[This is a guest post by Lissa Pompos and Kevin Yee. Lissa is an undergraduate English Literature student and Research Assistant for the Karen L. Smith Faculty Center for Teaching and Learning at the University of Central Florida. Kevin is an Assistant Director at the UCF Faculty Center. Follow Kevin on Twitter.--@jbj]
Nearly two years after its initial release, the iPad has become a technological staple in the world of higher education. Many posters have reviewed the potential academic uses of the device, but some of the iPad’s more educational possibilities have been overshadowed by its popularity for entertainment and personal uses. Still, some well-known applications such as Dropbox, Diigo, Instapaper, and WordPress lend themselves nicely to academic tasks.
One academic task the iPad lends itself towards is screencasting. After all, the iPad is portable, powerful, and has been used with other presentation mediums (Keynote, PowerPoint, and Prezi) since its release because users have the option to create, save, and share all in one compact and visually-robust device. However, it’s been less obvious how to find screencasting software for the iPad. Screencasting is not a new phenomenon; previous ProfHacker and Chronicle posts have included a Screencasting 101 primer, a how-to guide on whiteboard screencasts and some lessons in screencasting, among other tutorials. The intersection of these two teaching tools—iPads and screencasts—has been largely absent from these discussions, yet this combination has the ability to create great learning material for a variety of disciplines and classroom formats (face-to-face, mixed mode, and distance learning alike).
Many of the PC/Mac screencasting tools available—including software such as iShowU, SnapzPro X, ScreenFlow—require purchase (usually $20-$99), while the “free” options—including Jing and Screenr—restrict users with time limits and less-comprehensive editing tools. In addition, some software with purely screenshot capabilities (think FlySketch or SnagIt) require additional, costly software like Camtasia for the creation of screencast movies. Moreover, these programs are not yet compatible with the iPad, making them both less portable and less convenient. However, there are some recent iPad apps for screencasting that are reasonably-priced, user-friendly, and powerful: enter Educreations and Explain Everything.
Educreations is a “personal recordable whiteboard” for the iPad that captures both the user’s voice and digital handwriting for the creation of video lessons or “screencasts.” Like other free screencasting software for the iPad (such as ScreenChomp), Educreations allows users to annotate their images with touch-input handwriting and share their creations through downloads. Unlike other software, however, Educreations boasts a long list of features including the ability to import multiple images, comprehensive editing tools (including the ability to resize and move images to create “animated playback”), multiple upload options (email a link, share on Facebook or Twitter, and upload to educreations.com), and compatibility with nine languages.
Another unique feature of Educreations rests in its hosting service, which allows users to both share their creations online and view lessons uploaded by other users. With screencasts from disciplines as diverse as Physical Education and Biology, there are plenty of lessons to browse and learn from. Currently, only “showcased” lessons are available for public viewing, but Educreations’ FAQ page promises a library of public lessons in the future. Moreover, if you don’t own an iPad but would still like to use the software, Educreations has a web-based whiteboard that is compatible with any browser. Best of all, Educreations is free.
The strengths of this app rest in its simple user interface, handwriting rendering, various photo upload options, image “placeholder” capabilities (users can add photos to later slides before recording), and easy “save” feature. When creating an Educreations.com account, users are given the choice of “Teacher” or “Student.” “Teacher” accounts are allowed to create, view, and share lessons while “Student” accounts may only view lessons in their subscribed courses. Teacher accounts are given the option to send lessons via email without publishing them to the class folder (meaning: teachers can send individual lessons to a select group or work ahead before allowing students to view their creations).
Like many free apps, though, Educreations has its share of weaknesses. First, the app lacks a “help” or “tutorials” section. While experimenting with some of the features (such as animated playback), a quick “help” reference guide might have saved a few minutes of trial-and-error. Second, Educreations.com’s tool to create screencasts directly in the browser (from a PC) did not function consistently; it worked well on some computers in our test and didn’t work at all on others. In addition, Educreations’ simple tools also mean fewer options in terms of pen colors, pen thickness, and other editing tools. However, for quick and easy-to-create lessons, the lack of options is actually a plus.
Explain Everything is another iPad-friendly screencasting app with even more capabilities. While Explain Everything costs $2.99 in the iTunes app store, the features of this application make it worth the price. In addition to the basic editing features that Educreations offers, Explain Everything allows users to crop images, insert live web pages, and add cool annotation effects such as arrows, laser pointers, and typed text. Moreover, when you’ve finished recording your presentation, you can reorder your screens and then export your presentation in a variety of ways (email a link, post to YouTube, or upload to Dropbox or Evernote). For those of us who need a little help navigating the tools, there are video guides and print guides, along with an online showcase for some inspiration.
When it comes to editing tools, Explain Everything does not disappoint; however, we found it helpful to experiment with certain tools (such as annotating live webpages) before creating a presentation, as they are slightly more complicated to manipulate. Other than the small learning curve, though, the only drawback to this application was the rendering time required to send and publish videos, which can take as long as ten times the video running time. That being said, the app was fun to work with and the finished product was impressive.
In practice, we found Explain Everything to be more useful to our teaching than Educreations. While the simple screencasts of Educreations are fun to create, truly effective delivery of content such as screencasts depend on flexibility, and that means owning the video output directly. Since Educreations hosts videos only on its own site and only provides various linking and embedding options, neither students nor teachers can download them. Explain Everything offers full ownership and possession of the videos hosted at YouTube, or in MP4 format when downloaded from DropBox, a capability that provides comfort in a world where technology companies can disappear overnight.
Do you use any screencasting apps in the classroom? If so, which is your favorite? Let us know in the comments!