Heinemann Digital Campus
  • Technology in Literacy Ed

Flip the Screencast: Video Tutorials by Students for Students

by Nicole Timbrell
February 14, 2014

The regular appearance of new literacies requires additional roles for teachers and students. 

- Don Leu, et al. (2013)

Recently, I heard a middle school teacher make this observation about what she called a “universal understanding” among her students:

…when using technology, students are perfectly happy to let someone else help them or offer to help others, whereas, in other learning situations, these same students may reject opportunities to receive or give help.

These words rang true as I pictured the many times I have surrendered the teaching floor to a student who possessed a more advanced technology skill set and an eagerness to share her knowledge not only with me but with her fellow students. Education Technology Specialist Alan November shared a similar sentiment in this address at URI’s Education Colloquium last year when he stated that “students prefer to learn from one another.” One reason he gave was the “curse of knowledge” phenomenon in which more knowledgeable individuals, such as teachers, find it harder to imagine a first-timer’s questions. Students who have recently grasped a concept or mastered a skill are closer to the “first-time” experience than adults, who may have learned the same concept or skill decades earlier and therefore may be able to convey information in a manner more accessible to their peers.

With these ideas in mind, I propose we reconsider the way that screencasts are used in our classrooms. We know from the success of Khan Academy and the rise of the flipped classroom model for instruction that, whether or not they are creating their own tutorials or using existing ones, educators are adopting screencasts as part of their teaching toolkit. However, the sole use of adult-generated screencasts position the teacher as the primary source of knowledge and, as passive receivers of this instruction, the student voice is absent from this stage of the learning process.

Screencasts for Students, by Students

Encouraging students to identify a learning need, recognize their own expertise in that particular topic or skill area, and create a resource to share with their peers to meet that need places students at the center of their education and fosters a collaborative learning environment. Furthermore, asking students to create their own screencasts to share with their peers is a task that activates multiple types of “Twenty-first century literacies” (Brown, Bryan, and Brown, 2005) including technology literacy, information literacy, digital literacy, and visual literacy. (See definitions here).

While teachers may wish to exercise “quality control” by checking students’ screencasts before uploading to the class wiki or an educational video sharing website, such an approach would remove additional opportunities for collaborative learning. The use of peer assessment for fact-checking the content, aligning the tone and vocabulary with the target audience, reviewing the production elements, and assessing overall usefulness as a learning resource are but some of the learner-centered activities that could follow the creation of student-generated screencasts.

To view some examples visit Club Academia, a website that promotes “education of the students, by the students and for the students” by creating video tutorials that emphasize the student perspective.

Getting Started

To gauge students’ skills in screencast production, you might like to start with a simple task such as the one below that can be done individually or in small groups:

Select your favorite educational website. Create a 90-second screencast during which you deliver a “tour” of the website’s features while you explain how it has helped you with your learning.

Software tools for creating screencasts:

Together with presentation software such as:


Brown, J., Bryan, J., & Brown, T. (2005). Twenty-first century literacy and technology in K-8 classrooms. Innovate, 1(3).

Leu, D. J., Zawilinski, L., Forzani, E., & Timbrell, N. (2013) Best Practices in New Literacies and The New Literacies of Online Research and Comprehension. To appear in Best Practices in Literacy Instruction. 5th Edition. Morrow, L. M., & Gambrell, L. B. (Eds) New York: Guildford Press.

November, A. Creating a New Culture for Teaching and Learning. University of Rhode Island Fall 2013 Honors Colloquium, 8th October 2013. Accessible here: http://www.uri.edu/hc/20131008_November_VIDEO.html

Nicole TimbrellNicole Timbrell is a high school English teacher at Loreto Kirribilli in Sydney, Australia. She has taken a year away from the classroom to complete graduate study in Cognition, Instruction and Learning Technologies at the University of Connecticut, nicole.l.timbrell@uconn.edu, @nicloutim.

This article is part of a series from the International Reading Association Technology in Literacy Education Special Interest Group (TILE-SIG)



Join IRA Today!