A learned professor from Troy State once wrote, "If a picture is worth a thousand words, then a video must be worth a million." How truly the words resonate. I have taught computer applications for several years as an adjunct instructor in two school systems. It can be rewarding to watch reluctant students take command of computer programs as they learn that technology is simply a tool that has its challenges. But it can also be frustrating to watch them struggle. And, as educators, we aim to meet the needs of all students' learning styles. The problem that is sometimes it is not practical. You need the time, training and resources to do this well. This is about finding a way to meet some of those learning styles.
One major issue was demonstrating software applications. I found that I was constantly repeating the steps. Despite how slowly I moved my mouse, how clearly and concisely the directions were stated, there was always one person who needed to see that move "just one more time." This was often to the chagrin of the other students, who did not understand that some people learn differently from others. Now, I pride myself on my patience, but have to admit that at times this really tested my reserves. I kept thinking wouldn't it be nice to have a collection of videos like are advertised on television, called the PC Teacher? But site use of products like that can be expensive and are often limited to specific titles, not necessarily the applications in your collection.
I began my quest for ways to create my own custom-made demo files. I looked into screen shot programs and found that one in particular, Broderbund's Screen Shot Deluxe, looked promising. It allowed me to create a series of screen shots and export them into .avi files. The problem was that the files were larger than I wanted for streaming. Ideally, I wanted the users to be able to view them from a Website at home if desired. I could have compressed the files or reduce the frame size but that was too time consuming. Besides I had hoped to add instructions along the way.
By chance I received a postcard from eHelp for their product called Robo Demo. The card mentioned a 30-day free trial so I decided to download the application. I purchased the product a few days later. It was shockingly easy to make the video files. Essentially, you set the program so that it will record your screen actions as you move through the desired application. Each shot is saved like a regular graphic but is proprietary to the application until you export it. The files can be exported as Flash movies, word documents, .pdf files or as self-executing files. Flash is the web industry standard for small video files. All you need is the Flash Plug in and you are able to enjoy interactive Web content that downloads much more quickly than other file formats. There is a video toolbar that can allow the viewer to control the action. They can press stop, rewind and play as necessary. And Robo Demo movies can be used as part of an Internet site, an intranet or a CD Rom. Creators can even sell their files too if they have the proper license.
Camden County Outlook Web Access Tutorials
My first major project was a major sanity-saving endeavor. I developed a series of tutorials for our school. We use Outlook Web Access for our school Email. One teacher from each school was trained on the software at the beginning of the year and then tasked with training the staff at their sites. I provided printed instructions and screenshots with the initial training. Most of the participants were able to grasp the fundamentals quite easily. However, as the year progressed, it was obvious that they were not maximizing the software's potential. Creating these Robo Demo programs made it easy for me to refer folks to an online tutorial as problems arose.
Mrs. Sterling's Word Pad
My most recent compilation is both school project and teaching tool. I am currently enrolled in an Education Specialist degree program at Valdosta State University. This semester I designed a series of word processing applications with Microsoft Word and Word Pad. I teach K Ã 5 students during the day in a lab setting. We currently do not have MS Word on all of the computers so I have been teaching word processing lessons using Word Pad. This application comes with the Windows operating system and is perfectly fine for introducing word processing concepts. Mrs. Sterling's Word Pad uses some of the advanced E-learning features that Robo Demo has to offer. The video files go beyond simple demonstration. Students can try the activity on the screen with point and click action. This site is also now being showcased on the Robo Demo Customer Showcase Page.
Future Projects — Work Related
Just this week we were the fortunate recipients of a product grant from E-help. Currently Camden County is in the planning stages of developing a system technology training resource site. It will house a collection of tutorials for computer applications and procedures from applications to zipping. Several of the technology training instructors will develop the files to be integrated in one main website. We aim to keep Camden County School on the cutting edge.
In the fall of 2001 FTC Publishing produced my book, Primary Power Point Projects: Meeting the Standards Using Multimedia. The manual contained a CD-ROM with sample projects. This fall, the companion CD will be updated with video tutorials on completing the projects.
Planning is the key
I prepare an outline of the skills that I need to teach. Then I work through each item noting things that the student may wish to consider when using the program. Robo Demo can be set to automatically or manually take screen shots as you move. It can also type in the steps that you make along the way. For the Outlook Web Access files I simply wanted to show each step in detail so I created my own captions. Then I narrated each step. For Mrs. Sterling's Word Pad, I opted to have the program record the steps but then I edited the timing and frame length so that I could add Mega Byte the Mouse Ã the featured narrator. Since it was designed for kids, I felt a character would be appropriate.
As you can probably tell, I love Robo Demo. Now I have the ability to make files, as necessary, that are customized to meet the needs of my students. Best of all they can be adjusted as applications change. This tool allows me to create differentiated instruction, incorporating sight, sound and interactivity and feedback in a simple to deliver method. When the goal is to meet your students' individual needs, Robo Demo can be a powerful ally in creating computer-based instruction. It can also save you from repeating directions over and over and over and over Ã did I say over again?
Sabrina Sterling is a Technology Teacher at Mamie Lou Gross Elementary School located in Camden County, GA. Sabrina teachers K Ã 5 students during the day and conducts staff development training as an adjunct instructor for the Camden County School System. She usually works with adults after they have had their initial training teaching PowerPoint, Excel and Web Design.