Creating screencasts

Last term I went to a presentation about using screencasting technology in various ways to support teaching and learning. It was delivered by Dr Emma Mayhew, a lecturer from Reading University, and was mainly attended by lecturers and learning technologists from the arts and social sciences faculties here at Leeds. The talk was interesting on two levels: not only for the information on screencasting, but also because I haven’t spent very much time “mixing” with groups of academic staff, and it’s good to see things from a different point of view sometimes.

Emma’s presentation started off with the assertion that modern students suffer from information overload, need more flexibility in their learning and want to access information in different ways. To try to meet these needs she has started to use videos to support her teaching. So far she has created screencasts to advertise modules, to explain concepts in lectures, to describe things like essay marking criteria or plagiarism rules, and to give feedback on essays. She has even used them as substitutes for meetings with her colleagues! Here’s a collection of screencasts created by Emma and her colleagues from the University of Reading as part of their GRASS project.

In a nutshell, screencasts are videos of your computer screen, usually with a voiceover as well. You can record yourself clicking around the desktop or going through a full-screen presentation, and you can (depending on what software you use) record yourself using a webcam at the same time, so your face shows up in the final video. Most of the screencasts on the GRASS website are Prezis with voiceovers, but there’s also a PowerPoint one (with webcam) and one demonstrating a piece of chemistry software.

The (anonymised) essay feedback videos, which I found really interesting, were made by recording the desktop and a webcam feed simultaneously – so you could see the lecturer scrolling through the essay in her browser and speaking to you about it at the same time. These aren’t available online but you can read more about them here and a similar scheme from Cardiff Uni here.

Emma showed us lots of online resources you can use to create presentations or videos, including Prezi, Powtoon and Videoscribe (subscription-based with free trial). She uses Camtasia (subscription/free trial) to create her videos, although there are plenty of other services out there (including Jing, which is free but has limited features). Emma also pointed out a couple of websites where you can download pre-prepared backgrounds for Prezi, including Prezibase and Prezzip (doesn’t have many free ones). I was surprised by how willing she was to pay for templates and software subscriptions rather than relying on free alternatives, although I’m not sure if this is just me being a skinflint! I imagine some of the subscription costs (e.g. Camtasia) might be paid for out of the GRASS project fund.

I asked about accessibility, as I am currently creating my own videos and have been thinking about including transcripts or subtitles as an alternative for people who aren’t able to watch them. Currently the GRASS videos don’t come with transcripts or subtitles, but apparently they have considered filming someone doing British Sign Language to accompany some of their videos. I think this is an unusual approach and am slightly wary about not providing a text-based alternative to videos, as not everyone who can’t watch a video can use BSL. I was interested to hear that one of the lecturers involved in the project found video feedback really useful, as he is dyslexic and prefers speaking over writing. I had previously thought of videos as being quite time-consuming and a lot of effort for staff to create, so it was good to be reminded of situations where they are actually the easy option.

There was a discussion around licensing issues with screencasts and online presentations, and this was the bit where I found it really… interesting… to be the only librarian in a room full of academics! I’m not sure everyone in the room was on the same page about copyright, Creative Commons and “fair use”, and there were some quite dodgy statements being made. (N.B. I’m not accusing anyone involved with the GRASS project of any licence infringement!)

Someone also asked about how to get more “traditional” colleagues on board with this sort of thing. The recommendation was to get them to write a short script and then to offer to video/animate it yourself, removing some of the hassle. I quite liked this idea, although you can’t start offering to do everyone’s videos for them all the time, due to not actually having unlimited time. But it’d be a good start – saying, for example, “I’ll help you make this first one and show you how easy it can be, then you can try it for yourself”.

Although I have made short screencasts before, I thought this session was quite a good refresher, and I learned about some new (to me) resources. I’m currently working on short informational videos for my current job and have been feeling quite creative since I saw the sorts of things Emma and her colleagues have made. Hopefully I’ll be able to share the results with you soon!

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