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U Illinois Prof Places Herself into Flipped Courses

A faculty member at the University of Illinois has found the use of a technology that immerses her physical presence into her course presentations so effective, it has become "essential" to how she teaches now. Sally Jackson, former CIO and currently a professor of communication at the Urbana-Champaign campus, has been using Personify from a company of the same name since 2010. The program allows the user to "cut" out his or her body and impose it on top of the presentation akin to how a news person stands in front of a weather map to deliver the forecast, but without the use of a green screen.

In an email interview, Jackson said she began using Personify in two "flipped" graduate courses for the masters-level Health Communication program. Prior to the use of that software, she used videotaped lectures produced in a studio. "These looked good," she said, "but I had no control over how the camera shifted from my face to my slides — and I had to use slides to give the editors more control over where to cut back and forth."

She added that the studio process was "so resource-intensive," her lectures tended to get out of synch with her other materials "almost immediately — and I just had to live with that for a couple of offerings of the course that had studio lectures."

  University of Illinois Professor Sally Jackson uses Personify to insert video of herself into presentations for her flipped classes.
University of Illinois Professor Sally Jackson uses Personify to insert video of herself into presentations for her flipped classes.
 

When she found out about Personify, she reported, "I could not wait to try it in my classes." At that time, the program was called Stage Presence. "Even though the production quality was not as polished as what we made in the studio, I decided at once that I would never make a studio lecture again."

Now Jackson records the lecture in Personify, edits it in TechSmith's Camtasia, and uploads it to YouTube with links to her course site. "I find that I need to refresh my lectures after two or three uses, so it is important that the production workflow be as streamlined as possible."

The most significant difference Personify has made, said Jackson, is that she can record herself showing how to do things. "For example, in teaching statistics I can open up a spreadsheet or other application and show the students exactly how data are entered, how the analysis is run and how the results look, all in real time." She can also show how to do things "instead of trying to describe how to do them or to show only static images of moments in a process."

The software allows her to make her own decisions about how often to show her own image. "I usually hide my image when I need my whole desktop for content, and bring myself back when I'm just talking," she explained.

In fall 2012 Jackson flipped an undergraduate course she was delivering, titled Communication Technology and Society. Up until then it had been a large lecture course meeting three times weekly. She replaced one of those weekly lectures with a single short video lecture. Then she used the other two meetings for discussion and activities, not lectures. Online and offline are blended "as much as possible." For example, besides the weekly lecture, daily preparation and exams are also online.

For the recorded lectures in that course, she navigates the Web rather than using PowerPoint — showing her image on one side of the desktop.

"For a class that focuses centrally on how computing and connectedness are changing social practice, this is the most natural and compelling way to do a lecture," she pointed out. "Personify is essential not only for the once-a-week lectures, but also for the whole fabric of the course."

The flip came in useful when an unexpected snow storm hit during the latest semester. Jackson spent about a half hour putting together a short video message to her students, providing instructions on how to "telecommute" to class. "Every single person attended online!" she said. "Next time this happens, I may use Personify's live streaming capability instead of a recorded mini-lecture."

At this point, said Jackson, "Personify is essential to how I teach now. If I wanted to use some other product, I would have to rethink the content itself." In part, that's because the special design features of Personify have changed her ideas about how a lecture should look, she explained. "The single most important change this has made is that my lectures are not slideshows. Nor are my videos properly regarded as 'lecture capture.' They are 'work capture.' In my videos, I am shown as a person at work — doing things on my own workspace that the students can model on their own laptops or other devices. I alternate comfortably between showing myself onscreen and fading myself out when I need to conserve the screen space, so the students have the sense that I am really there working even when I am not visible onscreen."

A 16-minute sample of one of Jackson's Personify lectures is available on the Personify site.

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