• Scott Cameron

Screencast: The New Essay?

Updated: Feb 13

It’s pretty typical for a teacher, or anyone for that matter, to feel like they are swimming in new tech tools. But this year, it’s obviously super overwhelming to try to keep up with everything. I remember at the beginning of this school year, I stumbled across a shared document that had hundreds of links to websites. At first I thought, how cool. This is everything I’ll need. And then I kept scrolling, and scrolling, and scrolling, and scrolling. I closed the window and never even saved the link. How many different ways can they make text and images appear on a website or app? It seemed excessive, and I decided from the start to keep it simple. The less clicks the better. Keep the focus on literature, I thought. I’ve been almost 100% synchronous and allow my students to interact as much as possible.


Now that we’re a little more comfortable with some of the tools that got the job done, it’s time for some technological surprises. Every year, a student surprises me with a hack or shortcut I never knew existed. The first day in hybrid, I tried to figure out how to connect Zoom to my speakers, and one of my students said casually, “Oh, just cancel the echo.” He showed me a setting in Zoom that allowed the students in the class to clearly hear the responses of the students on Zoom. It’s made a huge difference. I actually had an entire day to try out the six best tech tools I encountered, and now when they present in groups, I give them the option to pick their favorite tool.


I recently gave students an alternative to a traditional literary analysis on Things Fall Apart. They could either write an essay, record a podcast, or create a video essay. I told them to focus on making a connection beyond the text using at least one source. Not only did many of them choose to create video essays with images and videos that related to their words, but they created screencasts using QuickTime and Zoom. They could also use Screencast-o-matic.


What would have been a traditional essay suddenly became a screencast that consisted of a live PowerPoint presentation with a video of the student presenting images, quotes from the novel and their source, and videos. One student presented their slides and then stopped to play a short clip from a YouTube video and then a clip from the movie Social Dilemma. It must have taken just as much, if not more planning than a traditional essay. I loved that I could see their face next to their words and videos, instead of just hearing their voice like in a regular synchronous session. The whole thing felt very deliberate and planned out, just like a regular essay. I didn’t even ask for a screencast, but that’s how some of them interpreted my brief description of what to include in a video essay. All I said was, include images and videos that correspond to your words.


The essay will always be the cornerstone of everything we do in an English language arts classroom. No matter what fancy technology comes our way, students will need to know how to comprehend complex texts, interpret literary techniques, think independently, and write creatively and logically. But the still or moving image will always have a deep emotional effect, and it will continue to have an important place in our culture and society. It is a reflection of our external reality, the outside world.


You could argue that the image distracts us from fully understanding the internal world of the mind that words give us access to, especially because television and social media bombards us with images at an incredible speed. It is inevitable that people become more and more immersed in images, so it is crucial that behind those images are intelligent, thoughtful, logical, and wise words.


Scott Cameron

English language arts teacher

Teacher's Workshop, professional development for secondary ELA teachers


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