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Making plans for the next school year? Think RLO

Image for making plans for the next school year blogIt may seem early to be thinking about the coming school year, but I see some stores already have their back to school supplies out. Towards the end of the last school year, I took the MOOC* “Designing E-Learning for Health” presented by the University of Nottingham through Future Learn. I was able to apply some of the skills I learned when I contributed to an e-learning course a school division was preparing for this fall. While perhaps much of this will seem intuitively obvious, I’ll share with you a few of the tips and tricks that will be applicable whether you use them for e-learning, flipping your classroom lessons, project-based learning, differentiated curriculum, gamification or simply making lesson plans for absent students.

In the Designing E-Learning course, we used the term ‘reusable learning object’ or RLO to describe an online multimedia digital resource. You may have a different name for these mini-lessons. If you are going to go to the effort to produce an RLO, it is important to consider some of the characteristics that make them successful. I believe keeping the student engaged is of utmost importance in the design of an RLO. Studies have shown that the most successful RLOs are no more than 15 minutes long. Even without the required software, you can still encourage interactivity through small ‘quiz style’ questioning.

Other key design features you should consider relate to what we know about learning in general.
The Designing E-Learning course revealed that people learn better from:

  • words and pictures than from words alone;
  • a lesson presented in learner-paced segments rather than as a continuous unit; and
  • animation and narration than from animation and on-screen text.
In addition, learning improves when:

  • students know the names and characteristics of the main concepts;
  • extraneous words, pictures, and sounds are excluded rather than included;
  • corresponding words and pictures are presented near rather than far from each other on the page or screen;
  • corresponding words and pictures are presented simultaneously rather than successively; and
  • the words are in conversational style rather than formal style.

You do not need to buy specialty equipment or software for these projects, here are some techniques that I used when creating RLOs:

PowerPoint for the storyboard. Some people, especially in groups like to use large Post-It notes, others write on white boards or flip-charts. There are even special templates available online. Since I was working by myself, I used PowerPoint. After placing ideas onto separate slides, I had the flexibility to use the slide sorter to rearrange and create the storyboard I desired. Additionally, it allowed me to share it with remote collaborators when that was called for.

Front Camera on computer. Talking heads are not recommended for RLOs but I sometimes found it useful to create very short video introductions or segues that I would use in conjunction with other video segments.

Smartphone or digital camera: I use these to make short video segments and to take the still photos as required by my storyboard. I have had access to stock photos, but I prefer to take my own shots so I can be sure that they will better fill my vision of what I want.

PowerPoint for videos. I have had success with some of the Gerry’s Gene Scene videos using PowerPoint. Likewise for some of the RLOs, I created PowerPoint presentations then using either ‘insert audio’ or ‘record slide show’ inserted narration. The presentation can now be ‘saved as’ a .wmv format and played as a video.

Screencast-O-Matic to record screen videos. One of the tasks I wished to perform for some of my RLOs was to video my computer screen. There are several programs available to do this, and they have various learning curves. I tried several, and decided to stick with Screencast-O-Matic. It was easy to use, and a slight additional subscription cost gave me access to a great deal of editing power. Make sure to try out the free version a few times before making the choice to spend money. I made great use of this program to help learners derive formulas and to guide students through problem solving.

Windows Movie Maker. Now that I have created a variety of short videos using the methods described above, I used Window Movie Maker to put it all together. One major hint here, I usually save all my ongoing work to the desktop and only move my saved files to an archive when the work is done. However, when you use Windows Movie Maker, this is a mistake. Your best bet is to save from the editing stage to its final resting place so to speak. This allows you at any time to return and edit segments without problems. If you have moved the folder or the file after creating your movie, and then you decide to edit, you will find the distressing message that the files cannot be found.

As you plan for this coming school year, you don’t need to be taking on all kinds of new work, but you may wish to consider making an RLO - the R stands for reusable.

* I described massive open online courses (MOOCs) in a previous blog.


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Making plans for the next school year? Think RLO

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