Tablet Capture Videos for Teaching

iStock.com/Chunumunu
iStock.com/Chunumunu
Tablet capture is an underused format for making online teaching videos. Made famous by the Khan Academy, it involves writing on a tablet while recording voice narration and offers numerous benefits over other formats.

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Tablet capture is an underused format for making online teaching videos. Made famous by the Khan Academy, it involves writing on a tablet while recording voice narration and offers numerous benefits over other formats.

For one, unlike webcam or studio videos, tablet capture does not require the instructor to show their face, meaning that it does not require the retakes for mistakes that facial shots do. Also, it provides constant action on the screen, which helps keep the viewer’s attention, in contrast to the Death by Bullet Point format of many PowerPoint videos. Plus, handwriting takes less time than composing an animated video. Finally, the handwritten style can be more personable than other styles because it reminds the viewer that there is a real person composing them.

Best practices

Many people think that handwritten videos are only for quantitative subjects that involve writing out equations. But a tablet is similar to a blackboard, and like a blackboard, it can be used for most any subject. Here are some best practices for creating tablet capture videos.

Draw more than write. While faculty can write out notes while speaking, as they often do in face-to-face classes, it is better to incorporate drawings into the videos whenever possible. Students can hear your words to make their own notes, and really only need special or hard to spell words written out for them. Visuals are not for projecting the speaker’s notes, but rather for amplifying the message with imagery, and so drawings are the ideal visual.

Many faculty, like myself, are hesitant to draw because they feel that they are poor artists. But drawings need not be professional. Stick figures can be used to represent people. For example, in my medical ethics class, if I am discussing how a doctor can determine whether a patient is competent to make medical decisions on their own behalf, I draw a basic bed with a stick figure patient in it and another stick figure doctor next to it, maybe wearing an oversized stethoscope. The mere act of drawing will keep the viewer’s attention. The big thing to remember is that many students watch videos on mobile devices, and so it is important to not make any text or drawings too small. It is better to erase the screen and start fresh than try to fit a lot of content onto the screen at once.

Speak in a conversational tone. Like any educational video, tablet capture videos should be in the three- to 10-minute range because that is—for better or for worse—the attention span of today’s viewer. Also, as in any video, the speaker should strike a conversational tone, like they are talking to someone in the same room as them. This means that it is best to speak from notes, not a script, as it is hard to avoid sounding scripted when reading from a script. Plus, written prose is different from spoken language, a distinction that tends to get amplified with faculty who are used to writing in an austere academic voice that is clearly distinct from speech.

People also tend to tighten up into the robotic tone of the Google Maps’ voice when being recorded. It takes practice to get over this, and it can help to have a photo of a person or an audience in front of you while speaking. People also tend to slow down their speech while being recorded, even though we have come to expect the pace of videos to be even faster than that of real life. Once again, the speaker needs to imagine that they are talking to a person or group face-to-face rather than recording a video.

Pause to fix mistakes. Some people feel the need to rerecord themselves when they stumble over a word, which often leads to a frustrating explosion in the time they spend making videos. But it is perfectly acceptable to leave minor linguistic pauses like “um” or word corrections on a video. We are used to listening through those in ordinary speech. If it’s a bigger mistake that you want to fix, then it is best to pause and repeat yourself rather than start from the beginning. Then you or someone else can simply delete the mistake in editing. You can also pause to think for a bit before continuing as that can be edited out as well.

Record your voice separately from the video. Another helpful practice is to record your voice on separate software from your video (unless you have software that allows you to separate the audio from the image track, like Camtasia Studio). This can be done by either recording the narration and the tablet drawing at separate times or recording them simultaneously on different software. The microphone can be connected to a computer and the voice recorded on audio software like Audacity, the video recorded on a tablet or drawing pad, and the two parts combined in editing.

The reason for separating sound and image is that it often takes longer to draw an image or scene than it takes to talk about it. This can leave an uncomfortably long pause in the audio while drawing the imagery. Recording the audio and image tracks separately allows you to cut the pauses out of the audio track and then drop the drawing sequences from the video track on top of the audio in editing. This eliminates the pauses at the end of a speaking part by overlaying the drawing sequence over it. You can even speed up a drawing sequence in the video track so that it matches the length of a speaker’s commentary, making it appear that the narrator is just drawing very quickly while speaking, something I often see in tablet capture videos. For those faculty who do not have video editing skills, any instructional designer should be able to do this work quite easily.

Systems

There are a variety of ways to make tablet capture videos. One is to draw on a tablet while recording yourself on a microphone connected to a computer. A second option is to use a drawing pad connected to a computer to record the visual. Drawing pads are much cheaper than tablets, starting at only around $60. Finally, you can use a laptop or desktop with a touchscreen monitor to record the visual via a screencasting app, such as Screencast-O-Matic.

Instead of going through different systems, I will refer the reader to the excellent Creating Tablet Capture Videos website from the University of Pittsburgh. The site provides step-by-step setup instructions for different configurations, along with recommended software, for different categories of needs: PC versus Mac, synchronous versus asynchronous, and iPad versus Android tablet. It even has an interactive tool that allows you to pick the options that apply to your situation. With this starting point, you will be making engaging tablet capture videos in no time.