TESOL 2014 is in full swing, and despite the rainy weather, there is great energy in the Convention Center here in Portland, Oregon. I attended a few sessions on Day 1, and I would like to share some highlights with those who are not able to attend this year.
Autumn Westphal of the SIT Graduate Institute – Rennert (New York) packed her conference room early in the morning with teachers eager to learn about project-based strategies using Brainshark. Autumn explained that myBrainshark is a free online resource that allows users to create different kinds of digital presentations:
- You can add voice to PowerPoint presentations.
- You can add narration to a Word document.
- You can upload a video and add narration to it (though the original audio track is not silenced).
- You can upload images and create a photo album.
- You can create podcasts.
Narrating can be done via a computer mic (the only option for those outside the U.S., as I understand) or a cell phone. There are different sharing options. Final products can be made public or private. You can choose to share videos via your YouTube account. Downloading directly from myBrainshark unfortunately only gives you your audio recording as an mp3, but if you choose to place a Brainshark creation on YouTube, then you can use a free YouTube downloader and get your whole project. (Autumn forewarned participants of the free downloaders that come with spyware.)
Autumn commented on the option of recording through cell phones, observing how the process gives students practice with dial-in procedures and automated instructions, which are so very common today on U.S. phone lines. She also offered useful tips, noting, for example, that she usually selects a volume level of 20% when she records.
So what exactly can be done in a class or school setting? Autumn focused on building photo albums with narration and podcasts. Of the five possible creations on myBrainshark, she said these were the simplest. She nicely demonstrated a digital photo album that served as a self-introduction. She had uploaded shots of her taken in various locations and personalized the project even more by uploading original music performed by her mother, a blues musician. (Note that the site offers music loops for your projects, but you’re free to upload your own.) Our brains immediately started seeing possibilities, and one teacher next to me suggested having staff create their bios for the school website. Wouldn’t a digital album with music and narration be an attractive format for a teacher bio?
Autumn shared a number of possibilities, from teacher-made presentations to flip the classroom to student-made presentations to serve as cultural projects, e.g., “What Does It Mean to be (Chinese)?” In my small group, I shared my idea for narrating a story. The class can all have the same set of images to work with. They could sequence the photos in the order they wanted (or the teacher could sequence them in advance), and then in groups they would create and upload narrations. The final projects could be played for the class. Autumn used every last minute to share more useful ideas. For instance, if the class took a field trip, they could create a narrated slideshow to present to another class of the same level.
Autumn’s handout with clear and detailed instructions for using myBrainshark have been uploaded to the TESOL site. I thank Autumn for kindly permitting me to share her ideas and tips here.