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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, his or her 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). 

Over the past few years, screencasts have created educational opportunities for millions of people who previously could not access an educational institution. The Khan Academy, for example, now has more than 6000 screencasts on math, biology, physics, chemistry and more; every month those screencasts are accessed by more than 10 million students, and they are used by more than 350,000 teachers. 

Benefits

  1. You can use screencasts to deliver course content that you, as the instructor, 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. 
  2. You can use screencast to deliver remedial content. For example, the instructor of a history course might find that many of his or her 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. 
  3. 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. 
  4. Screencasts can benefit students whose first language is not English (they can watch the screencast multiple times, or you can even include captions with your screencast), and for students with certain learning disabilities. 
  5. Screencasts can allow you to deliver content outside of class, so that class time can be spent on more productive and interactive learning activities. This is called flipping the classroom

Evidence of Efficacy

  1. A 2014 study on the use of screencasts in teaching math identified these benefits:
    1. Support flexible and personalized learning
    2. Supplement lectures and enhance understanding of key skills
    3. Deliver a vicarious learning experience
    4. facilitate exam revision and content review
    5. Provide multi-modal support for learning
    6. Help students keep track with modules
  2. A 2012 study found that "screencasts can be a powerful tool to support student learning," and noted that students reported enjoying the screencasts. 
  3. A 2011 study found that "The results indicate that students perceive the screencasts to be helpful and tend to use the resources as a study supplement. Overall, usage of screencasting in its various forms is positively and significantly correlated with course performance as indicated by the final grade. The most substantial gains were found for students with the least amount of prior exposure to concepts in the course material. These results indicate a potential for screencasts to address the various academic needs of students in a large lecture environment."

Best Practices

Should You Make a Screencast?

  1. How many screencasts will you be making? If you only need to make a couple, then it might not be worth the time it takes to set up a learn how to use a screencasting tool. 
  2. Assuming that you already know how to use a screencasting tool, making a screencast still 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 the 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.)
  3. Will your students benefit from your screencast? Will they benefit more from a screencast than if you delivered the content in class? Will your screencast especially benefit certain students?. 
  4. 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 an atom -- is well suited to being a screencast.

Decide What Screencasting Tool to Use

  1. 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 such as this one (PPT). Note that because this is actually a PowerPoint file, your audience will need to download it and then open it in PowerPoint; in other words, it won't play directly from the web.
  2. If your screencast only needs to include still images, but you want your audience to play it directly from the web, then you could use an online platform such as ​MyBrainShark. With MyBrainShark, you create an ordinary PowerPoint presentation, upload it to the MyBrainShark website, and then add the narration using their online tools. With MyBrainShark, you can also get some data about how your screencast is being used: for example, how many people have watched it. Here's an example of screencast made with MyBrainShark. 
  3. If your screencast needs to be a fairly basic one that includes 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. Here's one example of a screencast made with Screencast-o-Matic, and here's a second example that includes "Picture in the Picture" -- that is, the person narrating the screencast appears in a small square at the bottom right of the main window. 
  4. 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 an installed on your computer, and it takes a few hours to learn how to use it effectively. An example of a screencast made with Camtasia is here. A CTE Teaching Tip devoted to Camtasia is available here
  5. If your screencast only needs to include still images (such as PowerPoint slides), but you want your audience to have the ability to move through the screencast in different ways (such as jumping ahead to a new chapter) then you could use a program such as Adobe Presenter. With Adobe Presenter, you can also insert interactive quizzes into your screencast. If you want, a user's specific responses to quiz questions can determine what part of the screencast he or she subsequently goes to. Here's an example of a screencast, with chapters, that was made with Adobe Presenter. 
  6. If your screencast is primarily you solving equations or drawing chemical bonds or some similar teaching activity that involves a lot of writing or sketching, then you could use a mobile device such as an iPad along with an app such as Explain Everything. Here's an example of a screencast made with Explain Everything. 
  7. Finally, you can even make a screencast just by using a video camera (such as an Iphone) or document camera to film your hand writing or drawing. An example is here

Length

  1. 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 that has explicit “chapters” in it).

Where will you put your screencast?

  1. 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. Unless there is some compelling reason to control access to the screencast, it’s probably best to upload it to a public space: it will be easier for your intended audience to find it, and you will also benefit other people who might not be part of your intended audience. (For example, I created a two-minute screencast for my 20 co-workers in the Centre for Teaching Excellence that explained how to add a link to SharePoint; I put it on YouTube, and it has now been viewed more than 4000 times by people all over the world (some of whom have added comments to the video expressing thanks for my sharing it).
  2. If you do upload your scrfeencast to YouTube, you have several further choices. Your institution might have an official YouTube channel -- for example, here is the YouTube channel of the University of Waterloo. 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> 

Use images (but use them effectively)

  1. A screencast that that is just made of text with you narrating it will not be very engaging. Use images to create visual interest, and to reinforce what you are saying.
  2. 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. Here's an example of a Flickr search for photos tagged with the word "fossils," and which are available for use under a Creative Commons license. 

Use a good microphone

  1. 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. The one I selected, after researching dozens, is the Blue Yeti which is about $180. 

Should I use the picture-in-the-picture feature?

  1. The picture-in-the-picture feature is where a small video of you appears in the lower part of the screen as you are narrating something on the screen. Some people say that this helps to “humanize” the screencast. To my mind, it’s one more thing to worry about, and unless you are George Clooney or Angelina Jolie, it probably doesn’t add much to the screencast. 

Do you need to create a script?

  1. 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 them organize their thoughts; as well, as they are making the screencast, having the script in front of them will keep them on track. However, if you do work from a script, try to make your narration sound natural and even “off the cuff.” An example of a script is here

Providing captions

  1. 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 also benefits students whose first language is not English; and it can in fact benefit all students because they can apprehend the content not just via your voice narration but also via the text -- this is a form of learning called dual coding). At the University of Waterloo, instructors who make screencasts are strongly encouraged to add captions. With programs such as Camtasia, this can be done fairly easily. 
  2. In Ontario, students with a disability that prevents them from using a screencast have a right to request the content of the screencast in an alternative format (such as captions or a script, or whatever is most suited to the students needs and the nature of the content). The instructor must provide this alternative format in a reasonable time.  

Using Screencasts to Flip Your Classroom

Some instructors deliver some or all of their course content via screencasts with the intention that students will consume that content outside of class. The instructors then use class time not to lecture but rather to have students engage in more active learning activities such as demonstrations, debates, discussions, problem-solving, and so on. This strategy is called Flipping the Classroom. Several CTE Teaching Tips devoted to Flipping the Classroom are available here

More Resources

Questions?

Contact Dr. Mark Morton

 

teaching tipsThis 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.