EdTech Sauce

How to Publish a Student Podcast

If you’re a subscriber of EdTech Sauce, you might have listened to the previous episode where I discussed the secrets and benefits of creating a student podcast. If you haven’t listened to it already, then I urge you to go back and have a listen, even if you’re convinced you don’t want to try it. I promise, the benefits to students of this activity are far greater in number than you would expect.

If starting a podcast with your students is something you do want to try, this episode and the next episode will lay out the basics of how to make it work. This week I’m talking about getting published, and next week I’m talking about how to actually create the audio. This might sound back to front – talking about publishing audio before you’ve even recorded it, but I’m doing it this way because I think the idea of publishing the podcast is probably a greater barrier in people’s minds than actually recording it. Once you know the basics of how to get published, you’ll probably feel a lot more ready and willing to just roll on with getting recordings done.

Before I go any further, I should give a little disclaimer. If you stumbled across this episode because you’re searching for advice on how to launch a business or even hobbyist-level podcast then… stop. This advice won’t get you there. Podcasting for school is different because the requirements are different. If you want to publish a podcast with a growing audience, then there are a lot of behind the scenes details to worry about and creases to iron out. For example, you need to use a reliable host to store your audio files, you need to know how to create a feed, you’ve got to consider search engine optimization… the list will go on. These things cost time and money.

For a student podcast, it wouldn’t be the end of the world if the place that you store your audio files isn’t 100% reliable. 98% reliable is good enough for this purpose. Imagine you are subscribed to a professional podcast, the new episode comes out but for some reason it doesn’t download. Now imagine this happens again a week or so later. After some time, you might give up and unsubscribe. However, if this happened to the students and parents of your podcast every once in a while, it wouldn’t be a train smash – it wouldn’t lose revenue or decrease your audience because you’re not earning money from the student podcast or trying to grow a global audience. These are the kinds of small but significant details that matter in professional podcasting but don’t matter for a student podcast. These are also the reasons why it costs money to launch a podcast, and why teachers can get away with doing it for free.

So, how do you launch a podcast? Well first off, get an mp3 with your episode. Next week I’ll describe how to record interviews or narrations and put them together in a reasonably good quality mp3 for publishing.

Second, once you’ve got your mp3, upload it somewhere online (this can be done for free).

Third, create artwork, or have a student create the artwork for your show.

Forth, you need a blog to put the mp3 file on and the show notes.

Now, there are more steps BUT, you can stop at step for if you want. At this stage, technically you have a podcast. Whenever you publish a new blog post (with a new audio file attached), this is your new episode for listeners to download. If you want to keep it REALLY simple, you could just do it like that. All done, nice and easy. It will be accessible to anyone around the world that has an internet connection and knows the address of your blog.

Of course, this doesn’t really fulfill the expectations of modern day podcasting: it won’t be convenient to subscribe via any smartphone podcast apps, and it definitely won’t appear on iTunes. If you want to go those extra steps (and I strongly recommend it to give that “student buy-in and wow factor” I discussed in the previous episode), then the next step, step five, is to create a feed. A feed is the string of information attached to each episode that lets apps find it, lists episodes and sends new ones to people’s smartphones when available. Fortunately, despite this involving some very complex code, you can create one without ever looking at coding.

The sixth and final step is getting your feed out there. The feed address is the thing you give to iTunes to get them to list your Podcast. You shouldn’t limit it only to iTunes: you can also share it with Android services as well as major apps like Stitcher, Overcast etc. But, if it’s on iTunes, it will often automatically share to other platforms as well so don’t worry too much about these unless you’ve got time to play with.

Step 1 – Record your mp3 file

As I said, this is the focus for next week’s episode.

Step 2 – Publish your file online

Blubrry and Libsyn are the two big brands in podcast hosting. You can imagine webhosting to be a little bit like having an external hard-drive that’s permanently connected to the internet so anyone can download stuff from it at any time from anywhere in the world. Only it’s a ginormous hard-drive, the size of a warehouse, possibly on the other side of the world, with ultra-hi-tech security and all that kind of thing.

Blubbry and Libsyn have a great reputation and are obvious choices for professionals because of reliability and the additional services they offer. However, you have to pay for them.

So what is the free alternative? There are two obvious ones.

Self-hosting (e.g. on a school web-server)

If your school has its own website, they can possibly host the file for you. Talk to the tech department, explain that you want to host an mp3 on the system that would probably have 100 downloads per month or less (though obviously that number would vary hugely depending on school size), and see what they say. You can give them the mp3 on a flash drive, and they’ll do the rest, giving you a link to the file when they’re done. There are some technicalities for why this may be impossible or impractical, so if they say, “no” it’s probably with good reason. But, it’s a very convenient option if they’re happy to go ahead.

Soundcloud

Another free option is Soundcloud.com. Soundcloud is a place to share music and other audio files so people can access them easily. You’ve probably stumbled across it at some point even if you’re not a loyal user.

If you do a quick Google search for how to create or host a podcast you will find a lot of comments relating to Soundcloud, with many people giving strongly worded arguments about NOT using Soundcloud. I won’t dispute what they say – I’ve never used Soundclound for podcasting so I can’t comment either way, but what I can say is that most of the criticisms don’t apply to you, launching a student podcast.

Long story short, you can upload your podcast mp3 file on there, and anyone in the world can access it. It’s that simple. Yes, they may be less reliable (again, I can’t comment on that from first hand experience), and there are limitations like not being able to get detailed web stats from them on how many downloads you’ve had and where in the world they are… but I don’t think that stuff’s that important here. Soundcloud is a great free choice for a podcast.

Step 3 – Create artwork

You need a square image for your podcast. When you browse through the podcasts on any app you’ll see they all have artwork on them – a square image with the title of the show on.

You can’t skip this step, at least not if you want to publish on major platforms like iTunes. You need a square image that is at least 1400 x 1400 pixels. My best recommendation is to give this to a student as a project. Give them the name of your show and tell them you need a perfectly square piece of artwork. When they’re done, you can scan this and crop it into shape easily.

If you’re proficient with Photoshop or graphics software then, of course, you could just do it yourself.

Step 4 – Publishing on a blog

A blog is a great way to organize your podcast episodes. Basically each episode/blog post will have a block of text (as much or as little as you want) and a link to the mp3 file in it. The mp3 file link, your podcast episode, is the thing that your podcast app will download and play, while the block of text will be the description or show notes that you read in the podcasts app. The mp3 link you need, is a direct link to the file that is stored on Soundcloud (or wherever you’ve hosted the podcast).

Creating a blog is incredibly easy even if you’ve never looked at doing anything like that before. If you’ve never started a blog, try wordpress.com or weebly.com (there are many others as well). Sign up (for free) and follow the instructions to set up the blog – it really is very easy with any of the major names out there.

One thing to note is that when you create a blog with, for example, WordPress, your blog address (the “domain name”) will be myblogname.wordpress.com. If you want myblogname.com (without the “Wordpress” in it), you have to pay for it. It’s pretty cheap – I think I pay something like 10GBP or 10USD per year for my domain name – but it’s not important if you want to do this for free.

Step 5 – Create a feed

Now, when I publish this podcast, I host my files on Blubrry, and I use a plugin on my website called “Powerpress” that deals with all of the technical details of creating a feed. One of the advantages of paying a little for hosting is that the technical details are simplified.

If you want to do this for free, however, there are two options that stand out. One is to write your own feed with web-coding. I do NOT recommend this. These feeds are complicated, and it’s not necessary.

The other option, which I would recommend in these circumstances, is Feedburner, a free service provide by Google. The pros will scream at me for giving this advice – there are many reasons not to use Feedburner for podcasting, and they don’t apply to a teacher trying to get something launched with a class.

Basically, copy the web address of the blog you created, then go to Feedburner.com and enter it there (you may need to log in with a Google account, or create one). Follow the instructions, and they’ll generate a feed for you, and spit out something that looks like a complex web address. This web address thingy they give you is your feed address, and you need this to get your podcast listed on major platforms.

Before you can make this step work, you need to have the blog and a podcast episode already published. What some people do to get the ball rolling, is to make “episode zero”, which is just a brief recording introducing your show, giving a brief outline of what it’s about. You could even just make an audio recording of yourself saying, “Hello, thanks for downloading my podcast”. It really can be anything, just as long as there is something for Feedburner and iTunes (see next) to work with. You will probably delete this episode anyway as soon as you launch your first real episode.

Step 6 – Put it on iTunes

Now here’s a good time to clear up a misconception: there is no such thing is publishing your podcast on iTunes. You can’t give them your podcast episode to share it with Apple users. All you do is tell them your podcast exists, and they’ll list it for you, like a directory. You tell them it exists, by giving them your podcast feed.

You first need to go to podcastconnect.apple.com. Sign with your Apple ID (or create one if you don’t have on) and submit the podcast feed address. Note, I said “feed” not “blog” address. They are very different.

There are specific requirements to meet and you may get rejected if you don’t meet them. I was rejected a couple of times with my first podcast because of various details that were missing. Usually, it’s something that you left blank when creating your Feedburner feed, and the rejection notice from Apple will give you some indication of what you missed. It’s no problem, just go back, add in the details, and re-submit. I should mention that waiting for approval usually takes 24 to 48 hours, so it might take a week or so to get listed if you have to keep going back and making updates.

I guess step 7 that I didn’t mention above is to promote it. Tell all of your students to subscribe, write an article for it in your school newsletter or social media pages if your school has those, and get people downloading it.

Wrap up

It might all seem quite long winded but really you can get most of this up and running in a few hours (not including waiting time for Apple to accept or reject your show), and once all of the technical stuff is done for episode one, it’s significantly quicker to get the next episodes on there; all you have to do is record your show, upload the file and update your blog. Your feed will automatically do the rest of the work.

If you’re still on board, make sure you listen to next week’s episode on how to record and edit audio for free or very cheap for your student podcast.

EdTech Sauce is the pedagogy podcast that focuses on all things EdTech, hosted by me, Alex Nixon. You can reach out to me on Twitter using @science_sauce, and you can find subscribe links, shownotes and all that sort of stuff at sciencesauceonline.com/edtechsauce. Remember, all those sauces are spelled like ketchup.

Have a great week everyone!

Secrets and Benefits of Creating a Student Podcast

So I started student podcasting a while back. I was working at a school in Shanghai at the time and needed to choose something for an extra-curricular activity. My students at the time were Key Stage 3 (that’s aged 11-14 for those who don’t know the British system) and mostly an enthusiastic bunch. I mulled over the idea for a while and eventually came to the decision to just give it a go. I framed as a sort of school news show, where students would report on the general happenings around the campus – like sports events, spelling bees etc.

It obviously wasn’t going to attract a big audience – only the students and teachers in school would download it. It was an international school and obviously they told their family overseas about it, but still, that only amounted to a really small audience. That didn’t matter though – the show was intended to be educational. Not educational for its listeners particularly, but educational for the students making it. I figured, they would learn how to write interview questions and gain some English skills which was really important in that job as most students were second language learners.

It wasn’t until I started that I realised just how much students stand to gain from creating a podcast show. I mean, seriously, this has to be one of the most under-used tools in EdTech. It’s not limited to English skills either (though it is great for those).

Today’s episode of EdTech Sauce is all about the secrets and benefits of creating a student podcast. Why are there any “secrets”? Well, these are things you just won’t know about unless you get started with running a student podcast. There are a plethora of reasons to set this up and I hope that in this episode I can reveal a few of them to you.

Creating a student podcast is something I’ve done a couple of times now with different groups, and, like I said, the benefits have been far greater in number than I expected before I started my first podcast group.

Obviously, if you’re listening to this, you know how podcasting works.

However, have you ever thought about running your own class or school podcast? I’ve got no doubt some people have thought about this idea, but perhaps never got round to starting it because of fears over all the technical side behind it, while others have maybe never really thought about doing it. It is becoming more common, but when you’re trying to come up with new ideas for teaching tools and integrating tech into your teaching, a podcast is not the first thing that usually comes to mind.

Trust me, students can get really excited by this idea. The very mention that they can get their own podcast listed on iTunes is enough to get any student enthused. And yes, anyone can get a podcast listed on iTunes. For free.

In this episode of EdTech Sauce I’m focusing on the ways you might use a class or school podcast. Next week, I’ll be discussing the technical side of podcasting, and explaining how to get started with it for free or very cheap, including how to get listed on iTunes. Getting on iTunes might not seem so important, but it is definitely a way to get the students excited about the idea.

I know some people will protest and say, “I can’t start a podcast, I don’t know anything about how that stuff works.” Well, don’t worry. All you need is something to record audio (a smartphone would do), some free audio editing software, and a computer with an Internet connection.

If you do your research on how to start a podcast, you will get bombarded with all sorts of advice about why you need a reliable web host, how to maximize your search engine optimization, types of feeds, which bitrate to export in… it gets really technical and really, most of that advice doesn’t apply to a teacher who wants to publish something for their class or school, and develop an audience of probably a hundred or less listeners.

But like I said, the technical side of how to publish a podcast is for next week. Here, I’m discussing the ways you might use podcasting in school, I’m just going to convince of why podcasting is useful for you and your students.

Please subscribe if you haven’t already to EdTech Sauce. That way you won’t miss next week’s episode on the technical side of how to start up a class podcast. For details visit ScienceSauceOnline.com/edtechsauce, or search on iTunes, Stitcher, or wherever your get your podcasts. Remember, it’s “sauce” as in ketchup.

In what ways might you use a class podcast?

Well, firstly you might use it for something subject specific. Maybe as a History teacher, you decide to launch a show where students have to write and narrate a biography for a historical figure they’ve studied. Perhaps as an English teacher, you want to create a journalism podcast as a way to practice certain language skills. There are endless subject specific examples and I’ve got no doubt that any creative teacher can come up with ways that this might be useful to them.

Another reason you might do this is as an extra-curricular activity. You could create a “podcast society”, or perhaps a “journalism club”, focusing on school news, where students have to interview other students or teachers on the latest school sports events, spelling bees, science fairs, that kind of thing.

And what is the reason for going to all the effort of creating a podcast? Well, in short, there are few class activities that have so many benefits in one project!

Lets examine the main benefits I’ve find when running student podcasts

  1. You get to approach your subject from a new angle
  2. Students gain communication skills
  3. Students have to do scheduling and gain organisation skills.
  4. It’s an opportunity to work with audio
  5. It involves publishing and modern-world concepts
  6. There’s student buy-in and wow factor

1. You get to approach your subject from a new angle

Remembering and understanding facts is great, but we all know that higher order application skills are more relevant targets in the grand scheme of things.

It seems to me very unlikely that any syllabus will require students to be able to create a spoken audio discussion on the topic at hand, so verbally covering the content for a podcast episode will require reformulating the information – as long you don’t allow the students to just read paragraphs from the textbook. There are lots of tasks you could set that require application skills.

Let’s say a History teacher has covered a chapter on the Romans, and wants to use podcasting as a project. The students do a biographical piece on the life and death of Julius Caesar. The students would need to pull together all of the necessary information on Julius Caesar that they’ve studied, and probably supplement it with additional research. They would also be expected to fill the story out as an interesting narrative by putting in a bunch of interesting anecdotes that surround the main story, including details of life in early Roman society. This is a great review of the unit content and beyond, but it also demands application skills.

Making sure all of this is achieved would require guidance, probably by giving students rubrics in advance of the task (even if you don’t intend to summatively assess this, I would still recommend giving a rubric to give direction).

This is also an opportunity to fully reformulate ideas taught in class. Imagine your students had to tell the story of the death of Caesar as a newspaper article. This is good quality cross-curricular stuff because it’s bringing in skills that the students should be picking up in English lessons, and applying them to another subject.

I’ve always had a problem with that “boxed” feeling that sometimes comes with education as we know it today. You know, “On Monday lesson 1 you’re writing an essay in History, but in lesson 2 you’re writing an English essay. Try to forget everything you’ve learned in History class because essays in English are different.” As if each lesson is in a different universe where different rules apply?!

The point I’m making is, podcasting is one step closer to bridging the gaps in different types of content.

It also goes a little further to cater for the range of student interests; it’s likely not every student is passionate about your subject. Not because there’s anything wrong with you or your subject it’s just… students have things they like and things they don’t. But maybe if they’re not mad about the subject being studied, maybe the journalism slant to the task does appeal to them. It gives a bit of incentive to get involved and caters for a bigger range of students.

2. Students gain communication skills

It’s amazing to see the skills that students develop when podcasting. I remember in my Extra Curricular school news podcast, students scheduled interviews with different people in the school about current school events. I honestly didn’t think about the kind of communication skills involved, but think about it: students have to learn to approach teachers and other student and request interviews, ask the right questions, they have to learn how to avoid one-word answers from interviewees, how to make people feel at ease, how to present their message in a way that comes across clearly…

When students hear themselves and their interviews back they get a little self-conscious, and this isn’t really a bad thing. It gives them a chance to gain some feedback on their own work and some incentive to work on their skills so that their next interview sounds better.

These interview-type skills are really valuable communication skills and there are few tasks that pull so much into one.

3. Students have to do scheduling and gain organisation skills.

This is another skill that I didn’t anticipate being so important but it really became apparent that some kids faced a steep learning curve when it came to organisation skills and scheduling. I basically let my students run the show with our podcast. I had a weekly meeting where we decided the topics to be worked on, but for the rest of the time I just gave the students the audio recorder when they needed it and let them take control.

First off, there was only one recorder, so they quickly learned that they couldn’t all borrow it on lunch time the day before deadline day. Second, they learned that some people are busy, and can’t be available for an interview at any given moment. They had to find a time that worked for everyone, and be on time. As adults we might take this stuff for granted, but everyone has to learn some time, and this was a great opportunity for that life lesson.

4. It’s an opportunity to work with audio

I don’t know how relevant this is to all of the students I’ve worked with on podcasting, but I do know that most students wouldn’t get an opportunity to work with audio and develop microphone skills if it weren’t for a podcasting. I mean, really, where do these skills fit in the curriculum of a school?

Students had to learn how to position microphones appropriately, not be too close or too far from it, how to choose an appropriate environment to avoid wind distortion, background echoes and all of those distracting elements. Some of my students worked really hard to make their interviews sound as close to professional quality as was possible with what they had. I was genuinely impressed with the quality of work submitted by some of the kids.

With podcast groups I’ve worked with in the past, the students have always been in young-ish students, and audio editing was something I just did myself. However, if your school has access to the sorts of tools to let students edit audio, and you’re students are in the right age group, then this is one of the few opportunities to let them develop editing skills. Your podcast might literally inspire a career in some of your students. We teachers like to talk a lot about providing a holistic education, but the truth is delivering that is not easy. Audio skills are another string to that bow, giving students a wider breadth of skills to leave school with.

By the way, there are free as well as very cheap options for editing audio, but I’ll go into that in a later episode.

5. It involves publishing and modern-world concepts

Media is part of modern life. Sharing your ideas in this day and age requires a certain amount of IT literacy. Honestly, most of what we do these days requires IT literacy.

It worries me sometimes that in my lessons and homework submissions there is maybe too much old-fashioned writing. Don’t get me wrong, writing with a pen is important, but we can’t ignore the fact that it’s not the only way students will get their message across in real-world scenarios. Honestly, compare the amount you type, to the amount you write by hand in your day-to-day life. Compare how much time you spend letter writing with the time spent talking on the phone or Skyping people. Creating opportunities for students to express themselves in some way other than writing on paper is really important, and probably more relevant in today’s world.

I try to use digital submission tools, I’m trying to integrate video work using Flipgrid into my homework, all sorts of ways to broaden the skills I expect on my courses.

Podcasting is another way to expand on your repertoire of learning and assessment techniques, and it’s a way that is perhaps more relevant to students. They know what smartphones and laptops are and most of them use one or both of those things every day, and they’re used to consuming media via them. Publishing your ideas online is part of the modern world, and podcasting can reach students in a way they can already relate to.

6. There’s student buy-in and wow factor

OK, so I didn’t expect this one to be quite so significant, but it is. Mention to your students that their recording is going to be searchable on iTunes…! There are few students that won’t be into that. And yes, you can get your podcast listed on iTunes, it’s not as big a thing as you might think. It certainly doesn’t cost any money.

When students get into this idea, they’re motivated towards the task. I’m a science teacher, and I respect the fact that some of my students are not studying my subject by choice and would much rather be doing something else. I personally find science to be a mind-blowing subject, and I honestly don’t know why everyone else isn’t fascinated by science. I can’t figure out why everyone doesn’t choose to study science. But, like I said, I respect the fact that, some people really aren’t into it.

So, if I can give my students some motivation to express their ideas in my subject, by letting them express their ideas as a science news podcast for example, then it seems like an opportunity to be a bit more inclusive of the whole group.

Wrap up

I’ve highlighted the main benefits of creating a student podcast that I’ve experienced, but there are more to discuss that I can’t cover in one episode, and these are waiting to be discovered. I urge you to give it a go and let your students reap the benefits.

If you’re put off by the technical details of creating and publishing a podcast, I’ll be covering how to create a podcast next week, and how to publish a podcast the week after.

If you haven’t already subscribed, please do so to keep up to date with new episode. All links to download, share, subscribe, follow, and all that jazz can be found at sciencesauceonline.com/edtechsauce. Thanks for listening and have a great week everyone!

7 ways to make your education videos look more professional

Hundreds of thousands of educators are out there every day making learning and revision videos for students, and all are making those videos using different styles and to varying levels of professionalism. By professionalism, I’m talking about that perceived production value (I say “perceived” because higher production value doesn’t necessarily cost any money).

A lot of educators watch someone else’s video and want to know how to give their videos that extra polished touch, how they can make them look more attractive and interesting for their students, and possibly others around the world.

Before you delve into these steps, just ask yourself, “What is my goal for my videos?”

If your goal is to share your videos online and grow a global audience over time, then you should definitely implement the seven steps recommended here. If you’re making videos that you hope will be re-usable for years to come every time you repeat your courses with new classes, then it’s also probably worth making them as polished as possible. If you intend to make hundreds of videos over the next year or so, then setting out on the right footing, using these recommendations, is definitely the right thing to do. Of course, if you’re making videos that will probably just be a one-off piece for a class, then perhaps focusing on the quality of the instruction (rather than the perceived production value) should be your priority.

If you are committed that you want to give your videos that extra polish, then here are some great steps to achieving that.

1. Get an external microphone

This is consistently overlooked and there is a reason I’m putting this at number one. This truly is the most important step you can take in improving your videos. The paradox is that most people don’t notice good audio quality, but they do notice bad audio. And there is no getting around it: the little microphone on your laptop is low quality.

The rule in video is simple: if no-one notices the audio, then the audio must be really good. A good microphone reproduces the sound of your voice more accurately, meaning the viewer can focus on the words being said, rather than getting distracted with how (bad) it sounds.

Before I make recommendations about which microphones, a word of warning. Be wary about what you search for online. If you type something like, “which microphone is best for me”, you’ll need a serious budget for the recommendations you’ll get. Honestly, professional audio is a VERY expensive world where most people who make recommendations consider anything less than professional studio quality to be virtually unusable. Professional microphones sell for thousands of pounds (and into tens of thousands), so when people refer to a microphone as “affordable”, they’re probably using the term differently to the way you and I might.

Recommendations

A lavalier (or “lapel”) microphone

The main benefit of an external microphone is that you can get close to it. The closer you are to it, the louder your voice will be relative to any background noise (including that nasty echo/reverb sound of the room). If you’re trying to do this on a near-zero budget, then consider getting a headset with a microphone attached (airline pilot style). Alternatively, you could get something called a lavalier microphone, which is the type that newscasters use clipped onto their lapel. You could choose either one of these options for about 20 pounds, 30USD, on Amazon. Of the two, a lavalier microphone will probably provide the best results in terms of audio quality – some of the headsets tend to have a bit of a telephone sound to them, though it really does depend on the brand. Also keep in mind that if you are filming yourself in your videos, the lavalier mic is tiny and goes virtually unnoticed, while the headset really stands out.

A dynamic microphone

If you’re willing to spend a little bit more money, you’ll get a big jump in quality if you’re willing to spend around 60 to 100 pounds. For this price you can buy a basic dynamic microphone that plugs directly into your laptop via USB (note: only specific models of mic have a USB connection – check the specs while shopping). If you go down this line, you will definitely be impressed with the improvement in sound. The most common dynamic microphones you get are the basic handheld ones you see pop stars holding on stage. Dynamic microphones are good at focusing on the thing right in front of them (i.e. your voice) and eliminating the other sounds around the room (i.e. echoes, fans, people outside the room…).

A condenser microphone

There are also condenser microphones which are the slightly bigger ones, usually silver coloured, that you see if you’ve ever seen someone singing in a recording studio. Condenser microphones usually require more accessories (which adds to the price), and they pick up more background noise. If you research it some people might describe condenser microphones as being better quality, but just be aware that it depends on their purpose. Big condenser microphones do tend to capture sounds more accurately, but they will capture everything, including more of the background noise in the room you’re in.

Personally, I’d recommend the dynamic microphone if you can afford it and the lavalier if you want to keep it cheap (and portable). Only go for a condenser mic if you’ve spoken to someone in-the-know about these things who has recommended it for you personally.

If you still want more info, try searching online for something like, “Best microphone for beginner podcasters.” The types of microphones made for that purpose are generally appropriate for narrating presentations, and they tend to be more budget-friendly.

2. Photograph and film everything

You may intend to create educational videos that involve filming someone or something, or you may intend to just make a PowerPoint/Keynote presentations and narrate those. Either way, having supplementary footage really adds to the character of your videos.

As a Biology and Environmental subjects teacher, I focus a lot on nature and wildlife footage. I don’t start out with a plan for which video I’ll use the footage for, but I will store it on my laptop and maybe bring it out months later when the right topic comes up. I was in London a while back and I took some random footage of the crowds walking across a bridge, and a few months later I was making a video that discussed overpopulation. That footage with a crowd on it was the perfect way to illustrate what I was saying.

Don’t get too fixated on what you film or photograph, just shoot anything that looks interesting. You’d be amazed how often seemingly random shots can turn out to be very relevant in future. And don’t get fixated on expensive cameras: modern smartphones do a really good job for this and the best thing is, you usually always have one with you.

3. Edit

There’s no real way around this: if you want your videos to look good you need to get some editing software so you can cut and stick the right pieces of video in the right place. Even if you use only a narrated PowerPoint presentation with no additional footage, this is still a really useful skill to employ. First off, you need to remove that 1 or 2 seconds at the start and end of the video – you know, that bit where you pressed record, then waited to check it was working, or cleared your throat before speaking. What’s more, there might be little bits throughout the presentation where you possibly fumbled over the words a little, or left a long pause before continuing. Being able to remove these little sections will improve the quality of your content.

Once you know how to edit video, it’s really easy to start adding in those extra bits of footage I mentioned. You might not think it’s worth it, or maybe think it’s just making things more complicated, but it really doesn’t take long to add things in with good software.

A useful thing to note here is that there are places you can get stock video footage that’s copyright free, and free financially too! Check out Pexels.com – you can sign up for free and browse through a big selection of videos. There is a big collection of photos too – all free.

In terms of software, there is a lot to choose from and a lot of different price tags. For Mac, iMovie does the basics and, though it is very basic, it’s free. Filmora is a Windows movie editor, and I haven’t used it so I can’t speak for it, but it seems to have the basic features and it costs $40 USD per year or $60 as a lifetime fee.

If you want more full featured software that it will certainly cost you. Adobe Premiere Pro is one the industry standards and definitely something I would recommend if you plan to start taking video editing seriously. As a teacher you can get an education license for $20 USD per month, and that includes a bundle of apps including Photoshop and others.

When you start working with editing tools, you’ll probably find yourself experimenting with background music, sound effects, and even processing your voice to make it louder and clearer, but that’s all part of another discussion for another day. However, if you invest in more advanced editors, you’ll probably find yourself learning to use these more advanced tools as you go along.

One final point on editing: it allows you to easily add a logo and maybe even theme music to the start of each of your videos. Which leads us to point number 4:

4. Get some branding and identity

There are a lot of aspects to building a brand but the most important points, in my opinion, are getting a name, and a logo. I played around with a lot of names before I settled on Science Sauce, and I’m really happy with it. It’s got alliteration, and I like the play on words: Sauce is spelled like ketchup sauce, and it’s a “source” for flipped learning materials. It’s simple and catchy. A lot of teachers use their name in the title of their blog or Youtube channel. For example, a name like “Mrs Smith’s History Blog” is quite common. There’s nothing wrong with this; it says what it is. However, it’s not memorable. You don’t need to set out to make a memorable site or channel if you don’t want to, but if you hope to share your content beyond just your own students, you might want to consider something more catchy.

As for the logo, this is tricky. If you know graphic design, do your own. If you don’t, I recommend finding someone who does. I tried a few ideas and being quite inexperienced, I made some awful designs before I came up with the red and green circle design that I use now. Fortunately, I know my way around Photoshop, and I know the basic principles of design, so, although it took a few attempts, I was able to make my own.

If you are set that you want to do your own logo, I’ll be doing another post on tips on making your own at a later date, so check back for that or follow me on Twitter (@science_sauce) if you want to keep updated with new posts.

5. Choose a colour palette

This is hugely overlooked and makes a big difference to the look of your videos as a whole. If you choose a set of colours and stick with them, it will give a certain amount consistency within each presentation, and helps keep your videos looking recognizable if the same person watches several of them.

To choose your colours, start with any colour you want, perhaps just go with your favourite colour. Then use its complimentary colour. If you don’t know what that is, you can use a colour wheel to show you. Complimentary colours are just colours that go really well together. For example, if you’re favourite colour is blue, then you should aim to use orange with it. Purple looks good with yellow, green works well with red etc. If you use this method, you’ve got two good colours to stick with for the majority of texts, maybe textbox fill colours, slide backgrounds etc.

Next, choose an equivalent for white and black. You can simply use plan white and plain black, but in my opinion it looks better to use something slightly original, because it makes your work look a bit more original. A very dark grey is better than jet black, and a very, very light cream colour is better than white. You might not plan to use these light and dark colours in your presentations but you definitely will use them; often you have an image and you need a light colour to contrast against it, and your two main primary colours don’t work, so you would need your light colour. Sometimes you might use you main colour for a heading, its complimentary colour for the subheading, and then want something simple for the main body text – that’s where your black-ish colour would come in handy.

6. Choose fonts

Fonts, used consistently, add more character and originality to your presentations and the right choice will make your videos look more professional.

You have two choices with fonts. Choice one is to stick with something very, very basic like Calibri or Arial, something already installed on your computer. The second choice is to find something original online. The alternative to these, which I don’t consider an option, is to use other interesting fonts already on your laptop. Fonts like Comic Sans or Papyrus, for example. These fonts are so over-used they’re cliché now, and using them is a sure-fire way to make your presentations look amateurish. Please steer clear of them.

If you’ve never downloaded and installed fonts yourself before, I recommend finding something via Google fonts (fonts.google.com). They have a relatively big range of fonts to choose from, and they’re open source, which means you don’t have to pay, and you can pretty much use them for whatever you want. They’re primarily designed for use on webpages using a little snippet of code, but if you look carefully you can see a little “download” button once you’ve selected a font, and it’ll install on your computer. From there you can choose them as a font in your presentation the way you would use any other font.

7. Practice

There is absolutely no substitute for practicing and gaining experience in making videos. The more you do it the more you’ll learn what works for you, because there is no “one-size-fits-all” for making good content.

Wrap Up

Remember that you don’t necessarily need to make your videos more professional – what you need to do is make them high quality, and that means high educational quality, rather than high perceived production value. As a professional educator, your videos are probably already of a very high educational quality. Nonetheless, if you do hope to give your videos that polished touch, these seven steps will certainly get you heading in the right direction, and help increase your global audience size if that’s a goal for your videos.

 

 

Six pieces of advice I wish I’d had before making my first learning video

Don’t let anyone tell you otherwise: making learning videos is really easy if you want it to be. Sure, you can make things as simple or as complex as you want, and I won’t belittle the work that some teachers go to in producing content; some have spent years perfecting their skills and spent hours or days producing a singly high quality video. But, of course, not every educational video has to be an award winning high budget piece. What’s more, many educational videos don’t involve a camera or any kind of filming; converting a PowerPoint presentation into a video is quick and easy.

Even if the videos you start to produce don’t have a sparkly “high quality” feel, that doesn’t mean the educational quality of them is anything less than very high. Remember that when making videos for education, you are already a professional: a professional educator. Having little or no experience in video-making is not something that should hold you back.

So, if it’s so easy, how do you get started? Here are the tips I wish I had when I started making videos for my students.

1. Choose a topic, and keep it short

You want to share the information as simply and concisely as possible. The first video I ever made (which I introduce with “This is a quick presentation to describe the process of…”) was anything but quick. It ran for about 15 minutes – WAY too long.

Aim to make your presentation 3 to 5 minutes. And don’t be tempted to repeat anything for clarity. It makes sense to use repetition for re-enforcement in the classroom, but with videos the students can pause and replay easily (that’s one of the main benefits), so let them choose.

When it comes to choosing a topic, I strongly recommend keeping it bite-sized. It might be tempting to try and cover a full chapter/unit of work in one video, on the pretense that keeping it all in one video condenses the whole thing. This isn’t as effective as it sounds. Students will generally benefit from watching a video on a single individual concept. When they are learning or revising, they’ll be put off if they have to skip forward to a certain point into a 20 minute video to find the exact bit of information they want.

For example, a science teacher doing a unit on “forces”, should avoid doing a video summarizing the forces chapter, but instead do several videos with titles like, “What is a Newton”, “What is the gravitational constant”, “Calculating force using Mass and Acceleration” etc. A prep school English teacher might want to summarise “Grade 5 grammar rules” in a single video, but it would probably be better to do a series of 2 minute videos on each individual grammar rule. This is far more accessible for viewers.

2. Create a high quality presentation

If you haven’t ever made a video before and don’t know where to start, narrating a presentation is a great starting point. Microsoft PowerPoint and Apple’s Keynote both allow you record and narrate a presentation, then export that as a video. I won’t go into exactly which buttons to push because it changes with each new version of the software but generally you need to click “Slideshow” somewhere at the top of the screen, then click “Record Slideshow”. You won’t struggle to find it, whichever version you’re using.

Make sure you consider how your presentation will come across as a video. We all know what death by PowerPoint feels like, we’ve all had to sit through presentations where someone puts a block of text on the screen and reads it to us, so much so that it’s a cliché now. The rules for presentations for video are slightly different, but not entirely different. Here are the main things to remember.

– Your voice is in the video so don’t worry about relying on text.

– A picture (or diagram) is worth a thousand words. Videos are visual, so take advantage of this.

– Use lots of slides, rather than a few slides with lots of content on each. This makes the content look for sleek and clean, and means the viewer is focused only on the information you want them to focus on. Having a single slide with only one word or phrase on is perfectly reasonable.

3. Choose your animations CAREFULLY

By animations I’m talking about the way you can make text and images magically fly in and bounce around the screen. This is part of creating a quality presentation, but it deserves a special mention of its own.

Usually I would say don’t use animations in normal (non video) presentations; they’re overdone and cheesy. But with videos they are very useful. I strongly recommend making things appear when you want to discuss them, and not before. This is another way to keep the viewer focused on what you want them to focus on.

A good example is a labeled diagram: show the diagram, unlabeled, and as you describe each feature, make the label for that feature appear. The reason this is more important with video content is because you can’t point at something on the screen like you might in class. There are tools for using the mouse as a pointer when recording a presentation but I find them clumsy and hard to use, so I rely on animations.

Now, when I say use them carefully, I mean stick to one type of animation. If you’re first piece of text bounces in from the left of the screen, don’t have the second piece of text fade in with sparkles. This not only looks awful, it becomes distracting and takes the attention off your content. I tend to stick with a simple “fade in” effect on all my presentations, and only use anything different when there is a distinct, relevant, dramatic effect I’m trying to achieve.

4. Borrow free photos, and give credit

Plain text is boring, and as I’ve already mentioned, a picture is worth a thousand words. Add relevant images into your presentation to support what you’re saying.

I’m very careful with copyright when it comes to using images. I used to spend AGES searching for images online with the appropriate license that allowed me to use them. It gets complicated because you have to understand the type of license, and what the creator of the image expects of you. For example, some say you can use their picture for anything without limits, others say you can use it but must give them credit, others say you can use it but not modify it. Some creators are very specific about HOW you credit them. The point I’m making is that finding and using images legally can be a huge time constraint.

I really wish someone had showed me Pixabay and Pexels when I started out. These websites share photos with a Creative Commons 0 license, which means you can download them and use them in your videos (even if you’re making money from the videos), and you don’t need to give credit for the photo, so there’s no concern that you might accidently use something incorrectly and get a take-down notice.

For the sake of professionalism, I recommend having a “credits” section as the final slide of your video, and perhaps stating something like “Stock photography from Pixabay”, just as an acknowledgment that you’re not claiming that it is your own photography.

Also remember, plagiarism is a huge problem in this day and age, and it’s good to set the right tone with the students you teach.

5. Script it, then narrate it

When I started, I figured, “Hey, I know what I’m talking about with this topic, I’ll save some time on scripting the presentation and I’ll just wing it.”

Wrong. Wrong. Wrong.

Some people have a gift for winging it, and make it sound good. But honestly, I believe the vast majority of people need a script. I remember narrating a single slide, fumbling over the words, re-recording, fumbling again, practicing it, then trying again… and then on to slide 2. It became very time consuming.

Do yourself a favour, spend 5 to 10 minutes writing a little script or even just some bullet points (word for word isn’t really necessary), to save yourself 30 minutes of fumbling over your own words while narrating.

6. Share it

Get a Youtube channel if you don’t already have one, and make sure it’s future-proof. By that I mean, think about the direction you are taking the channel when you choose your name.

Maybe you are making grammar videos for your Grade 6 English class. You might call the channel “Mrs Smith’s G6 grammar”.

Well, first off, is it possible you will create content for grades 7 and 8 as well? Next, will it only ever focus on grammar? Or will you branch into other aspects of the course?

Don’t let me dissuade you from being specific; being vague in your channel name can make it unclear. For example, “Mrs Smith’s Grammar” is better than “Mrs Smith’s Channel”, assuming grammar is the only focus.

And, next are you sure that you will only make videos for your own students? What if your first video gets 50 thousand views and you hope to monetize it in future? In which case, do you want your name on it or do you want more of a catchy brand name like “Apostrophe Ess” (get it?!)? Either way is fine, but it’s a choice you need to make.

Wrap Up

Ultimately, the best thing you can do is just get started and feel your way, because nothing beats actual experience, but if you follow the advice here hopefully you’ll find the whole process runs far more smoothly. If you’re just getting started with the idea of making videos for your students, then best of luck with your first video.

If you use my advice for your videos, please share it in the comments section and add in any advice for others that you might have gained from making your first video.

Five Easy Steps for Creating a Flipped Learning Lesson

Flipped learning has become one of those pedagogy buzzwords over the past few years. I think it’s worth the hype and use it a lot with my students, but wish I’d had some advice on getting started before I began the process!

For those that haven’t really delved into this flipped classroom idea, here is the summary: teaching using a flipped classroom approach involves students learning content at home in advance of the lesson, and then they spend the lesson doing activities that allow them to engage with the topic in more depth.

For any teacher who’s willing to try it, it’s really easy to get started with flipped learning, and it doesn’t need to take any more time than planning a regular non-flipped lesson.

You’ve quite possibly seen a few similar posts to this one, other articles or podcasts along the lines of, “X number of steps for a great flipped classroom”. It seems to me that most of these focus on making a presentation to share with your students. There are lots of resources you can use as the pre-class task for flipped learning, and presentations made into videos are one of the most common ways, but for the purpose of introducing flipped learning (and keeping it fast and simple), I’m assuming you’re NOT making your own video content (yet). My focus here is on the lesson as a whole.

So here are five easy steps to creating a flipped learning lesson:

1. Find your input task

The input task is the part where the students get the facts. Examples include online videos, listening activities, research, or sometimes just reading a page from their textbook. The main aim is to make sure all of the knowledge objectives of your lesson are covered. You’ll rarely struggle to find the content you need on Youtube, so have a browse and see what you can find. If you do choose to use videos, my advice is to choose ones that are five minutes in length or shorter. Try to consider your students’ attention spans.

Recent news articles or educational podcasts can make for interesting tasks if having something current is important in your learning objectives. In my lessons I cover a lot of contemporary environmental issues with high school students and so news articles on things like the effects of climate change provide quite a wealth of material. The content you choose will depend on the subject you teach and the age group you work with, but I don’t think you’ll find it difficult to get good educational content online in this day and age.

Remember that the idea is to give students all of the facts they need via this input method. Sure, facts and rote learning are not something you’re focusing on in the grand scheme of things, but view this in the context of Bloom’s Taxonomy; “remember” is right there at the base level, and the students aren’t able to access higher order thinking, like applying knowledge, unless they have those facts as a foundation. Make sure your input task contains good solid facts – the things you want to focus on for that lesson.

2. Create the engagement task

Once you’ve got the input task chosen, create some engagement work. The purpose of this is to give the students a focus while watching the video (or following whatever input task you set). I don’t expect my students to gain the knowledge from a video without having some sort of focus while doing it. Usually I think a question sheet is the best choice for an engagement task. As they watch the video or do the reading, they answer 5 to 10 questions based on it, which directs their attention to the main points, the points you hope to cover in the lesson. Question sheets also provide a good opportunity for you to give feedback at the very beginning of the lesson.

When you’re setting flipped learning homework, your instructions for students will probably be, “Watch the video and use it to answer this question sheet before next lesson.”

Remember that you would probably create a homework tasks for a non-flipped lesson anyway, so this doesn’t take any more time than making resources for a “normal” lesson.

3. Get a blog for sharing content with the class.

Flipped learning opens up a lot of doorways to the way you share information with students. You will probably end up using online videos, (online) newspaper articles, podcast episodes… all sorts of digital media. It’s great to reach the students in a range of ways, but it does get difficult to share this kind of content easily. It’s often impossible to share the web addresses for a specific video/article in class because web addresses can be lonnnnnnng.

A class blog is great because you can tell the students, “Watch the video and use it to answer the questions. You’ll find the link to today’s video on our class blog”. It saves a lot of time and effort in the long run.

4. Plan your class activities carefully for higher order thinking.

Think about Bloom’s Taxonomy here. Your students hopefully have reached the “remember” and “understand” levels of the ladder before they start the lesson. So what activities can you plan that help them reach higher order thinking? Here are some ideas I like to work with:

“Write a [pamphlet] about…”

Replace pamphlet with whatever is appropriate for the topic. As a Biology teacher, I could ask students to create a pamphlet warning about ways to reduce the transmission of disease (as part of a chapter on disease and transmission).

“Create a presentation to [a company/the local council] convincing them to [do something].”

This is very adaptable to many topics. The loose premise is to have students create a presentation proving that they understand the topic they did for homework, while reformulating their knowledge. Examples include presenting to the local council to convince them to use more energy efficient technology (for a lesson on renewable energy), or to a historical figure encouraging them to take a different course of action (for a history lesson).

“Teach the teacher.”

Tell the students that they are the teacher for the lesson and they have to teach you (role-playing the student for the lesson) about the topic. This is inherently differentiated because some students will only be able to re-iterate the main points of the lesson, while others will be able to reformulate and create new ideas based on the content, which is very high order thinking. The lesson is accessible and beneficial to all levels. To make that is true, I would recommend setting your expectations very clearly on this before the students begin; make sure they know that reformulating the ideas they’ve learnt is a target for the task, possibly by giving a rubric or possibly by setting a new context. For example, if my lesson focused on conservation strategies for endangered species, some thing I do teach often, the “teach the teacher” task might be, “Teach me how to create a nature reserve here in this town to protect species X, Y, and Z”. From this, reformulating ideas and applying knowledge is more of a requirement.

Whatever your chosen activity is, make sure it involves some creative thinking on the part of the students, as well as analysis and application of the concepts they covered for homework. As I mentioned, it’s also really helpful to give students an assessment rubric for any work you set. Which leads us to point five.

5. Think about feedback and assessment

All types of assessment will change a little with a flipped lesson. The activities don’t lend themselves to traditional marking so assigning a grade or score can be tricky, and as there is often less writing, you have to think more carefully about what you will base your feedback on.

In my flipped lessons I minimize student writing time and solo work. This presents the problem: how do I assess the students, both formatively and summatively? First of all, the activities usually lend themselves to effective informal assessment (via teacher monitoring), but second of all, they are great opportunities for rubric-based assessment, and therefore feedback. Giving out the criteria to students before they start the activity gives the students a focus for completing their task, and the criteria can be used by their peers (and you, the teacher) to assess students (and assign a summative assessment score if that’s one of your goals for the lesson).

Wrap-up

It may sound complicated at first but once you do one lesson you’ll realize two things. Firstly, it takes about the same amount of planning and effort to create a flipped learning lesson as it does to make a “normal” lesson, and secondly, it’s a lot more fun (for students AND their teacher) to have a flipped classroom. Good luck!

Reflecting on a flipped learning lesson


Recently I did a flipped learning lesson on enzymes for a year 10 (age 14-15) IGCSE Biology class. The results were fantastic, and the lesson was well received by the students. The content was covered far more efficiently than with a traditional (non-flipped) lesson, and students were obviously having a great time.

(The full lesson plan and all resources are available here.)

At this point I should mention that not all of my lessons are flipped; I think flipped learning is a positive paradigm shift in teaching and I aim to maximise its use, but I don’t think teaching is a one-trick show. I don’t think there is one teaching method that suits every topic, every teacher, and every student. (And the science supports this; students learn better when there is variety, but more on that in a later post).

The basic outline of the lesson went like this:

  • At the end of Monday’s lesson (Monday’s lesson wasn’t related to enzymes), I gave the students the worksheet on enzymes, and directed them to the video on Youtube that would give them the information to complete the sheet.
  • At the very beginning of the next lesson (which was on Thursday), students did peer checking to compare answers. The work wasn’t assessed as it was a learning task, not an assessment task, so students were told that changing answers is OK here, it’s not “cheating”.
  • After the peer review, we did a class review, then I took questions. The students were all engaged, and most of them took additional notes on their homework sheet as part of the group review. By now we were 10 minutes into the lesson and all students had covered all the content and reviewed it. Of course, the level of understanding each student had, and their ability to apply the work, was unknown at this point, but that’s OK for now.
  • Next, the students started the in-class task. They had to create a role-play to demonstrate enzyme function, including the effects of extreme temperatures. (For the non-science teachers: Enzymes change shape and therefore can’t do their job if the temperature gets too high, and this is an appropriately challenging concept to demonstrate as a role-play). I’ve used role-plays a lot in different types of lessons and for different topics. From experience I know that these can be quite non-inclusive as students who are shy, or possibly don’t fully understand the work, tend to say nothing and just do as instructed by the other students to complete the role-play. My solution for this was a staggered planning phase:
    • Students work in pairs to plan the role-play.
    • Students find a new partner and share their ideas again.
    • Pairs join pairs (to make a group of four) and then collaborate on the best way to do the role-play.
    • Repeat this until the group sizes are as you want. I ended up doing some extra re-shuffling and had groups of 6 for the role-play

 

By the time that large group work got underway, every student had had a chance to apply the work in a pair setting. Careful teacher monitoring is important here, and throughout this lesson, as a form of micro formative assessment to determine how much understanding and application there is. The room was a hive of activity and enthusiastic discussion throughout the pair-share sections. Keep Bloom’s taxonomy in mind here: the students “remembered” and hopefully “understood” before the discussions even began. In the pair activities some students had the chance to gain an understanding from their partner, while others were at the level of “applying” and “creating” as they came up with ideas for the role-play. Do you see the implication here?! Some students were reaching the highest order of thinking within 15 minutes of their first lesson on the topic!

The role-plays at the end of the lesson were really useful for me and the students. For the students, the role-play gave them a goal to pull everything together; the idea of performing a role-play to the class gives a healthy sense of pressure. But for me, this was a great chance for some formative assessment; the performances were a direct reflection of student understanding and highlighted any misconceptions. I was pleased to see, there were very few.

I can’t talk about all of the pros without addressing some of the cons associated with this approach. In the past I have taught this topic the traditional (non-flipped) way. Typically it would take around three lessons to cover the amount of work covered here. Over those lessons, new ideas would be introduced, and each time a new idea is introduced it would be presented in the context of what had already been studied. In short, students would have had several lessons to review and re-apply the key concepts of the topic. Does this flipped method race through the content and deny students important review opportunities? My instinct says, “no”. My long-term plan would be the same regardless of the teaching method: the amount of time I have available to teach the chapter on Enzymes is the same. The students may have covered most of the chapter in a single lesson, but that doesn’t mean this is the only lesson we will spend on it. The only consequence I can see is that I now have “too much” time available. This is never a bad thing. Here is the chance to fit in an extra practical activity or maybe try some other idea that I’ve wanted to implement for a while but never had the time to schedule it.

I rounded off the lesson by a quick show of hands from the students, asking how many preferred the “learn at home first” way and how many preferred the “learn at school” method. The results were 18 to 2 for flipped learning. There’s not too much to read into this because what a students wants, and what is best for their learning, are often two very different things. Nonetheless, giving students a chance to share their opinions on their own learning is always important, and asking these questions as way to tell students that their opinion matters. It’s good for rapport building at the very least.

If you want to try the Enzyme lesson describe here, all resources including the homework, video and lesson plan are available here at Science Sauce Online.