Effective Screencasting FAQ


Image Credit: CC  giulia.forsythe

What is screencasting?

Screencasting, a term originally coined in 2004, is a recording of the actions occurring a computer screen and generally includes audio describing the on screen actions. Lecture capture can include a any combination of a screen recording, audio recording, and/or video of the speaker.

Why would I want to make screencasts?

Screencasting has gotten a lot of attention lately in large part because of the popularity of the flipped classroom [link to the FAQ below]. In the midst of this enthusiasm, it’s important to identify your pedagogical reasons for screencasting. One place to start is our page on the Seven Principles of Good Teaching Practice and there are a few ideas in the list below.

Top Ten Reason Why You Should Think About Trying Screencasting:

10) You can still deliver a lecture even when you can’t be in class and students can watch a lecture when they can’t be in class.
9) You can create reusable content.
8) Students can review difficult content and concepts on their own time and at their own speed.
7) Lectures or other instructional content can be viewed outside of class in order to free up time to do active learning in class (see “flipping”) that can foster deeper learning.
6) If video and audio are properly integrated (see multimedia learning FAQ), you can more effectively and efficiently present abstract concepts.
5) Students can also create screencasts for authentic projects such as digital storytelling, digital portfolio artifacts, and visually persuasive essays.
4) You can use formative assessment techniques to identify students’ gaps in understanding and then create short screencasts that clarify these content areas.
3) You can help to scaffold learning by introducing complex concepts and units, highlighting for students key connections and structures before they dive deeper into the material (see this example by CU Professor Phoebe Young).
2) You can increase trust and connection between you and your students by posting a quick introductory screencast or video prior to the start of a course (see this example).
1) You can record your lectures in your pajamas on and no one will know it!

What are the 7 basics of screencasting?

Wow, how did you know there were seven?

In addition to the section below on designing screencasts that match with cognitive research, these quick tips can help in efficiently making effective screencasts.

  1. Clearly define the topic and learning objectives for your screencast upfront. Give students an “advance organizer” of some sort (e.g., outline, concept map) that will give students a good idea of where the presentation is going.
  2. Develop a script or outline.
  3. Practice.
  4. Test your audio and video equipment. If you want higher quality A/V (and this is a very good idea), look at our list of equipment below.
  5. Record in a resolution that is going to work for the majority of students’ screen sizes (including mobile devices). Usually standard definition (i.e., 4:3) will suffice for most presentations and 800×600 or 1024×768 are the safest resolutions to go with at this aspect ratio.
  6. Edit the video to remove extraneous distractions while focusing students on the most important content. See our list of editing software below.
  7. Publish your video in the correct format (this may vary depending which hosting service you’re going to use, see this page for mor information about hosting with CU), but keep the original video file so that you can potentially update and reuse it later.

Won’t this just encourage my students to skip class and watch the lectures online?

Maybe. Irrespective of whether screencasts are being employed, the most basic and important question for most courses is this: “Is what’s happening in the classroom necessary for students’ success in the course?” If yes, then the majority of students will come no matter what extra resources you may provide for them online. What’s more, perhaps the most important affordance of screencasting is the ability to use them to enhance what happens in the classroom. In this respect, screencasting may actually increase class attendance as it primes students for learning experiences in the classroom that cannot be reproduced anywhere else. For more information, see this recent study on students’ use and perceptions of the use of screencasts.

What does it mean to 'flip' or 'invert' a class?

There has been a lot of talk lately about “flipping” a class. In it’s simplest form, flipping involves students getting first exposure to content before coming to class and then getting a deeper understanding of that content during class (see this Flipped Class FAQ for more information) Thus, many instructors have been flipping their classes for decades (e.g., having students do readings before coming to class) and just haven’t known it. Flipping has become popular lately in large part because of the new content delivery options provided by screencasting and lecture capture technologies.

What tools do I need to get started?

There are many tools now available for easily creating screencasts. With a webcam, microphone, fairly modern computer and one of many free or paid software applications, almost anyone can create engaging screencasts. Below are just of few of these options:

How do I design screencasts (and presentations in general) that match with learning theory, cognitive research, and brain-based learning?

Richard Mayer and colleagues have developed and tested a theory for designing multimodal learning environments (for review, see Moreno & Mayer, 2007). The main tenets of the theory are as follows:  (1) humans have different cognitive “channels” for processing information, namely, auditory and visual channels respectively; (2) each channel can only process a few pieces of info in working memory; (3) meaningful learning happens when the learner spends conscious effort in cognitive processes such as selecting, organizing, and integrating new information with existing knowledge; (4) meaningful learning can’t happen when you overload one or both cognitive channels with extraneous details (e.g., read visual text while a video/animation is playing, reading text aloud that is also presented visually on the screen, for review see Kirschner, Ayres, & Chandler, 2011) and; (5) thus, you must carefully design rich media to capitalize on the dual-channel processing while not overloading it.

This work has been condensed into a few key points (Mayer & Moreno, 2003):

  1. Offload visual processing by presenting text as narration. It is easy to overload the students’ visual processing channels if images or animations and combined with on-screen text. One simple solution is to replace most (or all) on-screen text with auditory narration.
  2. Segment particularly demanding and/or conceptually complex content. Segmenting content into self-contained smaller bits and providing breaks between segments allows students time to process and integrate the visual and auditory information being presented. This tactic — also known as chunking — can be combined with practice problems and exercises spaced out between blocks of content that help students immediately apply knowledge and check and reflect on their own understanding.
  3. Provide pretraining materials. Consider providing information on overarching frameworks and the function of individual components prior to presenting a complex system or process. For example, a presentation describing how a stroke occurs through detailed animations might benefit from pretraining materials on the key anatomical structures involved and their individual functions.
  4. Weed out potentially interesting, but extraneous material. An example of extraneous material could be adding background music (especially music with spoken words) and animations within the screencast. (Looping animations and videos such as GIFs can be particularly distracting.) This extra material might be very interesting, but could distract students from processing the essential information you’re trying to convey. It is also important to think about making the screencast as concise and focused as possible, which is much easier to to when one creates a full script — or at least a detailed outline — of the screencast beforehand. Animations and other dynamic content should only be used when there is a clear pedagogical goal; i.e., it would be impossible for learners to fully grasp the learning objectives without seeing a process or phenomena in motion.
  5. “Signal” essential information.  Directing students attention to essential information) can also be an effective way keep students from focusing on extraneous material. This can be done both visually (e.g., arrows, circles, highlights) or auditory (e.g., stressing and/or repeating key words).
  6. Align pictures and text. If it is necessary to use on-screen text, it is important to place words as close to the image or animation it describes.
  7. Synchronize visual and auditory elements. Sometimes an image (or series of images) or animations is shown in succession and then narration is added after that to describe or support these images. This causes students to “hold” these images in short-term memory while also trying to process the narration, which can easily overload students’ cognitive processing capabilities. Thus, its best when an image (or animation) and narration are presented at the same time.

What are some good examples of screencasting from CU courses?

What about accessibilty

This is a great question that all instructors considering screencasting should be asking themselves. One main way to make screencasts more accessible is to provide a complete text transcript of the video. As mentioned above, a good practice for developing screencasts is to write a transcript prior to recording the video so In addition, we’ve developed extensive resources on creating accesible course materials that provide many other options for making your content accessible.

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