Cathy Kroll

Microlectures Project Report (Spring 2015)

Being part of the microlectures project this semester was like taking a trip into a new country: I started as a microlecture “tourist” and found myself happily becoming a microlecture native. While I had used many different digital applications in my teaching prior to this semester, I had never used Camtasia before. Quickly, though, with the expert help of Tim Hensel, I became adept at recording, editing, importing music and visuals, using annotation and fade effects, and so on. The five microlectures I created grew in their sophistication and playfulness, and I delighted in the feedback I received fromstudents—especially those in my pedagogical grammar class.

I began by creating two microlectures for my Sophomore Year Research and Creative Experience (SYRCE) course, English 273: one an introduction to an important course topic (the Romantic era in European literature and music), the other a reading guide on the conclusion of Charlotte Bronte’s Jane Eyre that my students suggested that I create. (I had shown them the first microlecture on the Romantic era, and I think that it made a reasonably good, but not a profound impression on them. They suggested that a practical and useful microlecture would be the reading guide, since I was already creating these guides every week for my students to help them focus on key elements of the reading.)

From these two initial microlectures for the SYRCE course, I moved on to explore the usefulness of microlectures for my pedagogical grammar course, English 379. Here is where I believe the microlecture format had a dramatic instructional effect. I created three microlectures for this course: all of them on difficult concepts (or “muddiest points”) that students traditionally have had considerable trouble with. The first microlecture focused on restrictive and nonrestrictive clauses; the second one addressed nominals; and the third microlecture treated the concepts of the form and function of particular grammatical elements. Many of my students told me that they watched the three microlectures multiple times each outside of class (I also played the microlectures in class as part of the day’s lessons). When I played the microlecture on form and function in class, I provided students with an accompanying handout with examples I referenced in the microlecture; students commented on how valuable it was for them to have the handout in front of them as they viewed the microlecture.

In this last microlecture, I used a musical introduction (electronic/house music) of about 6 seconds. This provoked quite a lot of enthusiastic comment; in fact, some students quite obviously were clamoring for more music. So, I created a longer musical introduction as well as a musical conclusion to that microlecture and posted the link on Moodle.

In order to get specific feedback on the microlectures, I gave my pedagogical grammar students a formal survey I designed. Here is a representative sampling of the feedback I received:

  • “So, so helpful! More would be even better.”
  • “The videos were nice to go back to. I wish you had done more of these!”
  • “I really enjoyed the microlessons. I found them helpful for understanding and for review. The music one was very fun.”
  • “Nominals was exceptionally useful; all were great. I watched one outside of class.”
  • “The one on nonrestrictive clauses was mega helpful.”
  • “I watched them but they weren’t very helpful to me without the corresponding exercise and because I don’t learn well through audio.”
  • “These really helped, maybe do a couple more next time.”
  • “I watched a few of them more than once. They were extremely helpful and straight to the point.”
  • “Helpful without being too much work. They are nice and short.”
  • “I believe the videos went well when accompanied with a worksheet.”
  • “Very helpful in clarifying concepts. I watched these videos a couple times outside of class.”
  • “So cute :) ”
  • “I always watch them outside of class :) Very cute and clever way of multimedia approach to learning” [sic].

The feedback I received from my English Department colleagues at our May 5, 2015 meeting was equally enthusiastic. Several commented that the microlectures seemed to be a great way to reinforce course concepts in a lively, captivating way. After seeing excerpts of the five microlectures I created, our Shakespeare professor declared that he would like to begin making microlectures to introduce the context of various Shakespeare plays. I offered to give him tutorials in Camtasia to get him started.

In terms of the technical skills I learned, I particularly valued picking up tips from Tim Hensel. Tim showed me how to use annotations, fades, and titles, as well as how to fix glitches, even after the microlectures were completed. I used the green screen room just once because I found that I was most comfortable filming from the iMac in my office (which allowed me to use my standing desk and to move around a little). I really appreciated being able to have a pedagogical inspiration, then go to my office on the fly and try it out in Camtasia. As I moved through this project, I got faster and faster at producing the microlectures, and thus I could respond to my students’ particular needs in a very timely way (for example, if I wanted to create a microlecture on a Sunday afternoon to reinforce a concept we had been working on the week before, then I could easily do so).

In addition to creating five of my own microlectures, I was privileged to serve as Faculty Lead for this project. I met twice with Laura Krier to discuss pedagogical considerations in the making of her library instruction videos and also had a few email exchanges with her. I had a fairly lengthy meeting with Katee Wynia in which we brainstormed her remaining microlectures, and I helped her fill out the accompanying microlecture planning forms. Even though I only met formally with two faculty members, I do feel that the assistance I provided (sometimes as a brainstorming partner, sometimes as more of a guide) was helpful in some very concrete ways.

I would definitely recommend that the Faculty Center offer the microlectures project in the future. Apart from the incredibly useful technical skills I gained, I also think there is a subtle, unspoken benefit to creating and screening microlectures for our courses. Students sense intuitively that their professor is so committed to their learning that they took the time to learn new technical skills to communicate with them in ways that they immediately grasp. Likewise, multimedia microlectures offer professors the chance to “personalize” instruction using a range of modalities that have the potential to reach students with varying learning preferences. I would be delighted to work on this project again with a new faculty group!