Making the Shift to Digital Assessments

Making Assessments More Manageable

Today was a teacher workday for us. I had my grades under control by lunchtime, so after lunch I started tackling something I've been thinking about for years: webcam-based digital assessments.

For many years we have been using video camcorders for assessments in our school. I prefer it to audio because it really helps to see the student in addition to be being able to hear them. But if you've ever dealt with setting up and taking down video cameras, you know it can be a hassle. Tapes, tripods, power adapters... over time it can become a deterrent. Assessment needs to be reasonable for the teacher as well as the student, right? I had been thinking about using one of our Macs for some time, but it just seemed it would take as much or more time to deal with the digital files. I decided to do a little research about automating the process.

Of course the ability to record audio and/or video on a computer has been with us for a while now, so this is not some huge revelation I'm sharing with you. But what I was interested in was a process that could (a) be run by the students while rehearsal continued, (b) allow me to review the files remotely (can you say at home), and (c) be easy to implement. If it's not easy, I'm not going to do it regularly, and regularity is what students need.

So basically the process I was after was this:

  1. Student clicks a button, and a new video file is created
  2. Record
  3. Stop
  4. File is saved to a folder
  5. Repeat for as many students as necessary
  6. Files are uploaded for viewing

The Key: Automator

A few years ago Apple released an application with OS X called Automator. Basically it is like "macros" that you may remember from other software applications like Microsoft Word. Automator allows you to "record" a number of steps that are then saved into a "workflow." This workflow can then be launched just like a stand alone application.

Automator is not exactly the type of application you can easily figure out. Fortunately I found a great site called that has some helpful tips and some workflow files you can use or modify. After a few hours I had a workflow that would:

  1. Open a new video file in Quicktime
  2. Offer the student a button to press to begin recording, and tell them to begin
  3. When the student clicks the button to stop recording, tell the student "Thank You" and "Send in the next student"
  4. In the meantime, the file is exported to
  5. My iDisk (on which
  6. Allows me to view the file(s) from basically anywhere, including iPhone or iPod Touch
So once I start the Automator workflow at the beginning of class, I don't have to interact with it at all, and the video files will be waiting for me when I get home. Pretty slick eh?

Next week I'm going to look into modifying the workflow to utilize instead of iDisk. The advantage there is you do not need a account. is free and also has a nice player built into their site so you can easily view the video files in your web browser (and iPhone with the Droppler app). I'm also going to try to figure out how to have the student enter their name, which will then become the file name. Not a really big deal since the video thumbnails basically show you a picture of the student, but still would be nice. Hey maybe I'll even have the Mac speak their name at the end just for fun.

If you happen to have a Mac and would like workflow file, just let me know. Here is a little Automator example in case you are interested in seeing what the interface looks like: