Education ∪ Math ∪ Technology

Month: December 2008 (page 1 of 1)

Communication Online with Students Outside of Class

Once you’ve started working with creating and managing online resources for your students, it becomes natural that the ways the students communicate with you is going to change a little bit.  Here are some guidelines for ways you can communicate with your students, and some ways to protect yourself while doing so.

Last night a student of mine asked me a question while I was online through Google chat.  I didn’t mind answering it, and so we had a quick 5 minute discussion about her project.  This saved me a bunch of time the following day, because I didn’t need to repeat the same conversation with everyone else, I just posted the relevant information to my classroom Math blog and then all of the students had access to it.

Google chat has a very handy safety feature for teachers, it automatically records your chat history, which you have access from your Google mail account.  This means that you can easily protect yourself from any accusations of misconduct which might occur.  This process is very similar to a student calling you on your phone and so the same principles apply.  If you don’t want a student trying to contact you via Google chat, don’t give out your gmail address.

You can also communicate quite effectively with students via email.  This has the advantage of allowing multiple students to receive responses, being able to record your conversations for later, and finally being able to send responses when it is convenient for you.  I hate it when students come up to me immediately after a class and ask a bunch of detailed questions because I almost always need to go to the bathroom, or prepare for another course, or get a snack.  These are the times when being able to send an email later is very handy.

Google mail has two neat features that make email with students a bit easier to manage.  The first is that you can apply a label to any email message sent or received between you and a student, which is a handy way of finding messages from students in specific classes.  The other feature I like is called filtering, which can allow you to perform automatic actions on emails that you receive depending on the sender, the contents of the email, etc…  One of the things I like to do is automatically label student emails by class when I receive them.

Finally, never delete emails between you and a student.  They are proof that you have been trying to help the student, which can be useful for administrative reasons I won’t go into here.  You can keep them to help yourself remember what types of questions ask about particular topics.  Finally your record helps protect you from potential problems later.

An interesting and relatively new way to communicate with students is through a website called  This website basically acts as a place where you can post a quick (140 characters maximum) message to the world, and anyone who is "following" you gets a copy of the message.  Since you can forward messages sent to you to your cell phone, it allows you to receive messages from an online source quickly and easily to your mobile phone.  This can be an easy way to set up a one-way broadcast system between you and each of your students in a particular class.  As long as you don’t "follow" your students’ messages, you won’t get any messages from your students that you don’t want.

Emails and chats are good for 1 on 1 or 1 on a few types of communications, but by far the best tool I have used for communication with my students is my classroom blog, described in another post.  Basically, I post information, worksheets, assignments to my mathematics blog, and students can all come read it on their own time.  The information is totally public and always available to look at later.  I also have students do daily summaries of what happened in class, which means I have a record of all of my lessons.  Students are free to post comments, which gives me some idea of what the class understood, and what they had difficulty.  For some reason I find my students are a bit more honest when responding on the blog, or rather less likely to remain silent about difficulties.  In fact, I’ve enacted policy changes because of legitimate complaints students have brought up through the blog, so it has acted as a tool to empower students as well.

These are 4 ways you can communicate online with your face to face students on a day to day basis.  Although we all don’t want our professional life to creep into our personal life too much, we also want to make sure that we help our students learn effective modes of communication, and that they have the help they need to handle those difficult projects we seem to be throwing at them endlessly these days.  Stay tuned for a future article about how to use for communicating with up to 20 students simultaneously for free.


Using Camstudio to Create Videos Tutorials

Once in a while I have a new application, web applet, or web site I want students to use.  Occasionally these programs are somewhat tricky for my students to use, so when this happens, I create a simple video for my students to watch to introduce the programs.  Of course, I don’t want to pay any money to create these short tutorials, so I have a simple process I follow (which works on Windows):

1.  Use Camstudio to record the video (and audio).

2.  Record the short video (usually 2 minutes long or so) as many times as
     necessary to get it right rather than editing the video.  The free video editors
     I’ve seen have not been user friendly at all so I find it easier to re-record.

3.  Upload the video to

4.  Post the video using the embed feature of Youtube, or link the video from my
     classroom blog.

What do you need to do this?  Well first you need a computer fast enough to handle recording the video and processing whatever other program you are working with.  Most modern computers should suffice, but still, I tend not to have any other programs actively running at the same time.  Also, I’ve noticed that Camstudio tends to have trouble recording certain embedded multimedia (like recording a video of a video can be problematic).  The second thing you need is a decent microphone for recording audio with your presentations.  I use a simple analog microphone that I plug into my computer, and then I do my recording with as little background noise as possible.  Of course you need to download the Camstudio program, which happily you can do from this page for free.  The last thing need is a Youtube account, which again is free, as long as your videos are less than 10 minutes long.

The Camstudio program is divided into a bunch of smaller programs, including Player, Playplus, Producer, and Recorder.  Of these programs, the only one I actively use is Recorder, although Player opens up automatically when I finish recording. 

When I start recording, I open up Camstudio Recorder, set up my tutorial space I want to record (whether it is an application, a website, or whatever) and then change the settings in Camstudio Recorder so that I record the part of the screen I want to record. 

There are a couple of useful settings in Camstudio you should know about.  The first is the recording region, available from the top menu under the Region menu.  You can either choose a fixed region, the currently active window, or full screen mode.  Active Window and Full screen are easy to set up, with Fixed Region I usually select the specific part of the screen I want to record and not select the top corner to be fixed.  Some sample settings are shown to the right.  This allows me to specific how large the recording window is, and then I can choose where I want the top-left corner to be when I start recording.

The second useful setting is under Options ⇒ Program Options ⇒Minimize program on start recording, which I basically use to hide Camstudio before I start recording.

There are lots of other options for Camstudio which can play around with.  I find the program remarkable easy to use, given the power it provides you with.  The program does not take up a lot of space or require any special installation, which means you could easily run it from a thumbdrive and take it around with you.

To start recording, you click on the red circle, when you are finished recording you either click on the blue square, or press F9 on your keyboard.  If you want to pause for a second in your recording, you click on F8 or on the pair of black rectangles.  As soon as you finish recording, Camstudio Player should pop up after the audio is compressed, and show you a preview of the video.  If you are satisfied with it, you can login into your Youtube account and upload it.  If not, re-record and run through the steps again.

This is an excellent way to produce short tutorial clips for sharing with your students.  For the other steps in this process, they are a little bit too complicated to include in this simple tutorial, but there are lots of web pages that explain how to upload a video to Youtube, and then embed that video in your blog.  Now you are ready to create your video tutorials!