Eight Tips to Improve the Quality of Your Pencasts03/29/11
The basic process to create and share a pencast is very simple; a short pencast can be created and posted by those familiar with the process in only a minute or two. Creating high-quality, engaging, and instructionally-effective pencasts, however, requires additional knowledge and skills. What follows is a short list of tips that will help the pencast novice to quickly move up the learning curve.
Tip 1: Practice…and learn from others
You will get better at pencasting the more you practice and incorporate feedback from others. Some people, however, consider teaching (and by extension, pencasting) to be an art, and that you either “have it” or you don’t. The research does not bear this out. Like music, sports, chess, and other activities, the more you practice an activity with feedback, the better you get. Pencasting is no different. Consider your first dozen or so pencasts “experiments”—expect them to be a bit crude. The sooner you get them out of the way, the sooner you will move on to creating more polished pencasts.
Tip 2: Work from a script
It is very difficult to produce a high-quality pencast “off the cuff.” Even if you are familiar with a problem or a diagram, it is useful to write out a short list of key ideas and/or phrases that you wish to present for your reference while recording your pencast. You may wish to add index points into your diagram as (see Tip 5), and it is useful to plan these out ahead of time as well, since they are not likely to currently be part of your teaching repertoire.
Tip 3: Pre-draw the bulk of your diagram
One of the most important things you can do to capture and maintain the attention of your audience is to keep up the pace of your presentation. Your audience will become bored very quickly if they are forced to watch you write out an equation or a phrase while you are saying it at the same time. Because you write much more slowly than you speak, and because you will likely pace the words you speak to those you write, you for will end up speaking v e r y s l o w l y. You can avoid this problem by pre-drawing much of your diagram. Rather than starting with a blank page, you can write out the title of the lesson, key headings, and complex equations and diagrams. Your job, therefore, is to simply fill in the blanks. You can also draw indicators (circles, boxes, underlines,arrows, asterisks, etc.) next to, or around, points of interest as you discuss them.
IMPORTANT: If you want pre-drawn ink to appear in your pencast, you should turn your Pulse smartpen on, but do not tap on the Record button. The marks you make on the page in this configuration will appear in the drawing, but they will not be animated.
Tip 4: Pre-draw complex elements to serve as templates
You can also pre-draw your diagram with your smartpen turned off. If you do so, the ink will not appear in the final pencast. You may wish to do this if the diagram you will be drawing in the pencast is very complex. If you trace back over your previously drawn image during the production of your pencast, only the new ink, written while the smartpen is recording, will appear in the final pencast; the pre-drawn image is only intended to act as a guide. (Note: The camera built into the tip of your Pulse smartpen sees only the micro-dot pattern printed on the page—the ink you write on the page isinvisible to it.) Pre-drawing a pencast is a good way to rehearse your pencast, it ensures that all elements are included, and that they are laid out neatly on the page.
Tip 5: Provide visual cues every few seconds
Although you will be busy speaking, drawing, and thinking about what will come next asyou create your pencast, your viewers will not be so burdened. And although it may be quite clear to you what it is that you are referring to as you talk about a diagram or equation, your viewers will not have access to the usual visual cues—for example your finger pointing to a specific feature. Accordingly, you can make your pencast more engaging if you frequently make marks on the page to attract your viewers’ attention to the specific features you are describing. If you offer visual cues much more frequentlythan you think is necessary, you will probably be providing just the right amount.
Tip 6: Provide obvious index points
One of the benefits of a pencast is that your viewers can watch it as many times as they desire. An even greater, but perhaps less apparent benefit, is that they can quickly navigate to a specific moment within the entire pencast and review just that portion multiple times. You can do a great deal to facilitate rapid navigation for your viewers if you:
• Create an obvious beginning to your pencast. One approach is to write the name of the pencast as you speak it. (If you start speaking the title as you complete thefirst word, your viewer will hear the full spoken title if they tap anywhere on thefirst word.)
• Use an obvious and consistent system for designating main ideas and sub-points. Some teachers prefer using an outline form with letters and numbers, while others prefer bullet points and hyphens. Whichever system you use, be sure to make the mark first, and then begin speaking after a short pause. This way the viewer will hear your first word after tapping on the index point.
• Note: You can add index points after you complete your pencast. A useful feature of Paper Replay is that the ink you add to a drawing while listening to a Paper Replay session becomes a new index point to that exact moment in the audio recording. Accordingly, you can add index points after you complete a Paper Replay session. Just be sure to make the new index point slightly before you begin speaking so that the first word is not clipped when the viewer taps on the index point.
Tip 7: Keep it short
Think of your pencasts as television commercials rather than feature films. There are anumber of advantages to keeping your pencasts short:
• Students are more likely to watch several short pencasts—and maintain their focus during them—than to watch one long, monolithic production during which their attention is likely to fade.
• You are less likely to need multiple “takes” to get it right if you keep your pencasts short. There is nothing more frustrating than to make an error in the last 30 seconds of a 5-minute pencast. It is easy to redo a 90-second pencast if you make an error.
• It will be easier for you to improve the quality of your pencasts if you produce several short pencasts and get feedback quickly on a few elements at a time, than it is to produce larger pencasts less frequently.
Tip 8: Solicit feedback from your audience
As all good teachers know, the most effective way to increase student learning is to provide students with more opportunities to perform with feedback. The critical elementis the feedback. Similarly, you will improve the quality of your pencasts if you receive feedback from your audience. Since you are producing the pencasts for their benefit, they will have valuable critical insights about what is working and what is not.