E-Learning “Kit in a Box” for Faculty

Gene Roche’s recent article on blended or “flipped” learning frames the significant challenge involved in creating engaging blended learning activities in the classroom. One of my primary roles is working on the other side of that coin — bringing together the nuts, bolts, and infrastructure necessary to produce academic content using technology. As interest and need for blended learning materials on campus has increased, every academic technologist has been looking into tools and techniques that can meet those needs on a fairly tight budget of money and time.

The “Kit in a Box” Project

One of my latest projects has been developing a portable development platform for creating video content. I’ve been trying out different names for it, but we’ve started referring to it internally as the “kit in a box.” Ideally, it would be everything a professor would need to create video lectures, annotated presentations, screen captures, etc., that could be checked out and carried to office or home.

John Drummond working on eLearning kit prototype

John Drummond working on e-learning kit prototype

At present, the prototype kit consists of a laptop, a Wacom Cintiq drawing tablet, an HD webcam, and several pieces of screen capture, annotation, and drawing software. So far it seems to be generating excitement amongst the academics I’ve showed it off to. It’s flexible enough that it supports a couple of different working modes that I’ve seen faculty use to produce instructional videos, such as:

  • capturing an audio lecture while simultaneously annotating and drawing on a PowerPoint presentation,
  • lecturing while annotating PDFs using Microsoft OneNote, and
  • capturing a picture-in-picture of the professor lecturing while drawing on a digital whitespace.

We’ve been using Camtasia Studio as the screen capture agent but other solutions are possible as well.

At the same time, we’re learning how to work out some kinks in the system (and in the workflow), such as how to handle it when multiple people are working on the same project. I don’t have a formal check-in/check-out procedure in place, either — there’s only the prototype unit at the moment, though I’m working on setting up two more kits.

The results aren’t TV studio quality, but the effort costs far less than a TV studio. I’ve heard anecdotally that many students prefer less formal, “’ums’ and all” video content from their professors anyway, since it’s more personal than a crisp professional production with a “now we’ll watch a video on this topic” kind of feel. I’m really excited to see the materials that come out of it.

As Gene reminds us, the academic goals come first, but it’s my job to make sure you have the right technology tools to help achieve those goals. If you have suggestions—let us know!

About John Drummond

John Drummond is the Academic Technology Manager at the College of William & Mary. Originally from Mathews County, VA, John graduated from James Madison University with a BA in English in 1996 and an MS in Technical and Scientific Communication in 2002, and is currently studying for an Ed.D. in Higher Education at the W&M School of Education. He has been with W&M since 2007. In addition to working in IT, John has taught occasionally at W&M and previously at Tidewater Community College, and in other roles has been an author, a musician, a Perl programmer, a UNIX systems engineer, and a network manager. He resides in Toano with his wife Andrea and daughter Rebekah.