I live just far enough north to catch some snow and ice a couple of times a year, but far enough south that people still panic when it happens. So when we got 2-3 inches this Wednesday my university administration shut the whole place down for two days. This is problematic for me because my class meets once a week for a 2’40” block, meaning my students just lost a week’s worth of content. And in the second week no less! I was going to cover evolution by natural selection in order to set up the next three weeks of study.
I have already got my semester totally planned and I don’t want to mess with it. How am I going to get at least a modicum of the lecture to my students remotely? In this blog post I’m going to share with you my work around strategy.
In the classroom I’m a whiteboard guy. I like drawing arrows and grouping concepts by color as I highlight the main ideas. Some but not all of the lectures have PowerPoint slides. Since I’m not tinkering with the lectures (this is probably the tenth time I’ve delivered them) I’m going back and creating new slide shows. Students really seem to like them. It gives them something to look at while I talk. David Byrne writes in the liner notes to Stop Making Sense, “Singing is a trick to get people to listen to music for longer than they would ordinarily.” PowerPoint is the same way.
But emailing students a slideshow and expecting that they’ll get enough out of that to prepare them for the next three weeks (race, bipedalism, early Homo) is asking too much. What my distance education professors have done in the Information Science program I’m in is use Blackboard Collaborate to prerecord a lecture with slideshow. Then students can play it back at their leisure. On the plus side this allows the instructor to control the tempo of the slide changes and encourages students to sit through the whole thing at once. However, it demands that the lecturer do the recording all in one take.
I wanted something easier and less time consuming to compose than this.
Here’s the compromise. From PowerPoint, select Insert, then under Media select Audio. From the drop box select record audio. Then using an ordinary gaming/ Skype headset (an external mic is going to make a big difference in audio quality) record about 2 minutes of lecture per slide. This way if you screw up you only have to redo a short take. Once you complete this task it creates a speaker icon that you can drag to anywhere on the slide. I found that the bottom corners worked best because clicking on the icon reveals a simple control bar. I didn’t want that to overlap with the visuals so putting it at the bottom looked best.
And now the secret I’ve picked up as a distance ed student. Near the end of the lecture you embed an Easter egg. My LIS professor gave us a password that unlocked a quiz. If you don’t listen to the lecture you don’t get the quiz. I gave my students instructions to email me with a special phrase to earn participation points.
The whole file amounted to about 50MB. Just upload this to Blackboard and then email the instructions to the students. BAM! Snow day ruined.