I hear you…and I SEE you!

As I was reading and learning about screencasting, I found myself wondering about some things. The article “7 things you should know about Screencasting” started me thinking…

Screencasts can be thought of as podcasts of a computer monitor. Podcasts are easy-to-make audio files that can be edited and distributed online. Screencasts capture the feeling of personal connection that podcasts provide, with the added benefit of video to see what is being discussed. And, like podcasts, screencasts can be easily distributed through blogs and other Web pages.

I found myself wondering, as we’ve been discussing visual literacy, if people are taking advantage of the simplicity and versatility of screencasts. One of my favorite podcasts, Chinesepod.com, was one that I listened to while living in Shanghai to try and expand my knowledge and ability with Mandarin (which is so painfully tonal and when you are tone deaf that makes life very difficult…and unfortunately Thai has even MORE tones than Mandarin, just my luck). While trying to learn more Mandarin-well, actually when trying to learn anything-I have found that seeing words helps me tremendously. I am a visual learner; I can learn other ways, but visual cues help significantly. Even when I’m trying to learn someone’s name, writing it down or asking how it is spelled for the mental imagery helps.

So, when trying to improve my Mandarin, I did like listening to Chinesepod.com, but I also found that having a piece of paper to write the words as I heard them helped me to retain more of the language I was learning through the podcast. I now find myself wondering if Chinesepod.com were to create screencasts in lieu of/or addition to their podcasts, if this might make the learning even more versatile for all of the auditory and visual learners out there? In my brief search, the only screencasts I found them using were in their help section with tutorials on FAQ, etc. Of course, if you pay for the subscription, you have access to more materials. My question is, if screencasts are so simple and easy to make, why aren’t those offered like the free podcasts?

On a positive note, I did find in my search a Thai language learning site, Learn Thai Podcast, that did offer some free Thai language lessons and included a written transcript with each lesson. Maybe that will help my Thai language learning (not likely, remember MORE tones than Mandarin? Sigh.) I do wonder if these sites will start offering screencasts in lieu of podcasts with the plethora of video iPods and iPhones and similar devices currently in use. Sometimes I feel like I’m the only person left in the world without an iPod/iPhone!

It will be interesting to watch and see if more of the people using podcasts begin to utilize screencasts…for visual learners like me, I know I’d like to see that happen!

Drag and drop-gotta love it!

Okay, so here it is. My first solo video project…and by solo I mean without Jeff’s help! He was so proud, even though it really is NOT a great video, because I genuinely did the entire thing on my own (well, Mary did have to help me find the ‘export’ button under share-that’s a stupid place to put it anyway, so not intuitive!).

Before anyone makes fun of my first solo attempt, I need to clarify how this came about. I was told in our face to face class I had to practice making a video, do something to get familiar with the program (iMovie 09). So I was handed a little camera and told to create something in the next hour or so.

I decided to take myself for a walk around the school, avoiding the numbing air con was my primary motivation. I began walking and filming with a grandiose idea of creating a video about a journey. I imagined myself narrating with some brilliant philosophical insights into the twists and turns of life’s path. All the while I was filming I was narrating in my head.

Upon returning with my inspired video shots all revolving around this concept…I then began to understand that I would have to record my voice and post this on the Internet. Sigh. Now not only would I have to have my face and written words out there (due to our blogging requirement for this class) but now I would also have my voice out there for the world to hear as well. Ummm…not ready for that yet. As I wrote about in my first blog post, I do not have the desire to be center stage!

So, I quickly reworked my brilliant concept (so NOT brilliant really) and turned it into something a bit different, something that did not require MY voice. And I will say I was also proud of myself, not because I think the video is any good, but because I did do it on my own! Not that I have any illusions as to what this says for my tech skills-it really is a testimony to how easy iMovie 09 is to use. Drag and drop has got to be a girl’s best friend!


Selling the message

I found myself thinking after reading David Jakes’ post from May of 2008…which is what a good blog post should do-get you to thinking. David said in his post:

Emotion, depicted through visual means, sells the message.

This is what we’ve been talking about in this class at great length. Emotion is what sells our messages. Using visual imagery (whether it be photos or videos) is a way to help ‘sell our message.’ Looking back at a previous post talking about International School Brussels ‘brochure without words’ that is exactly what they were after. ISB wanted you to feel something when you looked at their brochure. Sitting around a table with a group of colleagues discussing the imagery in the brochure was an interesting experience. Each of us sitting there had responded strongly emotionally to different parts of the brochure…yet we all consistently responded emotionally (in a positive way) to what was trying to be communicated.

David goes on in his post to talk about the power of visuals and how this now gives us (and our students) a competitive voice.

Visuals, when combined with other multimedia, provide individuals with a competitive voice. One that can be heard. One that can be measured. One that says “here I am, and here’s what I think, here is what I have to contribute. Now what do you think?” Kids have meaningful things to say, so challenge them to produce visual content with purpose and with pride. Help kids understand that the world is more connected then ever, and that producing visual content like this becomes even more powerful…

In education we constantly talk about how to engage our students, how to make learning meaningful for them. This is how we do it; we provide them with that ‘competitive voice’ that David was talking about. Understanding this new digital age comes with not just understanding the connectedness of our world, but also grasping the power that each individual has to leave her mark on that same world. Utilizing visual means, we have the ability to let our voices be heard and to sell our message.

Less is more

2252338216_0ce0f5d73c_b1I met with a student the other day who said to me “I didn’t finish my Powerpoint presentations because I was SO confused!” He went on to explain that in one class they are working on creating presentations in Powerpoint using more of a Presentation Zen style-minimal words, powerful visual imagery, etc. But then in his other class where he was supposed to create another Powerpoint, he was instructed to include a lot of information in the Powerpoint. Now this is a student who struggles with following directions anyway, but add to that two directly conflicting sets of instructions on two very similar assignments…he was doomed!

Seeing presentations done in a more ‘Zen’ style certainly helps convince me that they are more interesting and informative. Yet the concern has been raised that as educators, especially in International Schools, we routinely are working with individuals who’s native language is not English. Does the same concept apply then? Using minimal words/texts on a slide is great for me, a native English speaker, but if I were trying to follow a presentation in a language that I am not a native/fluent speaker of, I’m not so sure it would have the same effect.

I think being aware of your audience and the purpose behind what you are trying to communicate are key factors when utilizing any presentation style. Garr Reynolds, who blogs about professional presentation design, writes about when he’s asked what is a ‘good’ Powerpoint:

So much depends on how the visual is placed within the context of the presentation, and the content and objectives of that particular presentation are of paramount concern. Without a good knowledge of the place and circumstance, and the content and context of a presentation, it is impossible to say this is “appropriate” and that is “inappropriate.”

1483289796_ce342252b5_oGoing back to my confused student above, the class that wanted more information on the Powerpoint was a Modern Language class-where students are not native speakers of the language they are learning/presenting in. The class that wanted a more ‘Zen’ like design was his Humanities class. This goes back to again understanding the purpose and audience for whom the presentation is intended. I feel, too, that there is a personal preference and expertise that comes into play as well. I know for me (who hates doing presentations passionately) I prefer to have a bit more information on a slide to support, inform, and (maybe a bit) distract from looking/listening to me! I also think it is about changing the way we’ve always done things. We’re moving away from the Powerpoints with listed bulleted items (gotta love the bullets, the check marks were my favorite) and moving towards a simpler, more visual presentation style. This change comes with time and an understanding why this style can be a more effective way to communicate. My guess is even people who do a lot of presenting (Jeff and Kim) started out slowly until they developed and expertise of utilizing this visual imagery style of presenting. The rest of us are coming along…maybe a bit more slowly and reluctantly, but we’re coming!


Vast Emptiness
Vast Emptiness

I love the topic of visual imagery and how it impacts communication. It brings me back to my very first Psychology class my sophomore year in high school discussing subliminal messages. I can recall being fascinated and appalled all at the same time. I remember thinking to myself ‘does this really work?’ And the more I studied it, the more I realized it did.

I have for years spent a good chunk of time focusing on communication skills with my students. A large portion of our time is spent on a lot of nonverbal stuff. We even talk about how the clothes you wear and how you do your hair tells people something about you…all visual imagery.

One of the neatest things I’ve seen in some time is International School Brussel’s idea of having a “brochure without words.” There is some powerful visual imagery. What I found important, though, was that the pictures were full of impact in and of themselves-but without the carefully chosen words added, I think the essence of what was trying to be communicated would have been diluted. I felt the combination of some very careful word choice, keeping it minimal, and then some excellent pictures worked together to create a powerfully moving package. So much so that when my friend and I looked at it we were ready to pack up and move to that school!

We have for a long time manipulated visual imagery to enhance our communication-or to convince others of a point of view or belief. Now we are in an age where this can be done faster, easier, and even more powerfully. Whereas before the lay person was not able to readily create imagery for a variety of reasons, now anyone with access to technology and some simple programs can find ways to manipulate imagery to serve her purpose. Done correctly, absolutely this can enhance communication…but it can also detract from it if done poorly!