Wednesday, September 18, 2013

Pencasts: LiveScribe SmartPen by James Murray

A 'Pencast' is a video of someone writing on a notebook page, while narrating what they write. It is made with a special ballpoint pen, called a SmartPen and made by LiveScribe, that has a small video camera filming what happens at the tip and includes a microphone to record audio. Pencasts can be used to complement face-to-face lectures, be used in a "flipped classroom," or they can enhance an online class.

I create 3-5 minute Pencasts to supplement my classroom lectures. I focus on material that I would teach using a chalkboard in a face-to-face class. This material usually involves mathematical or graphical problem-solving techniques, and guiding students through worked-out problems. I also focus on some of the most difficult concepts from my classroom lectures, as usually my intent is not to have these replace class attendance. Students in my face-to-face classes have reported appreciating that they could return to my lecture to listen again to worked-out problems that were difficult to learn the first time.

There are some benefits to creating Pencasts instead of traditional videos. Pencasts are more interactive. Students can click anywhere on a page to jump to that part of the Pencast. My students report it is useful to easily jump ahead or move back to an important part of the video which they did not completely understand. The technology is also very easy to learn. Pencasts can be created as quickly as you can demonstrate something on a chalkboard, and they can be posted online instantly when using a Wifi SmartPen.

There are some drawbacks to creating Pencasts instead other types of videos. Video editing is not possible, so be prepared to publish Pencasts with an occasional mistake followed with quick a correction. Also do not make your Pencasts too long. In the event you make a significant mistake, you do not want to have done more work than you are prepared to redo. It is also not possible to include printed material or computer graphics in a Pencast. The entire content is what you can write by hand on a notebook page.

Those interested in viewing some examples from an economics course may visit my page, Pencasts for Introductory Macroeconomics.

Submitted by James Murray, Economics

Pocket by Nick Bakken

A useful tool that I use on a regular basis (both inside and outside of the classroom) is Pocket. Pocket (formerly Read it Later) is a free application that helps you manage, organize, and save a reading list of news articles, pictures, or videos online that you can come back to later. Pocket is particularly useful for when you come across an interesting article or web page that you don’t have time to read, or that would be useful for one of your classes. One feature that is particularly useful about Pocket is that is automatically syncs between your computer, tablet, or phone, allowing you to view the saved file at any time, from any device.

I regularly incorporate timely news and media sources into all of my classes as a means to help students apply the theoretical and conceptual material in the class to contemporary events. Pocket allows a user to save and manage these sources, categorize or label them based on your own preferences or needs, and quickly share the source using a variety of social media (email, Facebook, or Twitter). These features make Pocket useful for both face-to-face and online courses.

Pocket can be downloaded on your computer, or as an app on your Apple or Android device. You can access Pocket at or via the App store for your mobile devices.

Submitted by Nick Bakken, Sociology and Archaeology

Brainshark by Diana Tempski

A technological tool I really appreciate is Brainshark. Brainshark offers a free online service that allows you to enrich PowerPoints, PDF files and many other documents with your voice to create more dynamic and enriched course content that can be accessed anytime, anywhere. Once you create your Brainshark screencasts, you can share the link of what you create and track how many individuals view the content as well as the duration of their viewing time. The company’s website boasts that you can “build a Brainshark in 3 minutes.” In all honesty, it has taken me a few minutes more than that, but the website is very user-friendly which is why I love it most!

Brainshark’s cloud-based technology is actually designed for sales professionals and business people, but I believe its ease and simplicity of use makes it a perfect tool for higher education.

I have used Brainshark to create numerous screencasts of content for my online courses which I have also made available to my students in face-to-face courses. Students have repeatedly expressed their appreciation for this additional learning tool that I have made available to them.

Submitted by Diana Tempski, Finance