Technology Tips: Screencasting

With all the libraries out there using screencasting tutorials now, I thought I’d take a few minutes to provide some tips on how to make professional looking and sounding screencasts. Here they are:

  • Screencasting software. The bad news is that free screencasting software doesn’t cut the mustard. The good news is that there are options out there for all budgets. Camtasia is my personal favorite, and if you have the budget, it’s worth the investment. Camtasia is so easy to learn and use, you’ll be up and running in no time. Another option is Adobe Captivate, which is definitely for the advanced user. The advantage with Captivate is that you can add quizzes and interactions for enhanced learning. And blending Camtasia and Captivate together can result in pure awesomeness! But, if you don’t have the budget for either one of those (or both), Screencast-O-Matic PRO is a viable option. And it will only run you $15 a year.
  • Microphone. Do not overlook the all important mic. Don’t be tempted to use the built-in mic in your computer – it won’t sound good. And buying a super cheap desktop mic will also ensure poor sound quality. Invest a little in a decent USB mic, and you should be happy with the results. A USB headset mic is another reasonable option. Either one can be found in a range of prices, but the better models out there run around $100. Also, don’t forget that mics can easily pick up background noise, so make sure to record in a quiet area.
  • Scripting. Before you sit down to record, write out a script of what you are going to say, screen by screen. Scripting alleviates the need to record audio over and over again, and it also forces you to analyze each step the learner needs to know to accomplish what you are trying to teach. If you think of a screencast as a mini-movie, think of the script as your dialogue. Unless you are a brilliant improviser, scripting saves you a lot of time!
  • Voice. If you can, find someone with a good recording voice. Although we can’t help how we sound, scratchy or pitchy voices, or voices that are too loud can really irritate a listener.
  • Length. Keep the length of the screencast to roughly 3 minutes. If you find yourself going longer, consider breaking it down into two or more screencasts.You will likely lose the attention of your learner if you go much longer than that.
  • Editing audio. For audio, you have two options: record screen action and audio at the same time, or add the audio later. This is a personal preference, so figure out which one works best for you. Either way, with good screencasting software, your audio should be very easy to edit.
  • Adding graphics. Don’t go overboard (simple is best), but using graphics such as arrows or other shapes is a good way of drawing the learner’s attention to the important action on the screen.
  • Adding text. The major rule for adding a text overlay is to limit the text to two or three keywords that describe what is going on in the tutorial. NEVER include the exact same narrative that you are speaking. This distracts the learner and can lead to cognitive overload.
  • Note on captioning: Make sure that whatever your video is exported into offers a closed captioning option (e.g. YouTube). While captioning full narrative is essential for the hearing impaired, it can create cognitive overload for the hearing-abled, who are both listening and reading at the same time. This draws attention away from the action on the screen, and may overburden the working memory.
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17 thoughts on “Technology Tips: Screencasting

  1. First of all I am loving your blog–beautifully done! I agree with all your screencasting tips except for the captioning. As I understand it, part of the reason for captions is for ADA/accessibility issues. I usually use my script for the captions–is this not the usual practice?

  2. Hi Amanda! I just stumbled across your blog searching for opinions on free screencasting tools. In your opinion, what would be a decisive factor for choosing one app over the other alternatives? What did the free ones lack?

    • Hi! The free screencasting tools do not have decent editing capabilities, and they are limited in the recording length you get. If you are on a tight budget, Screencast-O-Matic is a reasonable choice. It does offer a free option, but again, you don’t get the editing capabilities, and you also can’t record system audio. The full version is only $15 per year, so well worth the investment to get editing, etc… If budget is not an issue, I’d suggest getting the free 30 day trials to Camtasia and Captivate. Then you can compare and contrast and decide which one best meets your needs (and if you want to make the investment). The bottom line is, if the purpose of your screencasts is business or education-related, you really need to invest the money. If you are just looking for something fun to do, free works just fine. Hope this helps:)

      • Hi Amanda!

        I see, editing capabilities are sure a good thing to have in a free application. I initially asked what users would expect most from a screencast recording tool because some weeks ago I started to develop my own. I was a bit dissatisfied with the free alternatives and wanted to start something new – but I also wanted to address the needs of other users as well.

        Certainly it still doesn’t have video editing capabilities, but this would seem like a useful thing to aim for in future releases. It is being made available at https://code.google.com/p/screencast-capture/ – any inputs would be highly appreciated!

  3. Hi Amanda,

    Thanks for the post! I’ve noticed that many of our videos were recorded in HD and come out very blurry at the default Youtube setting of 360p. Viewers can change the setting to HD, but I’m not sure how many actually do. I’m thinking of suggesting that we start recording our screens at (640 x360) rather than in HD so that the videos will appear clearly at 360p. Have you had any similar problems?

  4. These are great tips. Thank you for sharing these! I just want to comment about captioning. YouTube’s auto-captioning is not very good and will often cause words to be garbled. Adding the captions from the script will make it easier for the end user to understand the information you’re trying to convey.

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