Screencasting Options for Teachers

Screencasting is one of the most important tools in my inventory as an online teacher. I am constantly making screencast tutorials to teach students processes, such as how to send large files, how to develop course content, and the like. It takes as little as a few minutes to make a screencast, and with it I can avoid typing out the answer to the same question from multiple students, as well as avoid the delays that come when students find that they do not understand something right before it is due. Plus, screencasts are a far more effective way to teach a process than a text description. In fact, I expect that when I am having trouble with a process in some outside system, the support section will have a screencast tutorial on that process. A simple text tutorial makes a system look amateurish.

Screencasts are also excellent for providing feedback on student work. As discussed in an earlier article (April 2014), screencasts allow an instructor to provide feedback to a student as he or she would if the student were sitting next to the instructor in his or her office. The instructor pulls up the student’s work, starts the screencast, and talks about what he or she sees. The voice inflections improve the student’s understanding of nuance in the feedback, and the instructor can highlight sections, move text around to illustrate better organizational methods, and in general explain points far better than is normally done with text feedback. The instructor uploads the screencast to a hosting site and sends the student a link to it to watch on his or her own time.

There are a number of excellent screencasting software options for teachers. Not surprisingly, functionality is generally proportional to cost. This allows you to choose the cheapest option that fulfills your need. You may also find that you start at the cheap end, but as you become more comfortable with screencasting and want to do more, you start moving up in functionality and price. Here are my favorites, ranked by cost.

Jing is a free browser add-on from the good people at TechSmith, who produce a number of excellent pieces of software directed toward education. Jing allows you to take screen captures (still images) or screencasts (videos) of up to five minutes long. The screen captures allow for some simple edits, such as adding text, boxes, or arrows, but you can add nothing to the screencasts. You can download the result to your computer or upload it to the hosting site for sharing, which provides two GB of storage and two GB of bandwidth for free.

Google Hangouts on Air is a feature of Google+ that allows users to host live video sessions. It is excellent for hosting live sessions in an online course, as you can have an unlimited number of participants in the session. Hangouts on Air automatically saves the session as a video to your YouTube account. Since you can broadcast your desktop, this is an excellent way to make screencasts for free. Simply start a session, invite only yourself, display your screen, and record your screencast. When you are done, you can go into the YouTube editor to make a few simple edits such as trimming out the beginning or end. However, there is no way to define a smaller area of your screen for the screencast or to zoom and pan, so you are left with a recording of your entire screen.

Screencast-o-matic is a popular screencasting system that allows users to make screencasts either through the website, without having to download any software, or using a downloaded app. The download is free and makes screencasting faster, and I would recommend it if there is nothing to prevent downloads on your computer. The free version allows for screencasts up to 15 minutes long that can be uploaded to the hosting site, while the paid version allows for unlimited video length and is well worth the $15-per-year cost. Plus, the paid version allows you to add a webcam shot in the corner of the screencast, as well as make some other edits. Webcam shots are a good addition to your screencast as a face provides a sense of social presence and helps keep the viewer’s attention.

SnagIt is TechSmith’s paid screen capture and photo editing software that is my go-to system for working with photos. It provides nearly everything you need for photo editing, including a resizing feature, which can reduce photos to a workable size for the Web. But TechSmith recently added a screencasting feature as well with some basic editing functions. This makes SnagIt an option for doing both screen captures and screencasts with the same system.

Camtasia Studio is TechSmith’s paid screencasting and video-editing software, and what I use to make my own screencasts. Because it integrates screencasting with video editing, it is very convenient for making and working with screencasts. You simply record your screencast, and when saved it will automatically be imported and open in the video editor. From here you can do a number of edits, from trimming out parts to zooming, adding text, images, and boxes. You can also export it in a variety of video formats and resolutions, including directly to your YouTube channel. I use it for all my video production and editing needs.

Articulate Reply is a new screencasting product that comes free with the purchase of Articulate Storyline. Storyline is a wonderful product for making interactive, self-contained eLearning modules that include such things as videos, imagery, quizzes, and animations. While the sophistication of the product does bring a learning curve, and the product is the most expensive on this list, it is well worth looking into if you want to produce really powerful learning modules online. If you do go with it, you will also be given Reply, which integrates the webcam shot with the desktop shot much better than other systems. Whereas the other systems allow only for a small webcam image that can come in or out of the screencast only once during the video, Reply allows for switching between webcam and desktop as many times as you like, as well as smooth transitions. Take a look at the overview here:

The range of systems to suit different needs and levels of technical sophistication makes screencasting accessible to any online instructor or instructional developer. Consider how to add screencasting to your courses.

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