Video Code Easter Eggs

I have this sneaky trick I use to tell which students watch online videos and which don’t.  I hide “secret codes” in the videos (like the programmer’s Easter Eggs).  When a student finds one of my “Easter Egg codes” they can submit it for 1 point towards participation.  Sometimes the codes are numbers I generate at random (Ex: 40234) and sometimes it’s a word, phrase, or story (my cat is chasing a fly in front of my computer).

I don’t tell the students where the codes are. I don’t tell them HOW I’ve shared the code or what kind of code it is.  Some videos have codes, and many don’t.  Because of the random distribution of codes in videos, and my “loose” way of collecting them for points, I can always add or remove videos with codes, and it won’t affect the overall point system.

Here's an example of a video code inserted as a callout bubble. Click on image to enlarge.

Let me explain. Students are not required to watch particular videos and there are two other ways to earn participation points.  Participation for each unit is counted out of 10 points, but 5 extra credit points may also be earned.  Thus, there is a cap on the total number of points I will count.

Participation points can be earned by:

  1. Participating in a live online chat. (2 points)
  2. Posting something substantive in a Discussion. (1 point)
  3. Turning in a video code. (1 point)

Here are various ways that I hide the codes in videos:

  • In callout bubbles I add post-recording and pre-production
  • On calculator screens (sneaky, huh?)
  • In something I say out loud
  • In something I write on the journaling screen
  • In something I say and write on the journaling screen
  • In the text of a math equation
  • Underlining a particular word or phrase on the screen from a lesson
  • An action to take (call my office phone and sing the quotient rule to me)

Collecting the codes is the real trick.  Some years I’ve used a Google Spreadsheet or Doc for the collection.  This year, I’m using the comment field of the Canvas Graded Discussions.  I set up one Discussion for each unit, worth 10 points.  When a student participates in an online chat, I go to the gradebook for this Discussion and add a comment “Chat 7/9/12 = 2 points” for that student.  When the student submits a video code, I go to the gradebook for this Discussion and add the comment “Video Code 40234 = 1 point”.  Then when I go to grade the assignment, I see not only all the students’ discussion posts, but also all their collected codes and chat points (see image).

Canvas Discussions grading screen with comments. Click on image to enlarge.

It’s really interesting to see which students find and submit the codes and which students never submit a single code. This helps me to track the progression of students through a particular unit.  Pessimistically, it helps me to “catch” those students who claim they are watching videos when, in fact they aren’t.  But optimistically, I can also tell who consistently watches all the videos by seeing their collected codes pile up.  While I haven’t always enjoyed keeping lists of students and codes, the “Easter Egg” method has worked well over the years to keep track of video-watching as a way to participate in online courses.

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Hard-learned Tips on Screencasting

My latest column for MAA Focus, Becoming a Screencasting Star, is now available online.  In this post, I include a collection of “Hard-Learned Tips” on screencasting – these are things I wish someone had told me before I recorded my first set of videos.  For example …

Mind Your References. Don’t mention specific texts, sections, or page numbers in your screencasts. If you do, then switching to a different text or a new edition will suddenly make all your videos out of date. If you must reference a section or page number, do it in the text that accompanies the link to the video. It’s easy to change text, but very time-consuming to reproduce all the videos. I learned this one the hard way!

There is also advice for choosing the right type of software and dealing with storage of screencasts.  If you’ve got additional tips you’d like to share, please do so in the comments. :)

You can view all my past Teaching with Tech columns here.

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Record with a Document Camera and a Flip

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In my Math for Elementary Teachers (MathET) course, we do a lot of work with math manipulatives, puzzles, and games of various sorts.  Some of this work can be done with virtual manipulatives, but only if all the students have a computer too.  As a result, we do a lot of classroom work with old-fashioned hands-on math manipulatives, and I demonstrate using a document camera.

Since the beginning of Fall semester, I’ve been trying to figure out how to record these hands-on demonstrations to put in the online course shell, but the best I could figure out was to hold my little Flip video camcorder with my left hand while I write and rearrange the board with my right hand. (Note that there is not room on the document camera station for a tripod.)  Unfortunately, this results in a shaky video, it is tiring, and it’s hard to do everything with one hand.

After doing this for about six months, on Monday I had this flash of insight (one of those ideas where you wonder why it took that long to have the idea).  I was considering the idea of using masking tape to affix the Flip to the Doc Camera during class (which wouldn’t work because of the need to press the on/off button) … and I realized that I had a very simple solution in my pocket.

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Here’s a closeup:

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This works surprisingly well.  The top and the bottom of the viewing area are a bit cut off, but with a little experimenting, and knowledge of where the working area is, this is a surprisingly slick and cheap way to record.  I also recommend having a mini-whiteboard so that you can circle items, write notes, and generally “mark up” the viewing area without doing any damage to your document camera.  The glare off the whiteboard does create a slight glare spot on the image, but it’s much easier than using sheet after sheet of paper (picking up the manipulatives between each sheet of paper).

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Best of the Ed Tech Freebies!

In a “pilot” program, we used Camtasia to record several sessions at the 2009 AMATYC Conference in Las Vegas.  Several of these recordings are now available on the AMATYC 2009 Conference Proceedings Website.

In particular, you might want to check out my live presentation “Best of the Educational Technology Freebies” … at least, you can check out the first 24 minutes of it (before my spectacular graphics-overload-induced red-screen-of-death computer crash).  The live presentation starts approximately 1 minute into the video.

2009-amatyc-talk

There is a Part II (audio with a few PowerPoint slides – all my computer was capable after burning up the graphics capability temporarily), but I guess they haven’t put it up yet.  Update: Part II is now also available here.  Incidentally, this incident sealed the deal on my getting a new tablet PC (I was running with the memory capacity and hard drive maxed on the old one).

Word to the wise: You should not attempt to simultaneously record new audio narrative for a Camtasia video project running in the background, while running that video in a player on the notebook and projecting to a screen.  Sure, it works for 5 minutes, but will it work for 60? [no, unless you have a really powerful computer and graphics card]

The easy way to find all the recorded videos from the 2009 AMATYC Conference is to search the Conference Proceedings website (Ctrl-F for find) for the word “flash” (as in Flash video).

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Online Course Design for Mathematics

This week I have been participating in the MAA PREP course, Calculus: Online and Interactive. I was asked to give a presentation on online course design for mathematics, and the presentation was recorded.

This is a loooooong one (two hours), but it is packed with information, ideas, and design tips.  If you’re going to teach online for the first time, or just want some guidance for revamping your online math course, I think you’ll find it helpful.

There are nine parts to the presentation:

  1. Virtual Classroom (overall course design)
  2. Interactive Learning Materials
  3. Video Lessons
  4. Online Homework
  5. Blended Environment
  6. Student Engagement
  7. Equations and Graphs
  8. Orientation and Setup
  9. The Math Testing Issue

online_course_design

You can view the slides below or here.

To watch the whole presentation, go here to the Adobe Connect recorded webinar.

There are also two mindmaps that you might want to investigate that are mentioned in this presentation:

You may also be interested in the online Calculus textbook, Calculus: Modeling and Application, 2nd edition, which may be used free for the next academic school year (supported by an NSF grant).

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