One of the biggest, fastest shifts in ed tech the last couple years has been the evolution from the use of large interactive whiteboards to the use of mobile, agile multi-purpose apps. Currently, there are at least six products, all competing to become teachers' favorite. Replay Note, ScreenChomp, ShowMe, DoodleCast Pro, Knowmia, Explain Everything and Educreations all offer teachers the ability to record the visual and audio components of a "whiteboard" lesson on their iPads, and share it online.
Educreations is one of the top contenders, teachers say, mostly because of its simple user interface and multi-functionality. “I use it when I need to make quick videos in class,” said Ramsey Musallam, a high school chemistry teacher in San Francisco. Other features that teachers seem to love: the app offers more than one page for recording; the user can import images from other places and format them easily within the video; there’s a text feature so students don’t have to contend with messy teacher handwriting, and perhaps best of all, it can be used on desktop computers, not just an iPad.
One of the values educators look for in tech tools is student usability, and with Educreations, teachers say the tool is straightforward enough to incorporate into student work. Musallam says he always starts his class with a challenge question, which he solves in an Educreations video that he uploads to his website. There he keeps an archive of challenge problems that kids can look back on if they get stuck. He doesn’t give them the answer right away because he wants them to try working it out for themselves first. “Educreations allows me to dump direct instruction in little packets when they need them,” Musallam said.
He also has his students create inquiry videos where they pose a question for a peer to solve. Musallam actually prefers ScreenChomp for these because he has five classes of 30 students each using shared iPads off a school cart. He doesn’t want to deal with logging in and out of an Educreation account and ScreenChomp creates a random URL that the student can send to him.
Why inquiry videos? Students can release little bits of information along the way, mirroring the problem solving process.
“One of the problems with written textbooks is that kids get all the info right up front and that’s not how the problem solving process works,” Musallam said.
Elementary school teachers are finding totally different uses for Educreations, many of which are student-based. Educators at a public elementary charter school in Altadena,Calif. have found the app useful for testing reading fluency. Sebastian Cognetta, the school’s director, says students record themselves reading, sometimes stopping to identify challenging words. Cognetta says teachers at his school use this method with kids who are slow to pick up reading because they can listen back to old recordings and mark their own improvement. He also noted that Educreations allows teachers to use the “work sample approach” with kids struggling in math. In the work sample approach a struggling student gets a fully solved problem that she has to explain. With Educreations the student records herself describing how to reach the correct answer, while taking notes on the problem itself.
Debbie Taylor, who teaches sixth grade math, science, health, and technology, said her students use the app for presentations -- illustrations and their voice recordings to present keys ideas on Newton's Laws of Motion, for example -- and to create tutorials for their classmates.
She also uses the app a formative assessment choice. Through the class account, students demonstrate and explain a process or application, which she later reviews. "Being able to see their process and hear their thinking provides higher levels of analysis," she wrote on a MindShift Facebook post.
Educreations works well for teachers who want to include some element of the “flipped classroom”approach. It's also useful for educators who can create a video of an explanation once, rather than having to repeat it to every student individually. Teachers spend a lot of time before class, after class, between classes and at lunch helping students who come looking for one-on-one help with the same types of questions.
“If we don’t save teachers time then we don’t stand a chance at being adopted,” said Wade Roberts, one of the founders of Educreations. Roberts used to run a tutoring company in Atlanta before he got interested in the social app movement and designed the successful app Pieces of Flair for Facebook. But he never forgot his experience tutoring and wanted to find a way to combine his success in the programming world with his passion for education. When he looked at the ed-tech software on the market, he was disappointed. “It’s far too hard for the average teacher to be involved in this,” Roberts said. “If this is the future of learning there needs to be a platform for the average, non-tech savvy teacher to participate.”
Still, there are a lot of things that both Roberts and teachers would like to see improved on the app. For one, the whole video has to be made in one take – so no room for mistakes. Many people want an editing tool, as well as an erasure tool. Roberts says he hopes the app can become more interactive, integrating quiz questions into videos as they progress. He’d also like to provide some way for teachers to save templates for one another.
Ultimately, Roberts wants to create a huge repository of short education videos where kids can find any lesson from any teacher whenever he or she needs it. He doesn’t think that will make teaching or the learning irrelevant. “Just because the info is there and available doesn’t necessarily mean that grasping it will be unnecessary,” he said. No matter how many ways a student learns the material, the true test is whether he can solve the problem or explain the chemical reaction. There’s no substitute for that.