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Test 1: BABBBADBCB
Test 2: BCDBED
A while back I announced that this blog was being folded into the Chronicle of Higher Education Blog Network. I’m pleased to announce that the move has officially taken place. You can check out Casting Out Nines v. 2.0 (or whatever version I’m up to) at
I want to give the folks at the Chronicle a lot of kudos for the excellent visual design work they’ve done on the new site. It’s minimalist — which I like — but also has some very nice stylistic touches. I hope the content will match the quality of the look.
This post will be the last one made to this WordPress.com site. All future posts will be made at the new place. All the old content that is here at WordPress.com has been (as far as I know) successfully ported to the new site, with the exception of comments that have been made in the last week. I’ll be keeping this WordPress.com site open for archival purposes because it’s no cost to me. But I will probably close comments on all the posts at some point to make sure nobody’s comments end up getting “lost” on this site.
Just a few notes to close things out here:
Don’t look now, but it’s the return of the Friday Random 10. Ten songs selected at random from my family’s, um, eclectic iTunes library. Notice how I say “my family’s” library, so as to deflect questions about why there are so many kids’ songs or Glee stuff coming up.
I spent most of Wednesday at the 17th annual Fall Conference on Teaching and Learning, put on by my new employer, Grand Valley State University. It was a full day of good ideas and good people, and I really enjoyed engaging with both. One experience from today has really stuck with me, and it happened during the opening session as Kathleen Bailey, professor in the Criminal Justice department, was speaking about the changing student demographic we are encountering (not just at GVSU but everywhere in higher ed).
Kathleen comes from a fairly unique position as not only a professor of CJ and assistant director of freshman orientation but also as a former parole officer for teenagers. In her talk, she drew some parallels between parenting, being a parole officer, and working with college students. I was pretty uncomfortable with that three-way comparison at first, but the more she spoke, the more I had to admit the similarities were pretty striking. She spoke about three conditions that troubled teens — and indeed all children — need to have if they are to thrive:
This process is all about building the substrate of a relationship with a kid upon which a mature, productive person can be built. The building process has to be carried out by the kid — the kid with violent tendencies has to choose to act differently, and nobody else can to that for him — but the change that takes place cannot happen in the absence of that “abiding presence” that creates the environment.
Probably by now the comparison with parenting and teaching should be clear. These, too, are about transforming the lives of young people through the presence and enabling work of another person. Kathleen referenced the notion of good-enough parenting (espoused by psychoanalyst Donald Winnicott) as a model for this kind of relationship. It’s not about being perfect or doing the right things all the time, but rather about “attuning” to the child who is in your care — that is, to attempt to respond to the needs of the child/kid/student, especially emotional needs. The ideal result is that the child/kid/student has a sense of being understood, cared for, and valued. (That’s paraphrased from the article linked just above.)
We faculty tend to focus on covering our content and drilling students to ensure they are mastering a skill set. These things aren’t unimportant. But for students, particularly new students entering into college or university, there is a strong emotional component that intermediates the learning process. They tend to be unsure of themselves; they are struggling to make social connections in a new place; they struggle with homesickness; they are inexperienced at managing freedom and end up making poor personal choices. On top of all this, if we faculty are doing our jobs, we’re asking them to stick their necks out and work harder than they ever have, and wrestle with ideas that are just beyond their grasp. So of course there is a lot of emotional stress at play. It behooves us to build this substrate of a relationship where students have those three things they need to thrive.
I am certainly not good at this sort of thing. I am an introvert and a geek, and emotional stuff like this is not my forte. But I take away two profound things from Kathleen’s talk. First, my personal preferences are irrelevant. If students are going to learn in my classes, they must have a sense that they have from me the basic respect afforded to all people, especially those embarking on a journey through a university education. Second, I can take comfort that all I have to be is “good enough”. From the article I linked earlier:
As parents, we all naturally fail at times. But if we are committed to parenting as important work, we will be able to correct our mistakes and learn from the experience. Children do not need “perfect” parents. However children do need parents they can trust to reflect on their actions and attempt to bridge misunderstandings when they occur. This working through is an act of attunement and strengthens the bond between parent and child.
It is essential to remember that our failures can in part create the healthy disappointments that children must work through to gain strength. However, these are the inevitable failures that occur, despite our best and determined efforts to be attuned and to provide the most optimal environment we can for our children. Therefore we will not have to concern ourselves with perfection. Thankfully we can narrow our focus to being the best parent we can along this path of family making we have all chosen, and turn our attention towards a deeper understanding of what it means to be attuned to our children.
That ought to be something all parents and teachers keep in mind every day. (Parole officers too, I suppose.
I suppose all this boils down to the concept of trust. Students need to know that they can trust me. I need to invest trust in my students (even though they, as imperfect people and works-in-progress, will break that trust). On a bigger level, my colleagues and I have to have a mutual sense of trust to work together. My Dean needs to trust me, and I him. In fact the whole fabric of higher education is predicated on trust. No one can learn or teach in a college where the network of trust is not iron-clad. If trust is missing from a college, what you have is a dying college.
On the other hand, where trust flourishes, learning and teaching flourish. That is the kind of environment I want for myself and my students, and so that’s where my work begins.
Last week, I had the chance to attend ScreencastCamp, a weekend event put on by Techsmith, Inc. just down M-6 in Okemos, Michigan. What a great experience! Techsmith develops Camtasia, my go-to software for all screencasting needs, as well as several other great products like Jing and SnagIt. I’ve been a fan of their products for a long time, and it was great to spend time getting to know the people behind them.
ScreencastCamp was an unconference, where there is no set agenda beforehand. Participants just come with an idea of what they want to learn, and then either put on a session or request one. There were about 40 of us participating, mostly from education but with a healthy contingent from the corporate (training) world as well. Amazingly, although this is a relatively small number of participants, all the session slots for Saturday and Sunday filled up almost immediately as people pencilled themselves in to give sessions. It was busy. Some of the sessions were like regular conference talks, while others ended up as discussions among four or five like-minded people sitting around on the sofas in a back area of Techsmith headquarters. The hosts were generous, the food (and the beer!) amazing, and the atmosphere of enthusiasm infectious.
I came away with a lot of great ideas about screencasting, but here are the three that stood out the most.
1. Write careful and complete scripts for your screencasts. Back in my series of “How I Do Screencasting” posts, I wrote that a rough script was the way to go. Now I’m a believer in complete, careful, tightly-written and -edited scripts. What’s so great about a complete script? First of all, I have a tendency to talk fast and speed up as I get going in a screencast. Scripting out what I’m going to say not only helps me to edit my thoughts down to just the essential ideas, it also provides a way to talk at a normal, relaxed pace. Second, having a script printed out in front of me will make it easier to caption my videos, which is something that I want to start doing and indeed may eventually have to do. If I have a script, I can copy and paste the text of my screencast into Camtasia for the captions. It’s a little more complicated than that sounds, but at least I wouldn’t have to transcribe the audio.
Techsmith gave us a copy of the template (MS Word, 66 Kb with a bunch of my own stuff on it) they use for their own screencast scripts. I’ve used this simple form for a series of Maple 15 screencasts I’m working on right now, and it’s really made things go a lot more smoothly than when I was reading from a text file, or making it up as I go.
2. Record your audio first, then your video. This was the most radical idea I heard. I had always recorded the audio and the video simultaneously using Camtasia, but that’s not how Techsmith themselves do it. After writing the script, Techsmith screencasters will read the script and record the audio using Audacity. Then the audio file gets exported into Camtasia as an audio track, and the video part is recorded on top of the audio separately. At first I was very skeptical of this (wouldn’t it be a lot more work?) but after trying it myself, I’m a convert. Recording the audio separately reduces cognitive load — you don’t have to worry about getting both the audio and the video right at the same time — and so both pieces turn out better. Audio is much easier to edit when it’s not attached at the hip to video, I think. And you can focus on the quality of the audio as well. As one Techsmith employee put it, viewers will put up with crappy video as long as the audio is good, but not vice versa.
The way I’ve made this work for me is with the following workflow. First, write a good script using the Techsmith template. Then, read the script into Audacity, putting plenty of “white space” in between each box in the template — this gives viewers a little breathing room while they are watching. Next, go back and edit out any mistakes in the audio, either in Audacity or in Camtasia after the audio has been exported. Then, to record the video, turn off all audio inputs (because you’ve already done the audio), start recording the screen, then start the playback of the audio track and just click along with whatever it is you’re saying from the script. After all, this is what your viewers are going to have to do. Once you’re finished, it’s relatively simple to sync up the audio and video (especially if you keep the whole thing short) by just moving the tracks up and down the Camtasia timeline until it looks like they work. Then trim off the beginning and end of the video to make the video and audio the same length.
3. Get a real microphone. I’ve mentioned before that I’m too cheap to buy a USB microphone when the built-in mic on my Macbook works passably well. But after trying some of the higher-end equipment at Techsmith and hearing what it sounds like on playback, I think I might have to be, well, less cheap. When I recorded my practice screencast in the Techsmith studio, the mic captured the full range of my voice without sounding like I was at the bottom of a well, and no other sound made it into the audio. Part of that is because I was in a studio, as opposed to my office, but part of it is the microphone. It really does make a difference.
I also picked up a ton of little tricks and tips from participants — for example, buy a dog clicker to use when you make a mistake on the audio; the spike it makes in the audio waveform is really clear and it makes it easy to find where you need to edit.
ScreencastCamp was a great experience — amazingly, it was totally free too — and I learned a great deal about how to be a better screencaster. Thanks Techsmith!
My family and I are all settled (well, mostly) here in Michigan, and pretty soon I’ll be in full swing in my new position at Grand Valley State University. I can’t overstate what a delight it’s been, getting situated at GVSU. It is a dynamic and forward-thinking university full of great people and exciting ideas. I haven’t met a single person who isn’t excellent at what they do and generous with their expertise.
I am officially taking CO9s off hiatus, and I intend to pick up the pace on blogging as the semester kicks off. That seems wrong — shouldn’t I blog more when it’s less busy? — but I’ve always seen blogging as both an overflow mechanism (to think more about what I’m doing) and an incubator (to kick off new things by rehearsing them here).
Along with a return to regular posting, I have an announcement that I’ve been waiting a long time to make. Over the next few weeks, Casting Out Nines will be rolled into the blog network of the Chronicle of Higher Education, the leading publication about higher ed in the world. Most higher ed people are already familiar with the Chronicle’s print and online publications. The Chronicle Blog Network will be a new venue of voices on the web, writing about higher education, with a worldwide scope and featuring bloggers from all corners of academia.Currently there are two excellent blogs in the network — Tenured Radical and The Ubiquitous Librarian. Casting Out Nines will be joining them.
Posts from blogs in the network will be promoted to Chronicle readers through the Chronicle’s home page, their e-newsletter, and their social media channels. When you take into account that the Chronicle’s website reaches 1.7 million unique visitors and has 14.3 million page views per month, this means that the posts here will be reaching a much, much larger audience than in the past.
Obviously I am tremendously excited about this. This has been in the works for a long time (almost a year?), and things are ready to take shape now. Over the next few weeks, content from the site will be archived and ported over to a new location hosted by the Chronicle on their servers. It will be a hosted WordPress site, which will allow me to add a considerable number of elements to the site that WordPress.com doesn’t currently allow, like different video formats and MathJax typesetting. And I won’t have to deal with technical difficulties. (Although I am not getting any money for this, I consider having a team of experts handling the technical end of things to be more than enough compensation.)
Eventually, when you type in the usual URL for this site, you will be redirected to the new site on the Chronicle’s servers. This means you won’t need to change any web bookmarks you use to get here. As far as RSS feeds go, you might need to change the address. I’m not certain how this will go. Keep your current RSS feed and if it “goes dark” all of a sudden, check back in on the main site; if it’s been officially moved, there will be an RSS subscription link at the new place you can use to replace the old one.
I should stress that although CO9’s will be officially a Chronicle blog, the Chronicle will NOT be editing my work or telling me what to write about or not write about. Also, none of the blogs in the network will be behind the Chronicle’s paywall. The posts you get and the way in which you get them will be the same as always (hopefully the posts will improve in quality…). But you’ll be among potentially a whole lot more readers and commenters, the whole look/feel of the experience should be improved, and you’ll be able to put my posts into context with others in the network and with the Chronicle itself.
It would be wrong not to say a huge thank-you to all of you. (Bonus points if you can remember the blog when it was called something else… and what that “something else” was.) I hope you stick around for the next iteration.
It’s been pretty quiet around here at Casting Out Nines lately. This is mainly due to two things. First, I’m spending five days a week home with my oldest two kids — the youngest joins us on Wednesdays — and keeping the kids active and engaged doesn’t leave much time for blogging. Second, as you all know, I’m starting a new position at Grand Valley State University in the fall and our big move to Michigan takes place in two weeks. We’re totally uprooting in this move, and preparing for it consumes a lot of time and emotional energy.
I’ve decided that, in light of all this, that I might as well declare the blog to be on hiatus for a month or so until we’re settled. There are a couple of posts that might go up soon — one of them being the last entry in the How I make screencasts series — but otherwise let’s just call it summer vacation here at CO9’s, and things will resume in “back to school” mode later. (“Back to school” time always seems to happen too soon, but that’s another story.)
I do want to mention, because it’s hard to keep it in, that there are some major changes coming up for Casting Out Nines that I am very excited about. These have been brewing for almost a year now and are just about ready to go into place. I can’t really go into detail — nor do I have an exact timetable — but suffice to say that the experience you get here at CO9’s will be better than ever, and it’s more than just another change in the visual theme.
Anyway, that’s it from me for now — follow me on Twitter if you just can’t live without my content (ahem) but otherwise, get out there and enjoy your summer!