Screencasting

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This page was created as a resource page to support the Tech Express Workshop: Screencasting Tools, held on April 10th, 2014.

Definition

A screencast is a video recording of the activity on your computer screen. This is typically accompanied with an audio narration and special effects such as panning or callouts to emphasize areas of the screen or actions taking place. It is typically used for tutorials or software demonstration.

Screencasts are not the ideal choice for projects which do not record movement/activity on a computer screen. If your project does not require screen captures then consider using a more appropriate technology such as a podcast; course management system; online conferencing tool; PowerPoint or other slide show software; or a webcast.

Here's an example of a topic with enough "action" to justify being screencast:

Advantages and Disadvantages

Screencasts cater to mobile and self-directed people who learn better by seeing and hearing. Screencasts in particular can inspire users by allowing them to see their problems resolved before their eyes.

The greatest advantage for the creator of the screencast is the ability to disseminate instruction repeatedly and asynchronously to many users. This is offset by the greater amount of time it takes to script and produce audio and video content. Moreover, screencasts are not easily searchable or "scannable" and so may not be the ideal vehicle for some projects, e.g., FAQs.

Select Software

The following is a very select list of some of the free and paid applications available for screencasting. Consult Wikipedia for a thorough comparison of Screencasting applications.

Free

In general, most free services allow you to create "what you see is what you get" projects: recordings showing your screen activity along with an option to record a voice over. With few/no post-production editing options these tools are best for quick instructions or demonstrating a couple steps of a process. Example topics might be "How to upload your assignment in Connect" or "Using myJstor to set up a virtual bookshelf."

Requires Software Download

  • Jing (PC/Mac): no post-recording edits are possible-- audio track captured during recording only. The recording area cannot be repositioned during recording. No text boxes or other shapes can be added. The free version allows you to share via Screencast.com (with some privacy settings) and save final projects on your workstation as a SWF file. The paid version (Camtasia) also allows you to download a MP4 file.
  • Wink (PC/Linux Only): decent range of post-production edits are possible - audio tracks, text boxes and some shapes. Exports to PDF, HTML, SWF and EXE formats.

No Software required

  • Screenr Very easy to use, but "what you see is what you get." No post recording edits are possible and audio must be captured during the original recording. Allows you to share via Screenr, export directly to YouTube, and download a MP4 file. A no registration version is available as Screencast-o-matic. All screencasts are uploaded to Screenr/Screencast-o-matic site and are publicly viewable. This application requires up-to-date Java permissions so if you're not comfortable going into the settings, you may want to download the http://www.screencast-o-matic.com/download.

There are many paid screencasting applications that allow you to edit and improve your work. Products like these can save you time in the long run as you can edit out mistakes rather than rerecording your entire project from scratch. Their post-production capabilities allow you to produce a slicker and more professional product than with a free-ware option and may include value-added features such as quizzing functions, subtitling and image/shape/sound libraries.

  • Camtasia (Mac and PC versions differ significantly): Considerable post-production capabilities, including the ability to import and edit audio, trim or clip video, insert text and slides, and the ability to insert subtitles from TXT files. Also includes a quizzing function. Output file types: MOV, MP4 and FLV.

Features of Paid Screencasting Software

1. Timeline editing:

  • Delete mistakes during recording without completely restarting
  • Edit out ums, coughs and other sounds
  • Splitting of video tracks into smaller clips

2. Create video actions

  • Panning and Zooming
  • Highlight Actions such as mouse pointer, clicking and even showing keyboard actions
  • Transparent callout; useful for hyperlinks (Camtasia)
  • Quizzes (Camtasia on Windows only)

3. Annotate your video

  • Insert text boxes
  • Draw boxes
  • Highlight Areas of the video through background shading or blurring
  • Insert images or PPT slides

4. Meet accessibility requirements

Include subtitles

5. Edit and Publishing Videos

  • Record new audio or video tracks to update
  • Export in more file formats
  • Maintain ownership over your video files

Screencasting Best Practices

These are some best practices that may help you get started. You can also download a checklist to help you while you're working.
File:Checklist for screencasting.docx

Before Recording

Do some lesson planning:

  • Who is your audience?
  • What are you trying to teach?
  • How will you (and your students) know if you've been successful?
  • Can your topic be contained in a single, 2 - 3 minute video or do you have enough content for a video series?
    • Your audience is far more likely to watch 3 brief, sequential, clips than to sit through a single 5 minute video.

Write a Script

Screencasts work best as visual demonstrations of concepts which are difficult or time-consuming to explain in text formats - e.g., following a complex navigation path through a website or demonstrating a process with multiple steps.

  • Calling your video “Time Management Skills” does not tell your viewer what exactly will be covered in the video, nor does it help you decide where to limit the scope of your instruction.
    • Instead: consider tackling a more specific topic, like “How to use a 5-Day Plan to Prepare for your Exam.”
    • Structuring your videos to answer a question is a great way to keep them short and focussed on the specific content your audience is expecting.
  • Specify your learning objectives at the outset, e.g., "in this UBC Library tutorial you will learn how to transfer a book from UBC-O to UBC Vancouver and how to select a pick up location...."
  • The audio portion of your screencast is critical so try not to distract your audience from it with music or other effects that don't contribute to the message.
    • If you do decide to add music or other audio effects make sure that they are high quality sound files and do not compete with/muffle your recorded script.
  • Write out a script and make sure to rehearse in order to avoid unnecessary pauses and interjections.
  • Avoid screencasts longer than 3 minutes. If you have more material, then you probably need to record more than one screencast.

Consider Screen Elements

Most screencasting tools allow you to choose the size and position of your recording area. You can

  • record the entire screen
  • the contents of a particular window or
  • a specific section of the screen

The larger the recording area the more context you provide for your viewers. However, if your recording dimensions are too large your video will be difficult to watch when played in media players like YouTube and on mobile devices. A good approach is to think about the size of screen/player that your audience will likely use to watch your work, then select a recording area no more than 15% larger.

More Tips:

  • Avoid using the face cam inset as it distracts viewers
  • Be prepared if you need to move around the screen, or click through to other websites by positioning the screen recording area appropriately - i.e., so that when you click through to a new page or site vital content is not cut off the margins of your recording.
    • If necessary, you can use the pause feature to reposition your recording area to capture content in a different portion of the screen.
  • Rehearse your script at least once before clicking "record" to ensure that your recording area is the optimal size and that it is centred on the ideal spot for the entire demonstration.
  • If you are in an advanced program that allows editing, record in small chunks so that you can edit them more easily later.

Desktop and Browser Preparation

Spend some time preparing your computer prior to recording.

  • Clean up your wallpaper (i.e. no personal pictures)
  • Clear your desktop of unnecessary files, folders and icons
  • Clear your browser cache
  • Remove visible bookmarks from navigation bar
  • If possible, install a second “clean” browser on your computer for screencasting
  • Disable pop-ups and test-run your web applications

Production

After you've rehearsed, start recording. Make sure you stick to the script. If you have advanced screencasting software, you can always edit out errors later.

Recording

  • Run through the script first. You may discover errors, words that you're likely to stumble over, or even just prose that doesn't sound right out loud
  • Reduce audio disturbances by closing doors and windows. You may even want to record at home if possible
  • Record the video. It is recommended that you record the audio at the same time even if you're going to replace it later, since this will allow you to sync the audio and video more easily if you do replace it.
  • Students don't always have access to headphones - especially when working on campus. If you do have an audio track to your tutorial consider adding a line of text to your introductory image/page indicating that there is an audio track, i.e., "headphones/speakers required."

Mouse

  • Rely on the visual emphasis of the cursor (and enhance its visual presence through callouts) instead of trying to wave the mouse cursor on the screen
  • Pause before clicking to let the viewer see where the cursor has stopped
  • If possible, put a callout (visual emphasis) on the act of clicking

Audio

  • Improving the audio even marginally will far improve the perceived quality
  • Use a noise-reducing microphone
  • Make sure you have water available
  • Use lip-balm to avoid lip smack and open your mouth slowly
  • Reduce echoes by filming in a room with soft surfaces such as your living room
  • If possible, reduce electrical sounds such as computer fans and other appliances
  • Gather thoughts, interject smiles, and don’t rush

Editing

Advanced screencasting software has a number of advantages including:

Arranging Your Video

  • Editing out any errors from your recording. Make sure to cut both the audio and video so that the syncing remains valid (advanced software users only)
  • Assembling chunks of videos into a single video
  • Adding introduction, video chapter, and conclusion slides

Text and Frames

  • Use text boxes sparingly (i.e. something not mentioned in audio, a little tip or trick) and keep to a minimum if you have audio as it can distract the viewers)
  • Frames and arrows are much more preferable
  • Subtitles below the presentation can allow the audience to fast forward to the emphasis point and can be useful with ESL audiences

Music

  • Adding a soundtrack to reduce awkward silence and disguise any unwanted background noise from your voice recording. You can find Creative Commons licensed music online using sites like Free Music Archive, Jamendo, or Incompetech.

Post-editing

Think about where you're going to host your file. Popular services such as Vimeo and YouTube allow you to upload the file once and then embed wherever you want.

Output File types

  • Render the final video to 1280 x 720 at 30 FPS for best quality HD video on YouTube
  • Pay attention to the file types that your screencasting tool produces. Flash (.swf) files are very common but keep in mind that flash files will not play on common mobile devices like iPhones, nor can you upload them into YouTube.
  • Upload the video to a YouTube or Vimeo account (or other video sharing service). If you intend to upload your finished product into YouTube you will have to be able to export your recording into one of YouTube's supported file types, such as .wmv, .mov, .avi and MPEGs.
    • For more information about file types supported by YouTube click here.
  • Advanced software users may want to consult a list of file output settings

Resources

This work is licensed under a CC BY-SA 2.5 CA Creative Commons license.