Screencasting in the Classroom

I've been increasingly interested in finding ways to "shift" the lectures for my courses out of the classroom. The concept of "flipping" my courses has had a demonstrable effect upon student performance, SLOs, and evaluations of my courses. We use class-time to discuss a lot more, and explore the material together.

But moving lecture out of the classroom can present some significant challenges to faculty - we weren't necessarily "trained" in creating digital media. What's more, there are a lot of different ways to go about creating digital media. What follows is a description of my workflow for creating short lectures in video format for students to view outside of class.


HERE is an example of a chapter review I created for Ream, T. C., Pattengale, J. A., & Riggs, D. L. (Eds.). (2012). Beyond integration: inter/disciplinary possibilities for the future of Christian higher education. Abilene, Tex: Abilene Christian University Press. This episode focusses upon Chapter 1 by James K. A. Smith.


Camtasia - I have tried a number of different apps and combinations of apps. As I've said before, the adage "you get what you pay for" applies here - free apps tend to take a lot more time, and require the use of other free apps to complete the work. I finally went to our Digital Learning Studio on campus and asked one of the staff there to recommend software - without hesitation, she answered "Camtasia." I ran back to my office, and upon finding that the app is kind of expensive (~$100), I thought, "Can this really be worth it?" In a word, YES! I have used this program a lot over the last two years, and I have discovered that I can create a 5 minute video in less than an hour. The program has an awesome help menu, videos, and so far, answers to every question I've had to date. 

Keynote or Powerpoint - I create my slides with Keynote, and then record the slide presentation in full-screen mode. The preparation of slides is no more difficult than preparing for any lecture. I have, in many cases, just used the slides that I had already created for lecture to make a video.

Vimeo or Youtube - As I mentioned in the Evernote in the Classroom post, I am increasingly insistent that my materials belong to ME, not to my LMS. When I post videos in the LMS, it is always as a link to Vimeo. Also, I will take stuff down from Vimeo when it's not in use.


Mic - A good mic is really important to creating video that you can be proud of. I originally tried to use the built-in mic on my mac - and the video sounded pretty bad. I purchased a USB mic with a little stand for about $25 on Amazon, and it's pretty OK. I may, at some point, spend a little money for a better mic, with a boom and a "pop" screen.

Computer - Duh. It is important to put notifications on hold so that they do not appear on your screencast. Also, my iMac has a LOT of RAM - but my Macbook Air only has 8 gig. I have found that, when running Camtasia, I get better performance on the MBAir if I close all the apps and refresh the RAM before starting.

Clicker - Some of my early videos had a noticeable "thud" sound whenever I advanced the slides because the mic (sitting on my desk) picked up the sound of my keyboard. I started using a clicker during recording, which solved the problem.


Create Slides - I tend to do this first, as it drives the script that I'll write in the next step

Create Script - I initially tried to do these things in natural unscripted speech. No more. I discovered that a script is really important for several reasons...

  1. Time - It helps bring the total time of the video into control. If I write a script, I can edit it for brevity and directness. In fact, I've found that a good script can reduce the total time of a lecture significantly. I get more content into a five minute script than I feel I ever do in a 30 minute lecture.
  2. Accessibility - If you are in Canada, you are already required to caption all video content. In the US, this requirement is coming. A script makes captioning really easy, as text can be copied and pasted into the caption. (My example above does not have the caption layer, as I re-uploaded it for example purposes only). Additionally, you could attach the script as a transcript to the video file if captioning is not an option. For my part, I try to make content accessible through several forms simultaneously - but I am a disability compliance officer, so I would, wouldn't I?
  3. Clarity - Don't you hate it when folks read their slides? But I tend to do it a lot in live lectures. Scripting gives me a chance to overlay the text on the slide with different language in the audio track. To see an example of this, check out the example starting at 3:10.

Practice - Cuz, you know ... perfection.

Record - I prefer to do this in one long take. If I make a mistake, I will make a popping noise with my tongue and then back up to the previous sentence. The "pop" creates a visually identifiable peak on the audio file so that I can quickly find and edit the mistake out. I try not to talk during slide transitions - that way, I'm not worried about fixing audio and messing up the transition effects from slide to slide.

Edit - There are four steps that I complete IN ORDER. I cannot stress this enough - the order is kind of important...

  1. Edit the sound - Take out any errors (easy to find on the visual representation of the audio track) and ripple delete (apparently, that means delete the audio and corresponding video section of the project). This will create a clean, but boring, draft of the video.
  2. Add intros and outros - I do this just because I loves me some music - my students seem to notice it as well. 
  3. Zooms and Transitions - Now is a good time to see whether there are any video effects that need to be added. I like to sometimes zoom in on a portion of text for accentuating effect. Also, some text can be tiny (like in the cartoon at 3:54 of the example). Zooming in makes the text readable.
  4. Highlights - Once the draft is edited, and the effects are in place, text can be highlighted. See 2:42 in the example video of highlighting text.
  5. If you edit in this order, things won't get all messed up from edit to edit.

Export - I tend to save my files as mp4s, but then I am on a campus where almost everyone uses an iPad or Mac. You may discover that other formats are better for your campus. Regardless, I share these by uploading them to my Vimeo channel - so the format is not really very important.

Save the Source Files - I keep all of the files (script, Keynote, Camtasia, final product) for a video in a folder on Dropbox. I have discovered that there are a LOT of reasons why I may need to go back and fix something (errors, clarifications, adding captions, etc.), and that having them available saves a great deal of time.

Tips and Tricks

  • Don't Give Up - On the first attempts, these videos will take a lot of time to produce. Keep at it - there is a literacy to this stuff that develops in relatively short order. 
  • Get Students Involved - I have some videos that my students produced, which saved me a load of time, and gave them the chance to get creative with the material. In cases where I intend to share the video with future students, I get written permission to use the video.
  • Free Tools - I still use cheaper and simpler screencasting tools like Snagit or Screencast-o-matic to record instructions for a project. They are useful - but not for the solid gold I'm putting out there in my lectures ;-)
  • Student Paper Feedback - Here's the interesting thing. I thought that I would continue to use cheaper or simpler tools to record my feedback on student papers. But now that my classes are increasingly "flipped," I have time during class to talk to the students one-on-one or in groups about their work. I'm mentoring students directly on their writing in ways I could only DREAM of in a screencast. 
Posted on June 24, 2015 and filed under General.