I've mentioned in the past that all new technologies are initially applied within the paradigm of the old technology, and online education was no exception. The first online courses (such as mine) were merely text translations of face-to-face lectures. The much-lauded “open university” programs that promised to bring the teaching of well-known universities to the public started as nothing more than video recordings of traditional lectures taken from cameras at the back of the lecture halls. You couldn't hear the students' questions, people stood up in front of the camera, much of the content was not for the audience, etc. In both cases, online education was still using the face-to-face paradigm.
But we now know that the Internet is a fundamentally interactive medium. Look in the average lecture hall and you will see students with baseball caps turned backward nodding off or on their cell phones. But peek into a computer lab and you will see students sitting up at the computers engaged in what they are doing. The difference is interactivity. We want to do something in front of a computer – not just read or watch – and online courses need to take advantage of this quality of the Internet to add interactivity to the experience. Only then are the courses matching the medium.
One excellent way to add student engagement to online courses is through interactive videos. Technologies are just now emerging that allow users to interact with videos. An exciting example is TouchCast, which takes advantage of the move to touchscreen computing in tablets and touchscreen monitors. TouchCast allows you to add interactive elements to a video that when touched on a tablet or clicked with a mouse, pause the video to open the element.
Importantly, these elements are not just mini videos. They are actual apps that allow user interactivity. For instance, you can embed a Twitter feed into a video that the user can open to view the current tweets from an account or hashtag and include their own tweets. You can add polling questions at various points in the video; PDFs for the users to open, read, and download; YouTube videos; a calendar; a news feed; and the like, with more options being constantly added to the menu.
One good use of TouchCast is as a means to create an interactive welcome to your course that includes a tour of the various apps that you will be using in the course. You can shoot a simple video of yourself welcoming the students and talking about the course with your webcam or using the digital story-making method that I discussed in an earlier column. (See “Start Your Class with a Video Welcome” at www.magnapubs.com/newsletter/online-classroom/story/6784/).
During the video you can then introduce the apps that students will be using by actually putting them into the video. For instance, you can tell students that announcements will go out via a Twitter feed and have that feed appear in the video that students can open to look over and mark down.
You can direct students to the class wiki by having that appear and ask students to look around the wiki to make sure that they can use it. You can give the students the class syllabus in a PDF that appears in the video and even include some polling questions about students' backgrounds, level of technical knowledge, or expectations. The mere fact that you have taken the time to put together an interactive video for the students will captivate them and draw them into the course. Take a look at this example—https://touchcast.com/johned/Medical_ethics_welcome_4.
You can also use TouchCast for adding interactivity to lesson content. Most online courses still separate the lesson content from the interactivity by having students view a lesson in its entirety first and then go elsewhere to engage with the content through discussions or quizzes. But separating content from engagement is not the best learning process. Is it better to have someone watch a video on the entire process of designing a bridge and then do it afterward or have the person apply each of the steps in the process as they learn them? TouchCast allows teachers to integrate engagement with the class content itself by having students do discussions, polls, ask questions, etc., at various points in the lesson where the topics come up.
While creating a TouchCast is conceptually easy, the system has some idiosyncrasies that take some getting used to, so expect a bit of a learning curve. Also, while you can play a TouchCast on nearly any device, they are designed to be made on an iPad 4 or iPad mini. I have an iPad 2 and found that you cannot import video to the iPad2. This means that you would have to use the iPad itself to record your webcast and stop and start the recording to add the elements as you go along, which unfortunately introduces some jarring head movements between clips. It is better to use a compatible iPad, create the video first with a webcam or video editor, and then import it to add the interactive elements.
There is also a PC version in beta for creating videos, but it's currently a bit buggy and does not have all the features of the iPad version. The sample I made was done on the PC version, and because of that I couldn't include the PDFs that I wanted. Plus, TouchCasts are currently not designed to be played on a PC, so the functions in the sample video will work fully only on an iPad. Nevertheless, the good people at TouchCast are diligently working to improve it, and I assume that the wrinkles will be ironed out soon.
ThingLink (www.thinglink.com) is an excellent site for adding interactivity to photos. You simply upload an image and add “hotspots” that students can click to open videos, Web pages, documents, etc. See my example here of (what else?) Green Bay Packer greats— www.thinglink.com/scene/552583384086347777. A computer science instructor could post a diagram of a computer network and allow students to explore all the different elements. They now have a video version that is in beta and is set to be released soon. Keep your eyes open for the announcement.
WireWax (www.wirewax.com) allows you to add tags to videos that you find or post on YouTube. Users click the tags to open other videos, images, articles, or sound files. While YouTube itself has an annotation feature for adding links to other videos, those other videos must also reside in YouTube. WireWax allows you to add content from a far wider range of sources and types.
New interactivity technologies allow us to finally use the Internet in the way that it was designed. Take a look at some options and have fun creating interactive videos for your classes.
John Orlando writes, consults, and teaches faculty how to use technology to improve learning. He helped build and direct distance learning programs at the University of Vermont and Norwich University and has written more than 50 articles and delivered more than 60 workshops on teaching with technology. John is the associate director of the Center for Faculty Excellence at Northcentral University, serves on the Online Classroom editorial advisory board, and is a regular contributor to Online Classroom.