When I first started teaching online, one of the most frustrating aspects was that I did not have access to an old-fashioned blackboard to give students a visual map of what I was teaching. I felt restricted by the text-based instruction of the discussion board and eventually began creating colorful flowcharts to teach essay structure, for example, or PowerPoint slides to explain the MLA style format.
However, I still missed my blackboard where I could walk students through the lesson — step-by-step and in real time. That is until I discovered screencast technology. Suddenly I got my blackboard pointer back and I was able to lecture by pointing to concepts as I went along just like I did with my face-to-face classes. The screen capture technology records and synchronizes whatever I have on my computer screen with my voice narration. It is not hard to learn, just sign up for a free account, watch the tutorials and start recording! The technology I use is called Screencast-o-matic but there are other free products, including Screencast.com and Screenr. There’s also the well-known Camtasia Studio line from TechSmith, which is not free but educational pricing is available.
Here are some tips for creating a good screen capture video:
- Keep your lesson short. Focus on a single skill that takes about five minutes to teach. For my classes, it’s concepts such as how to write a conclusion paragraph or understanding the different parts of an essay. Examples of my videos are at Yvonne’s Writing channel. Most of my video lessons are five-eight minutes in length. Any longer than that and students have trouble staying focused on the lesson.
- Talk in a conversational, yet professional manner. Pretend you are talking to a friend or visualize a class in front of you as you talk. In other words, whatever pleasant tone you use in front of your traditional class, make an effort to ensure that tone comes through in your screencast video. Remember, if they can’t see you’re smiling or gesturing, they have to hear it in your voice.
- Do not worry about making mistakes. You can keep rerecording over and over again until you get it right. Screencast-o-matic has a “redo” button. I usually have to rerecord myself at least two or three times to get it the way I want it.
- Use diverse materials for your recordings — PowerPoint presentation, pictures, flowcharts, or anything you would have written on a blackboard, citations from books, Excel charts, Microsoft Word documents or even another video. You can have fun in choosing whatever you need to present your lesson.
- Keep it simple. In some ways, screen capture is like PowerPoint and we’ve been abused by a presentation that used too much animation, zooming transitions, a rainbow of text colors, and the like. Just because the software has a long list of capabilities, doesn’t mean you have to use them all, and certainly not all in the same capture. Sometimes less really is more.
- Make materials accessible for students with disabilities. For example, you will want to provide a transcript or captioning of your video lecture. When in doubt, ask your institution’s instructional designer for guidance.
- Create a departmental video library. Reach out to your colleagues to see what video lectures they’ve made. Perhaps you could borrow one and present it as a “guest lecture” for your class. Consider maintaining a video archive of all the different videos that students and faculty could access.
Since I started creating screencast videos, I have received many positive comments from students, such as “I never knew how to write an essay before but after watching your video, I now understand the basics of essay structure. Thanks Professor Ho” “Is there any way you can ask the school librarian to post your videos to the online school library so that I can rewatch the videos to refresh my memory after my vacation?” In addition, the video I created on “How to do a Peer Review” resulted in a tremendous jump in student participation and an eagerness from students to review each other’s papers now that they knew what to look for.
Screencast video has made my online classrooms come alive and has given students the sense that there’s a real person actively teaching them. If it’s something you haven’t tried, I highly recommend learning about screen capture technology as a way of adding more depth to the online environment.
Yvonne Ho is a full-time Associate Professor of English Composition/Literature at American Public University System (APUS).