Apr 16, 2012

Khan Academy-style lectures

I've been enamored with the Khan Academy since my brother turned me on to it several years ago. If you haven't taken a look at the Khan Academy, stop reading now and go over there.

Over there you find some very basic tools and a very basic layout. Nothing about the pieces is novel or revolutionary; however, the combination of all those pieces really compiles into a wonderful resource for the science and math classroom. The many videos and practice exercises are already a great supplement to any math/science classroom; I would just want the ability to create my own videos in the same style as I can imagine a use for personalized videos of this type.

You'll need these materials

Let's start off with the hardware you need. You're going to want a computer. I'm sure you could churn out lectures of a decent quality with the minimalist computers that most school districts have provided teachers/students. You'll also need a microphone and a drawing tablet.

For this particular application, a Wacom Bamboo tablet at $80 is a fantastic purchase and is the same tool used to create the Khan Academy videos. I have a 7 year old wacom tablet which still works great.

Next you're going to want to get the appropriate software. Any drawing program will work; the Khan Academy uses Smooth Draw and so do I. You'll also need a screen-casting program, CamStudio is free and perfectly fine for the job. If you find that you want to do more elaborate videos, you may want to bite down on a more expensive platform, and Camtasia ($300) is what you'll buy. Of course you'll want to showcase your videos and YouTube is just fine.

Now make a video

The rest is just, well, the rest can be frustrating to be honest, but it's worth it. Here is a youtube video which does a pretty good job of demonstrating the ins and outs of making a video with CamStudio. You'll find that you want to start over frequently; something didn't go just right, or you said something wrong, or you drew the wrong thing. Don't worry about it. Your students will appreciate the fact that you are a human being and the humor of mistakes and self-correcting often make lectures more enjoyable to watch. 

You'll want to adjust the frame-rate in CamStudio so that your drawing doesn't appear so jittery. You'll notice in the video I posted below I didn't really do that!

Speaking of that video, here it is; you'll notice that it is obviously my very first attempt, there are some errors, but it it's not so bad.

What I like about screen-casting

Your students can watch your lectures over and over, and when they are absent they don't miss the lecture. It is also a way to journal - in 5 years you can look back and see all of the lessons you've produced. If you are real bad a lecturing, it will become obvious because you can actually see what you sound like!

More than anything, this resource is silly cheap. For the price of a drawing tablet and a microphone (all less than $100) you can create thousands of lectures.