By Jerry W. Pearson
Delaware Technical Community College
One of the most popular methods to flipping your classroom is screen capturing or screen casting. There are many programs, desktop and web-based alike, offering you avenues to capture your lecture and post it into the cloud as a video your students can watch and download. Some are more complicated or costly than others. The items you want pay the most attention to in your video presentation are clear images, text, and audio, effective pacing, proper emphasis, and portability to multiple devices. For starters, though, let’s take a look at some of your screen capturing program options. (Click here for larger image)
Clarity in Text, Graphics, and Sound
Let’s start off by talking about clear and readable text and graphics. Remember that your students will not be viewing your presentation on the large projected screen you have in your classroom. They will be viewing it on a computer, laptop, tablet or maybe even a phone. So make sure not to put too much on the screen at a time, and if you are using graphics, make sure they are large enough see for most screens. Another item to watch out for is contrast. It is very important to keep a good amount of contrast between the background and your text. This will greatly help making your text more readable.
Perhaps even more important than text and graphics is achieving clarity in your audio. How many times have you recorded a screen capture only to find your voice was barely audible or there was background noise that interfered? The first thing to do in preparing to record your voice during a screen capture is to make sure you have a place that is quiet and free of distraction. That means no phone calls, visitors, and very low background noise. Then you should have your microphone ready. But which type should you use? Below is a small graphic displaying some microphone options. (Click here for larger image)
One way to help ensure clean audio is to set the recording level of your microphone connected to your computer. If you don’t know how, I have provided you with a detailed set of instructions for Windows that you can download by clicking here: “Windows Sound Setup”. Once you have completed that you also may have to set up your recording levels and options in the program you are using. I have provided you with a detailed setup of instructions for Camtasia that you can download by clicking here: “Camtasia Sound Setup”.
Pacing and Emphasis
You might think that shooting a screencast is no different than filming a live lecture, so one question you may not have considered is “Just how long should I make this video?” Typically you will want to make your videos between 2 and 15 minutes in length with 5 to 7 minutes being the sweet spot. This allows your audience to absorb your content in digestible chunks. It also allows them to take better notes as well as take breaks between videos. So plan you lectures accordingly, even if you have to chunk them out. Once you have your time limit set for your presentation you should consider the pace of your presentation. Pacing is an important aspect of a presentation, as you don’t want to speak to fast or slow, in fact you may want to vary it. How you present your text and accompanying graphics should fall directly in line with the pace of your audio presentation.
Make sure the graphics not only complement but also help emphasize your key points. Many screen captures are tutorials or demonstrations of software or web sites. If your video does not include pop-up windows you will want to make sure they are turned off. If your video includes pop-up windows and you are recording within a window, you will want to make sure they appear in the designated area. Have your other windows or websites in standby off to the side or in another tab, ready to bring to the top into the designated area when needed. Remove all nonessential applications and tool bars. Clear your desktop of icons and have a plain background. But when creating a presentation with PowerPoint or some other presentation program, be careful not to clutter your screen. Too much clutter will confuse your audience and lessen any emphasis you may be trying to place on just what is important.
Many programs offer you ways to add extra emphasis to your mouse or to zoom into an important area. It is important not to get too carried away with these additional tools as they may detract from your overall message. Some programs even offer closed captioning support, which is important to have in your educational videos. Closed captioning not only helps the hearing impaired but also aids in retention of those who can hear by allowing them to read and hear the presentation. Overall, you want everyone to see, hear, read and finally understand your presentation.
Portability for All
The last item we will cover is giving your students more flexibility in viewing your presentation. Typically Mp4 is the best format for all users to view your video. The other primary factor that determines user view ability is the device your students will watch the video on and the connection speed they have to the Internet.
The first property we will deal with is the aspect ratio of the video. Most computer screens and televisions now days have a aspect ratio of 16 X 9. This ratio is referred to as “Wide Screen” and is what you get when you watch High Definition television. A lot of tablets and smart devices also have a 16 X 9 aspect ratio, so why not present your video in the same ratio to maximize your screen real estate. I bet you are saying, “That makes sense, so from now on I will just do my screen captures in full screen on my wide screen monitor.” By thinking this you would be correct in the aspect ratio for your video but not your presentation because all screen dimensions are not created equally. You may have a 1920 X 1080, 1600 X 900, 1366 X 768, 1024 X 600, 960 X 640 …, well, you get the picture. The larger your screen is means the smaller the text will be when you convert it to video and someone with a smaller screen watches it. This means harder to read the text on smaller screens.To be readable on those smaller screens, the best solution I found is to record in a window set up to the common HD resolution of 1280 X 720. By doing so, I am assured of maximizing my screen real estate, accommodating most screens, and also give the ability of watching on a HD television. Using the zoom in and out functions within most of the screen capture software will allow me to ensure those with smaller screens can still read the text, even if they have to zoom in a little with the device they are watching it on.
Of course the device is the key here, which brings me to the next point. Not only do you have to consider the aspect ratio but also you have to consider the data rate of the video and the bandwidth of the Internet connection. A larger data rate means a larger file as well as requiring a faster bandwidth. That is another good reason for recording at 1280 X 720 rather than larger; a smaller data rate is required to render the video. Luckily, most screen captures don’t required a large data rate because there is typically not a lot of motion or activity happening on the screen second to second. Most screen capture programs have this built into their rendering process and give you several simple choices so you don’t have to think about it too much. But upon the chance you may have a video or a lot of action going on in your video and you want it to display well, you may have to manually adjust the data rate, or what is typically called the bit rate.
Video data rate and bandwidth work pretty much the same but have different meanings. The bandwidth is the speed your Internet connection delivers to you device. This can vary depending on a multitude of variables. Basically, if the data rate of your video exceeds the bandwidth your device is getting your video will stall out, become choppy, or may not even play. Since you want your video to play on as many devices and locations as possible what are you to do? Your first choice is to simply render your video at the best quality you can at the lowest data rate you can and hope for the best. In most situations, this will work just fine and is another reason for recording in a window at 1280 X 720. Shorter videos, chunking, also help reduce the bottleneck. The next solution is to upload your video to a service that specialized in delivering video.
These services include YouTube and Vimeo. Both video services have specialized servers at multiple locations throughout the world to ensure a steady and reliable video stream. They also have built in software to detect the device and bandwidth of the user to play the video on the user’s device at an optimal data rate. Other options to upload your videos to are Google Drive, Drop Box, or ScreenCast for Camtasia. These later options don’t have the advantages I just mentioned for YouTube or Vimeo but provide an inexpensive alternative.
Screencasting is a popular trend in education right now, but don’t jump on the bandwagon unprepared. Remember to keep in mind your clarity, pacing, emphasis, and portability.
What challenges have you faced when preparing screencasts? Do you have other tips to share? Let us know in the comments.