A guide to screencasting 2


Until recently the ability to record your computer screen and voice simultaneously was a complex and expensive process and only really available to a select few. However, this process normally referred to as ‘screencasting’ can now be done much simpler and for a much lower cost – even free – and it has multiple applications in the educational space and for EAP classes. Here are just a few ways it might be used:

  • to show students how to use a particular website, web tool or learning platform
  • to provide visual and vocal feedback to students on an essay. So, for example you could record yourself looking over a student’s essay and providing a commentary on areas of strength/weakness. This can often work better than just giving written comments.
  • to create short instructional videos on a language point or academic skill for students to watch before the lesson or for homework
  • to create a summary of a lesson by recording yourself talking through a powerpoint or materials from the lesson

Let me show you an example of what I mean, here are a few examples of my own screencasts I’ve done for teachers or students.

This one was designed to show teachers how to use a project management tool called Trello:

 

This one was designed to show students how they could use Prezi to create (reasonably!) effective presentations.

This was a short video showing fellow CELTA trainers how to use a Chrome extension called Clipper to insert commonly used phrases in their feedback forms to trainees.

This was a video I made to give students an overview of Turnitin and how it would be used on our courses.

 

While the technology might seem intimidating, it is in fact relatively simple to do and I’ve known teachers with very little technical knowledge record their screen for their students.

In deciding what particular tool you want to use for screencasting, it’s a good idea to think about what exactly you want to show on the screen. Do you just need to record the screen for a short time and provide a voiceover? If so, you can probably just go with one of the free or cheap options below. Alternatively, if you need to be able to record your screen and then do further editing or add annotations/arrows to the screen, then you might want to go with one of the paid options.

Software

If you need something fairly basic with just basic screen recording and voiceover but want to be able to record for a fairly lengthy period of time (say more than 15 minutes), there are free programmes you can download to your computer that you can use forever and you’re not tied to the Internet or an account in any way. Camstudio is a decent example, only available on Windows (not Mac) but with a range of features such as the ability to record not only the screen but your face via webcam and the option to add captions to parts of your recording. You can also record voiceover and also decide whether to record the whole screen or just part of it. Just one thing to be aware of, the final video produced by Camstudio is in a format called .avi and not all video players support that.

If you use a Mac, you do have some options actually built into the operating system. Quicktime, the default video player, has the option to record either the whole screen or a portion of it and you can also record audio. But that’s about it. No webcam video and no options to edit it afterward, though if you have a Mac then it’s likely you have iMovie and you can easily import it into that for further editing.

Another option for recording on your computer is Jing. This is a free programme developed by Techsmith, who also produce the more sophisticated Snagit and Camtasia. Your recording is limited to five minutes and it’s automatically uploaded to an online service, screencast.com, from which you can easily share it with anyone you want. Alternatively, you can keep download it to your computer and share it via Youtube or other sharing service.

Web-based screen recording

You may not have the option to download software to your computer, you might be working on a school or university computer that prevents you from doing that for security reasons. In that case, there is a web-based option called Screencast-o-matic. From the website you can record anything on your computer and it has options for recording audio and from the webcam as well. The free version only lets you record 15 minutes and produces a watermark on the video while the paid version removes both those limitations. When you’ve finished the recording, you have the option to either upload to Youtube or download the video to your computer.

Another way this can be done is through a browser extension. This is an extra small programme you can install into your browser (e.g. Chrome/Firefox) that gives it extra functionality. Chrome has two extensions that can help with this, Screencastify and Snagit. Both let you record either your web browser or any other programme on your computer, but it has to be fullscreen and Screencastify has a ten-minute limit on its free version and Snagit requires you to save your recording to Google Drive. But in a pinch, they can be very handy to use and we’ve found them the most useful to use in class if you want students to record something on their screen as they don’t require too much technical knowledge.

To install these on Chrome, you just need to go to the Chrome webstore and search for them by name, make sure you look for extensions in the search results and click the Add to Chrome button to install.

Presentation screen recording

If all you want to do is record yourself talking over a Powerpoint or Keynote presentation, both of those programmes have that functionality built-in and you can easily create a short video. Here is a short guide explaining how to do it in Powerpoint, and Here’s one if you are using Keynote on a Mac.

Advanced Screen recording

If you have some more complex screencasting to do and you want the ability to edit and annotate the video after recording it, then there are options but you will need to spend some money. Camtasia is probably the market leader for this and it is a superb piece of software, but it is costly, the Mac version is about £80 and the Windows version about £235. The Windows version does have a few extra features over the Mac one, but I don’t think enough to justify such a huge difference in price. And the Mac version is much easier to use in my opinion.

camtasia eg

once you’ve recorded with Camtasia, you have the option to add complex annotations (see menu on left of screen)

Price aside, Camtasia is incredibly powerful and if you find you are doing a lot of screencasting and you need to annotate the screen with additional text or you need to be able to zoom in on to parts of the screen to show smaller details, then it’s worth getting (or at least asking your school/centre if they can buy it). If you’re not sure, Techsmith offer a two-week free trial to find out whether it’s for you. You can see an example of the kinds of things you can do with it below:

Mobile screen recording

There is an increased need now to be able to show students/staff how to do things on their mobile devices such as use certain apps, so being able to record your phone/tablet screen is very useful. Until recently this has been virtually impossible unless you were a real mobile geek, but now it’s become a lot easier.

For Android users (Samsung, LG, HTC, Sony etc) it’s even easier than if you use an Apple device as you can just download an app to your phone or tablet to do it. A couple of provisions: your phone does need to be running a relatively up to date version of the Android operating system, basically anything 5.0 or above is suitable. If you’re not sure what version your phone has, go to Settings>About Device and look for Android version. If the number is under 5.0, this won’t work.

If it does meet the requirements, then you can download a variety of apps that will record your screen, including AZ Recorder (my favourite), just search for ‘Screen Recorder’ in the Play Store. Most of them have a free and paid version, the free version will have a limited recording time and features while the paid ones tend to be unlimited and have additional functionality such as the ability to annotate or record your face at the same time.

If you use an iPhone or iPad, there’s no app that will do this directly on the device itself, but you can buy software on your PC/laptop that will allow you to mirror your device screen on your computer and then use any screencasting software on your computer to record it. However, these normally cost money and may set you back £8–12, so you might want to decide whether this is something you really need to do. One of the programmes is Reflector 2 and costs $15 and this actually has screen recording built in. Another option at the same price is Mirroring 360, which doesn’t have screen recording functionality, but does seem to work better in educational establishments where wireless connections sometimes block these kinds of programmes.

So, if you’ve ever found yourself writing a long email explaining how to do something on a computer and thought to yourself that there must be an easier way, then you might want to give screencasting a go. Start off with the free versions and learn the basics, programmes such as Camstudio or web-based options such as Screencast-o-matic are probably the best places to begin as they have a very low barrier to entry. If you then find you need something more powerful or need longer recordings, you could always buy a subscription to Screencast-o-matic or try out paid software such as Camtasia.


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About David Read

I work at the English Language Teaching Centre at the University of Sheffield as the Director of TEL (technology-enhanced learning). I've been an EFL/EAP teacher and teacher trainer for over 20 years and have worked in 14 different countries. Settling down is clearly an issue for me.


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2 thoughts on “A guide to screencasting

  • Jonathan Smith

    Thanks for this review of screencasting, David! I agree it has great potential in teaching and learning, and is easy to do.

    If you have the SMART Notebook software on your office PC, this comes with a “quick and dirty” screencast tool. It’s called SMART Recorder. You can use it to record what’s on SMARTBoard, but works fine with anything on your office PC. Basically you just open it up, click on the red Record button, record, click on Stop and then it asks you where you want to save the file (in WMV format), suggesting the date and time as a file name. It’s not cloud-based, so if you tend to use resources on your university’s file server, this may be a useful option.

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      David Read Post author

      Ah yes, I forgot about that! I did use it a few times, but having it in WMV was always a bit of an issue as people had problems playing it on different devices. Still, a useful tool and I imagine it will get better as time goes on (and hopefully they’ll ditch WMV!)