Getting ready for fall semester!

My summer has been filled with wonderful travel and research, but now I am 100% focused on fall courses.  Both of my fall courses are getting revamped!  Intro physics has a very new structure, and electronics has been changed from a two-course sequence to a single course.  Both of these courses need new schedules, activities, and assignments.  While I have been working hard all summer, getting to August has accelerated my work!

Most of my time is being spent on filming videos for Intro physics.  I am up to 57 videos so far, and that doesn’t even cover the first 3 weeks!  I have experimented a little bit with the format.  I found that filmed the videos in person, in the classroom, didn’t result in very clear videos.  I imagine that some students might be watching these on cell phones and other small screens, so I want to make sure the text is always legible.  Agnes Scott has “smart podiums” which are basically huge monitors that have a special pen that can be used as a stylus.  Filming on this, as a screencast, works wonderfully – the screen is big enough that my writing is fairly clear.  When I’ve tried recording on tablets, in the past, the screen was too small (and the stylus too imprecise) for writing to work well.

As I record, I get better with the technology and I am finding new ways to streamline the process.  At first I was recording one long video and breaking it into pieces; now I just film each piece and upload them individually.  I thought I would follow my ‘old’ lectures, but it is much easier to base my lectures on the book (and the publisher-provided images) than what I’ve used in the past.  That also ensures better coverage of the material.  I realized the audio was a bit echo-y (due to the room) in the early videos, so I’ve hung up sheets and blankets to decrease the echo.

I had hoped to finish with the videos before classes start, but it does not appear that will be possible.  The downside is that the space to record will be less available once classes begin  – I don’t have a solution to that, other than try to record when students aren’t studying in the space (where the smart podium lives).  The upside is that I will be able to get feedback from the students about the videos.  What length is good?  Most of the videos are about 10 minutes long right now – typical sections consist of 2-4 videos.  Is that too short?  Too long?  I know that I tend to be very detailed and verbose, but the goal of the videos is to remove the need for reading the textbook – which means they need to be detailed and clear!

I hope that students find these videos helpful.  Since I’ve taught Intro Physics, students have asked for more “lecturing” than I’ve ever had time to do during class.  With videos, students can watch lectures on a schedule that works for them – and I am not limited to 3 hours per week.  Additionally, I hope the videos increase the accessibility of my course.  Students can watch the videos multiple times, pausing to take notes.  By breaking the videos into small chunks and making it clear what each contains, I hope that students can choose the videos they need the most – and they can go back and review material when it shows up again later.

I am looking forward to the fall semester, and the excitement of the new classes is helping energize me so I can get all of this prep finished.  Ideally, working hard now will mean that I will have less prep to do during the fall so that I can be more relaxed.  I will still have plenty of grading to do, but I won’t have to stay up late making the lecture for the next day.  That should help me be less stressed, better rested, and happier – which may result in less stressed and happier students!