I don’t often lecture in class. In general, I prefer to run more of a seminar-like discussion. Teaching British literature this year, however, presented an unusual opportunity to test some technology and flip my lesson.
I was excited to cover different historical periods and give students greater perspective to understand the literature. In the process, I’d be offering something for my visual and auditory learners and avoid a cumbersome lecture.
I would record the lecture as a video file and upload it to the school website, requiring students to view it as homework. This would allow them to re-watch sections and take notes at their own pace. Then, in the classroom, students would be able to ask clarifying questions, and I could plan smaller activities to go deeper into the material.
The first unit focused on Beowulf and Anglo-Saxon poetry. I would bring in two short poems that exemplify different aspects of Anglo-Saxon poetry. This would transform a day and a half of lecture into a 23-minute video for homework and a full day of questions and enrichment.
This process turned out to be more complex than I imagined. I prepared the presentation, practiced it and recorded my narration onto PowerPoint using my laptop’s built-in microphone. The file was too large to load. I had to break it into three parts.
More technical difficulties followed. Some students who used a Mac were unable to play the audio portion. The school’s website kicked out parts of the download, although oddly, students who opted to use the school’s computers during study hall were able to capture the full experience.
To streamline the technological problems, I converted the PowerPoint presentation file into a Windows Media Video. Not only did this take an hour and a half, it actually quintupled the size of the video. A colleague who had attended a workshop on flipped classrooms recommended using Camtasia Studios (and he also had a spare site license). I was able to convert the WMV file into a much smaller single file in the MP4 format. This file is accessible to Macs and PCs alike.
In total, the effort took several hours over the course of a few days. The gains in the classroom, however, appear to be well worth the work. Students were indeed able to ask clarifying questions. I gave them a much richer introduction to Anglo-Saxon poetry before they started reading Beowulf.
One student said, “This is so cool. It’s like, ‘Hello, Mr. Elliott. How did you get in my computer?’” This weekend, as students begin to review for their test over Beowulf, they can re-watch and review the lecture as needed.
I still have concerns. Some students may be limited to the school library for completing their work. Others may have an advantage because they have access to their own computing devices. But I will try it again for the medieval period. I am still excited about the possibility of addressing different classroom learning modalities.
Elliott is a high school English teacher in Texas.