Creating captivating online lectures with screencasts

Posted on: May 6, 2015 | By: Stephanie Bedard | Filed under: Instructional Technologies, Online Instruction, Teaching & Learning

Webcam photoDuring Elon’s summer terms, students have the opportunity to take a variety of online courses. A key difference between these online courses and their in-class counterparts is the lack of face-to-face communication between professors and students. Screencasts, or recorded video lectures, propose a solution to this challenge while adding visual and audio dynamics to the online learning environment.

On April 23, the faculty of these upcoming online courses this summer met with Dan Reis, an instructional technologist with Elon’s Teaching & Learning Technologies Department, to explore screencasting best practices.

What’s in a screencast?

Screencasts are video lectures recorded from a computer using a microphone and often a webcam. While screencasting software is abundant, Elon faculty has found success with Screencast-O-Matic, which can be downloaded for free. The pro version, which includes useful editing features, costs about fifteen dollars per year. Faculty can have this expense refunded through an Academic Technology and Computing Committee (ATACC) grant.

“[Screencast-O-Matic] allows you to combine slides with videos of yourself pretty easily, which is important for online courses where students don’t get to see you that often,” said Dan Reis.

Screencasts don’t have to be limited simply to narrating PowerPoint slides, either.

“If you wanted to show students how to do something in Excel [or] how to find something in a library database, you could screencast that,” Reis said. This is because Screencast-O-Matic records whatever is showing on your computer monitor, whether this be the desktop, an Internet browser, or an Excel spreadsheet. The program also highlights the cursor, so students can see where a professor is clicking and follow along, which makes screencasts great for demonstrations. Additionally, Screencast-O-Matic can also record the professor through a webcam, simulating an in-class, face-to-face environment.

The importance of preparation

Creating an effective screencast goes well beyond the five minutes it takes to record a short lecture. As Reis explained, the most important stage of producing a screencast is preparation.  A large chunk of preparation time should be spent creating a thorough lecture script to follow while recording the screencast.

“If you accidentally leave something out in class, someone will ask about it,” Reis said. “You don’t get that luxury with screencasts.”

Scripts should also include a short introduction summarizing the screencast and its content.

Less time, more slides

It’s recommended that when designing a screencast, professors include more PowerPoint slides than they might include for an in-class course. This way, when students review the screencasts, they can find the material they’re looking for more easily.

A final best practice is to break topics down into manageable chunks. Five 5-minute videos are better than one 25-minute video. Not only are these easier for professors to record, but they are also more likely to keep students engaged throughout the entire video.

Best technical practices

One of the more challenging aspects of screencasting is the chance of making errors while recording. For many, this could mean starting to record a screencast from scratch to eliminate a confusing sentence or a noisy background distraction.

“It’s really hard to talk for five minutes without sneezing or without something loud happening behind you,” explained Reis.

For this reason, Reis recommends using the pro version of Screencast-O-Matic, which allows users to edit and cut out segments of their recording. This makes the difference between re-recording an entire screencast and simply re-recording one slide. When using the pro version, mistakes and distractions can easily be cut out and fixed later.

Reis also strongly recommends that professors add accessibility features to their screencasts such as closed-captioning to meet the needs of all learners.

“Adding closed captions to your video is really important,” Reis said. “It’s often overlooked, because it’s time-consuming. At the very least, give students access to a copy of your script.”

Finally, it’s essential that professors always listen to their screencasts before releasing it to students. When the final screencast is ready, it can be uploaded to Moodle or YouTube, creating a more dynamic online learning environment sure to engage and enlighten.

Photo by Flickr user mofetos // CC BY-NC-ND 2.0 

Stephanie Bedard

Stephanie Bedard is a junior at Elon University's Love School of Business. She writes all of her tests using a pink pen.

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