. I spent hours that first week answering questions and troubleshooting technologies, only to have the students misunderstand my directions or forget how to do something I demonstrated in class.

The question that broke me, though, was a simple one: “Where is the assignments list?” After describing its location via email twice to the student, he still could not find it on the course website. In a moment of desperation I opened my video editor and put together a quick video—just audio and my computer screen—and sent it to the student. I didn’t give it another thought until I came across his course evaluation, which said that this video saved his sanity.”

Screen capture, creating a short video of whatever appears on your computer screen and a recording of your voice, has proved to be one of my favorite tools in helping students successfully navigate the various programs required in a course. I won’t claim that screen capture will prevent madness, but it does:

  • Increase student confidence: Although undergraduate students are wizards when it comes to using social media, they are quickly confused by software and web applications that are new to them. Over and over I have had to teach students the most basic principles of troubleshooting (“Have you tried turning it off and on again?”). By showing them exactly how to use a particular aspect of a program or talking them through the steps required to fix a problem, screen capture clarifies my description and creates an aid they can use in the future.

  • Decrease teacher workload: I am a relatively fast typist; however, walking students through programs is time-consuming and tedious. The first few times I screen captured for a student, I used a rather complex video editing system (I used Camtasia, but iMovie and Screenflow would work just as well). Although I was already familiar with the program, it seemed like I was using a sledgehammer to crack a nut: effective, but overly complex. That is why I recently switched to Jing, a very basic (free!) program that sits open in the corner of your desktop for easy use and uploads your video to a webpage for instant sharing. If you use the program you are most comfortable with, then the time it takes to respond to student questions will decrease substantially. In addition, fewer students will require follow-up clarification since they have the video to watch and re-watch as they need.

  • Model appropriate digital behavior: One of my goals is to help students understand what it means to be an engaged digital citizen—someone who takes responsibility for their usage of technology on a variety of platforms. By using a technology that they are already familiar with—video—to explain a new technology, I am building on their preexisting knowledge and working within the digital medium to explain it. This decompartmentalizes digital knowledge and encourages them to navigate between several different types of digital competency.

In my classes, quick screen capture videos have proven effective in answering “How do I…” questions. For example, I had a student who couldn’t find a newspaper article from WWI, so I clicked on Jing and walked her through the library’s online database. Although she did not have any further questions at the time, I emailed her the link to the screen capture just in case she needed help remembering a step along the way.

Furthermore, when more than one student is having difficulty with a program or application, I post the link to the screen capture on the course website or forum. These impromptu class-wide troubleshooting tutorials prevent students from having to contact me directly and reinforce the communal aspects of the course, letting students know that they are not alone in being confused.

Though I am still new to experimenting with the pedagogical uses of screen capture in the classroom, I am excited about how helpful it has already proven and how positive student feedback has been.

How have you used screen capture in your classrooms? Have you used it outside the classroom? Was it effective? Please share your experiences in the comments section!

[Photo by Flickr user used under Creative Commons License.]


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