21st Century School | Feature
Saving Lessons With Smart Recorder
It has happened to me too many times to count: I present an awesome lesson, one that makes me feel like a rock star. But my stardom is short-lived. The next day a student shows up who was absent the previous day, and another student just didn’t understand the lesson.
No worries. I can accommodate both students by playing the video of yesterday’s lesson on my Smart Board or on any computer. Smart Notebook’s Recorder can record an entire lesson for playback later, so I can record my lessons “live” during class or privately during my planning. As I deliver the lesson, Recorder captures every keystroke, every pen swipe on the Smart Board, and my voice. I save recorded lessons as videos and share them with students who were absent or those who need reinforcement.
Before you can begin using Smart’s Recorder, you need to invest in a quality USB microphone. I like the one Dynex makes, which sells for $19.99 at Best Buy. I also have a few sets of headphones, so students can view lessons without disturbing their classmates.
Once you plug the microphone into a USB port, open Smart Recorder by clicking the Smart icon in your computer’s notification area. The software allows you to change the quality of the audio and video through options on its menu. The higher the quality, the bigger the video file. Because I copy my videos to the school’s network and I am not restricted on space, I choose the highest quality. If you plan on sharing your video files with colleagues or students, consider the network restrictions at your school or the capacity of your flash drive before you choose the video and audio quality.
Smart Recorder offers two formats when saving videos: Windows Media Video files (.wmv) or Smart Recorder Video (.avi). You can view a .wmv file using Windows Media Player. You can also view.avi files using Windows Media Player, but only if the Notebook software is on the computer. I always choose .wmv so my videos will play on any computer.
I have the option of recording videos live in front of my class or in an empty classroom during my planning time before school or after school. Both have drawbacks, but with practice anyone can get comfortable recording in either environment.
In Front of a Class
Recording in front of a class presents a set of challenges that I don’t have in an empty classroom. Students may misbehave, I can be interrupted by a school-wide announcement, or a student may enter my class with a message—all of which disrupt the flow of my well-planned lesson. After all, when I record in front of a class, I have one chance to make it perfect. That said, if done well, live recordings allow students viewing the videos to hear their classmates’ questions and my answers. This makes them feel as though they are actually in the class and, I believe, enhances their experience.
Most of today’s classrooms that have a Smart Board also have an audio console, a wireless microphone, and speakers. If you have this equipment at your disposal, take advantage of it when making a video. The wireless microphone allows me to be mobile during the lesson. A perfectly positioned USB microphone will pick up both my amplified voice as well as students’ questions. You may need to repeat a student’s question to ensure it is audible on the recording. Or your students can ask their questions directly into your wireless microphone.
My audio console has a line out. Rather than hook up a USB microphone, I run a 1/8-inch audio jack from the line out to the computer’s line in. Every word I speak into the wireless microphone is amplified by the classroom speakers and is also sent directly to the Smart Recorder. This gives me the best sound quality. If you choose this method of recording, the students must ask their questions directly into your wireless microphone.
Smart videos cannot be edited using the Smart software once Recorder renders them. Both .wmv and .avi files can be edited using video editing software, but not without a significant time commitment. To make the best use of your time, learn to use the pause button effectively as you record.
In An Empty Classroom
If you prefer not to record in front of a class, you can record your entire lesson in an empty classroom. Videos recorded in an empty classroom may lack the excitement of a live class, but they allow you to stay true to your script, are more fluid, and offer the best overall quality.
This recording method allows me to rehearse, work directly from a script, and rerecord videos until they are perfect. Smart Recorder is not very flexible when it comes to editing. Once you click record, you may pause the recording and then press record to continue. Recorder does not allow you to rewind or fast forward to rerecord sections of the video.
Putting it All Together
Let’s say I teach social studies, and I use PowerPoint or Smart Notebook to present my lessons. Today I’m teaching a lesson on climbing Mount Everest. I’ve created a Smart Notebook file, complete with slides, handouts, scanned images, and links to appropriate websites. I print out my lesson plan – or script – and open the file I’ll use during the lesson.
I click Record on Smart Recorder, and I step through the lesson on the Smart Board. I click from slide to slide, speaking into my wireless microphone or my USB microphone as I elaborate on each topic. I visit websites that enrich my lesson, and I open Word documents and scanned images that I will later distribute as handouts. If I highlight an area on a slide using the mouse, or if I circle a word with a pen on the board, Recorder records these actions. When my lesson is complete, I click the stop button and a dialog box appears, allowing me to name the video and save it anywhere I choose. When I click Save, the software renders my video based on the options I chose at the beginning.
With just a little practice any teacher can master the use of the Smart Recorder, a tool that will enrich their lessons and allow their students to work independently and at their own pace.
Frank DiMaria is a middle school computer teacher and freelance writer living in Fort Mill, SC.