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Distance Learning: The Unexpected Ease of Screen Recording

by Catherine Mooradd

At the start of distance learning, I found myself asking how do I keep mostly everything the same for my students, despite the fact that everything has changed? I understand the importance of consistency and routine in maintaining a community of motivated learners. Distance learning was about maintaining normalcy wherever I could in my lessons. I just had to figure out how.

One of my classroom routines comes about twenty minutes in, after our independent reading time. Here, students come together as a whole class. We share about our days so far, go over our essential questions, and state our learning targets. We talk about yesterday. We recognize the “why” of today. And then, you guessed it, I launch into a fury of direction giving.

I already have digitally oriented students who expect to use technology at some point throughout our lesson, whether it be a choice of texts from News ELA, or Quizlet live. Our home base is Canvas, our district’s learning management system. Therefore, it is entirely routine that I physically walk students through any directions before I say “GO” and the usual, beautiful chaos unfolds. Every day, I display my laptop screen on our classroom projector. My students watch my mouse navigate through the day’s tasks and listen to me give verbal instructions.

At the start of distance learning, I knew what directions I needed to deliver to my students every day, but I didn’t know how I could deliver them so closely to our norm. I found myself asking, how do I keep this crucial classroom time of “direction giving” the same? How can I deliver personal, digital directions asynchronously, when students are not in my classroom watching my projector, but sitting at their kitchen tables instead?

I landed on the idea of screen recording—a way to capture my computer movements live while I narrate instructions. Screen recording, or screencasting, is available through a variety of programs, such as Screencast-O-Matic, WeVideo, or Microsoft PowerPoint. Screencast-O-Matic, for example, is a free website with user-friendly buttons. The plugin allows you to test your audio before filming, press pause and resume mid recording, and even offers follow up editing tools before it publishes your video to a neat mp4 file.

Screen recording allows students to watch and re-watch your directions for that day’s lesson. They can split their screen with your video on their left, while navigating through the actual steps of the lesson on their right. They can pause you, rewind you, and repeat you. Additionally, students can be assured they are completing steps in their learning progression accurately and correctly. With screen recording, you can show students what a finished product will look like. Most importantly, you can maintain your personality, tone of voice, and sense of humor throughout your usual “instruction giving” time. There is comfort in knowing your students are listening to you, their teacher, just like they have every day since September.

The following are ways in which you can make screen recording beneficial for your students: 

  • Take advantage of showing students your whole computer, not just a PowerPoint slide. Many times, I will begin a lesson with a new desktop image or an inspirational quote that involves a personal anecdote. These little moments have the power to maintain classroom community and culture.
  • Use your curser or laptop pen to orient students towards important steps or key terms. Many screen recording programs have a bright yellow curser in the shape of a large circle.
  • Use screen recording as a tech rehearsal for your lesson. Log in issues or other problems may arise that would have gone unnoticed had you simply typed instructions for your students. Don’t re-record over small tech glitches, though. If it happened to you, chances are it will happen to your students, too. Take advantage of these moments and solve them live.
  • Use multiple windows with ease. This is a great time to minimize the online text you’re reading and pull up Canvas to display the assignment that goes alongside it. Scroll through websites and point out any helpful tools the site has to offer. This prevents having to screen shot, then copy and paste images to PowerPoint slides, which can be limiting and takes time.
  • At the end of your screen recording, use the time to reiterate how students should be reaching you during the lesson, or as a reminder for any synchronous meetings that day. You can also use this time to touch on tomorrow, so students are prepared for what is ahead!

Distance learning may have opened my eyes to screen recording, but a regular school year could really benefit from this tool as well. Screen recording could be a way you deliver enrichment options or review material to students. Teachers with flipped classrooms can make live instruction fun for homework. Most importantly, students can partake in screen recording themselves to demonstrate topics or websites to peers. I’m already envisioning our neat classroom collection of kid-driven videos, teaching us everything we have yet to learn. . . .

Call for Distance Learning Blog Posts

The PAWLP Blog would like to hear from you! What did distance learning look like for you, your students, and your school district? How will distance learning change or enhance your brick and mortar routines and best practices? What does Fall 2020 look like for you, your classroom, your school, and/or your district?

Blog posts will be featured in our Distance Learning column each Monday. Please email if you are interested or would like to find out more information.

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