A screencast is a narrated video recording of your computer screen. Unlike a video recording of a classroom lecture, in a screencast the person giving the lecture is not the primary visual focus — rather, their presentation material is the primary visual focus.
A screencast can comprise anything from still images (for example, slides containing text or photographs) to full motion (for example, the movement of your mouse cursor, drawing or writing on slide, video clips from lab demonstrations, and so on). Screencasts can be enhanced with the inclusion of "call outs" (such as arrows or circles that emphasize certain parts of the screen image) or title cards (which are slides with text that introduce a new section of the screencast).
The benefits of screencasts
Free up class time
Screencasts can allow you to deliver content outside of class, which means that class time can be spent on more productive and interactive learning activities. This is called flipping the classroom.
Screencasts also allow instructors to deliver course content that they don't want to cover during class. For example, after giving your students a test, you might not want to spend an hour going over the test questions to explain the correct solutions. Instead, you could create a screencast that explained the solutions, which your students could watch (and re-watch) at their convenience. Using screencasts in this way can also help students catch up on remedial content. For example, the instructor of a history course might find that many of their students don't know how to properly reference sources. Instead of covering this remedial content in class, it is delivered via a screencast that is accessed by those students who need it.
Screencasts allow students to access the content from any location and whenever they need it. They can watch screencasts multiple times. They can review them prior to final examinations.
Screencasts can also benefit students whose first language is not English (they can watch the screencast multiple times, and you can include captions with your screencast), and for students with certain learning disabilities.
Before sitting down to create your first screencast, it’s important to evaluate whether or not screencasts are the right fit for you and your students’ needs and to select a screencast tool will work best for you.
Consider students’ learning outcomes
When thinking about implementing screencasts in your teaching, ask yourself how your students will benefit from your screencasts. Will they benefit more from a screencast than if you delivered the content in class? Will your screencast especially benefit certain students?
Also consider the appropriateness of the content. Is the content you want to share suitable for a screencast? Some content, such as a discussion of a policy, is probably better presented in document form than in a screencast. Other kinds of content — such as an explanation of the parts of the atom — works well as a screencast, as this Khan Academy screencast, Introduction to the Atom, demonstrates.
Weigh the time involved
If you only need to make a couple screencasts, it might not be worth the time it takes to set up and learn how to use a screencasting tool.
Making a screencast takes a fair bit of time (a seven-minute screencast, if it requires editing or other enhancements, could take a couple hours to make). Will making the screencast save you time later on? For example, will it mean that you don’t need to explain something many times to many people?
Select the right screencasting tool for your needs
If your screencast only needs to include still images (not full motion), then you could make a PowerPoint presentation and then turn it into a narrated PowerPoint (see, for example, Creating a Narrated PowerPoint). You can then share it as a PowerPoint file (your audience will need to download it and then open it in PowerPoint) or you can convert your narrated PowePoint into video.
iMovie is a simple, easy to use video editing program that comes free with the Apple operating system (it has no Windows PC version). In this video, UWaterloo instructor Christiane Lemieux explains how she uses iMovie to make video lectures for her courses.
For fairly basic screencasts that include full motion (for example, a video clip or the movement of your cursor) then you could use an online platform such as Screencast-o-Matic. With Screencast-o-Matic, you don't need to download or install any program. However, your ability to edit your screencast is very limited. With the free version of Screencast-o-Matic, your screencasts are limited to 15 minutes in length. This example of a Screencast-O-Matic video includes "picture in picture" — that is, the person narrating the screencast appears in a small square at the bottom right of the main window.
If your screencast needs to include full motion, and you need to enhance it with various edits (such as removing sections, inserting sections, adding call outs, adding additional audio tracks), then you could use a program such as Camtasia. Camtasia is downloaded and installed on your computer, and it takes a few hours to learn how to use it effectively. Learn more about this platform in our CTE Teaching Tip: Camtasia, and in a how-to screencast video we made using Camtasia.
Creating your screencast: Best practices
Keep screencasts short
Try to keep your screencasts to less than ten minutes in length. If you have a lot of content to cover, break it into several screencasts (or into a longer screencast with chapters).
Use images to create visual interest, and to reinforce what you are saying.
Make sure that you have permission to use the images that you use. One good source is Flickr. Do an advanced search in Flickr, searching for images that have been labelled as free-for-use under the Creative Commons License.
Use a good microphone
A poor microphone will make your voice sound indistinct or unpleasant. The $30 desktop microphone that you use for making Skype calls or web conferencing will probably do the job, but if you are going to make screencasts in an ongoing way, a high quality microphone is probably a good investment (see, for example, the Blue Yeti).
Write a script
Some people have the ability to “speak in paragraphs”; such people can probably make a screencast without first creating a script, especially if they know the content well. Most people, though, will find it much easier to make a screencast if they first create a script for themselves. The very act of writing the script will help you organize your thoughts. Having the script in front of you as you record your screencast will also keep you on track. Try to make your narration sound natural as your read from your script.
Captions are text versions of your audio narration that appear at the bottom of your screencast. Adding captions to your screencasts is a good idea: it allows students with hearing impairments to benefit from your screencast; it benefits students whose first language is not English; and it can in fact benefit all students because they can access the content not just via your voice narration but also via the text — this is a form of learning called dual coding.
Captions are easy to include in a screencast: captions can be created in Camtasia, for example, or, if you upload a screencast to YouTube, YouTube will generate captions itself.
Share your screencast via the appropriate venue
After you make a screencast you can upload it to a public space such as YouTube or Vimeo. Or you can put it in a private or controlled space such as SharePoint or a Learning Management System such as LEARN. Sharing your screencasts publically makes them open educational resources, which can benefit learners beyond your course.
If you upload your screencast to YouTube, you might want to share it on your institution’s official YouTube channel — for example, the University of Waterloo’s YouTube channel. Or you can upload your screencast to your own personal YouTube account. If you upload it to your personal account, you can configure it so that anyone can see it, or only those people to whom you have sent the URL.
If you would like support applying these tips to your own teaching, CTE staff members are here to help. View the CTE Support page to find the most relevant staff member to contact.
CTE teaching tips
Contact CTE's Mark Morton.
This Creative Commons license lets others remix, tweak, and build upon our work non-commercially, as long as they credit us and indicate if changes were made. Use this citation format: Screencasts. Centre for Teaching Excellence, University of Waterloo.