The Major Technical Issues Surrounding Screencasting

Yesterday I attended the JISC Digital Media Online training session on The Major Technical Issues Surrounding Screencasting, one of a series of four. The session, given in Elluminate by Zak Mensah and Gavin Brockis, peaked at 68 participants, so was very popular. For those who missed the session or want to catch up on previous JISC Digital Media Online Surgeries they are all archived on the Web site.

JISC Digital Media Screencast session in Elluminate

Gavin Brockis, responsible for screencasting at JISC Digital Media, started off with a lose definition of a Screencast – a video of what you are doing on your screen, often a demo of software. He explained that while the visual element is key the narration is voice that guides the viewer; the end result should be similar to sitting next to someone. Screencasts can be like mini TV programmes and JISC Digital Media produce some Screencasting advice notes and work flow documents to help you plan the process.

At the session today the focus was considering technical issues for example:

  • What peripheral devices will I need? e.g. headsets, microphone, USB microphones
  • What are my software options?
  • What master formats should I use?

The session approach taken was to look at some example screencasts and critique them. These were provided as a web tour in a pop up window (and also as a link.)

The three examples were a JDM Vimeo Online surgery – Microphone technique and placement screen cast created in Camtasia on a Mac, a University of Bristol guide to Blackboard 9 and a JDM introduction to screencasting workflow.

All three were created using Camtasia (a piece of commercial software) and all were very slick and professional. I would have liked to see a slightly more unpolished example too, maybe something created with a piece of free software, just for comparison.

Differences highlighted included how they dealt with captions (for subtitles it is possible in Camtasia to import script/slide notes in and then manually sync), enhanced screen actions, the microphones used, how talking heads were used, branding, length (don’t make it too long), clickable indexes and more.

As usual all of this is a balancing act and it makes sense to be realisitic about expectations of your audience and the time it takes to carry out the work. Commerical software is likely to yield more professional results but only if the creator has the skills and experience.

Key Technical Considerations

After the example screencasts Gavin ran us through the key technical considerations:

  1. Hardware and peripherals
  2. The range of software options
  3. Considerations for delivery
  4. Advance delivery options
  5. Choosing output screen resolution

Sometime was also spent looking at the components of a screencast:

  1. Placeholder image
  2. Title sequence
  3. Indent
  4. Content – screen capture, audio
  5. Outro
  6. Metadata

And periphery tools that could be used such as a Webcam, screen annotation tools (like screen draw – free online tool) and microphones (USB microphone or sound card system microphone?).

Software

The best way to decide on what software to go for is to look at what capabilities you will need to have, this will help you decide whether you go for commercial or free software? The main software options such as Camtasia and Captivate have a cost (both monetary and in the skill required to use them). However there are a number of free online screencasting tools including Camstudio, Jing and Screenr. These have limited abilities but may do the job. Another option may be to use a lecture capture service if one is available. JDM offer an advice sheet on tools available.

I have mentioned some of these in a previous post on screencasting.

Another useful tool mentioned was Handbrake – very helpful for changing formats.

Conclusions

The training session really was very well thought out and provided attendees with some excellent pointers to further resources such as the JDM Screencasting Workflow document. The Q&A session afterwards was carried out in the Elluminate chat facility, which seemed a little constrained for the number of attendees and questions. Maybe some of this could have been done by attendees raising hands and being allowed to speak?

Nonetheless it was a great session and I hope to attend more.

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