MAA Focus — August/September 2011
Change Language:
Become a Screencasting Star
Maria H. Andersen

<br /> Combining a digital recording of the computer screen with audio narration is called “screencasting.” The effect is to create an instant replay of what happened on the computer with accompanying commentary. Many instructors (not just in math) are now using screencasting as a way to connect with students outside of class. We can use screencasts as another tool for math instruction in these ways:<br /> <br /> Capture lectures/lessons.<br /> <br /> Provide help on specific homework problems.<br /> <br /> Talk through solutions to exam questions or problem sets outside of class.<br /> <br /> Introduce a project or problem set.<br /> <br /> Demonstrate how to use specific software (e.g., LaTeX, Maple, Web).<br /> <br /> Demonstrate how to use specific hardware (e.g., use TI-SmartView to emulate a TI-graphing calculator on a screen).<br /> <br /> Before you begin screencasting, you’ve got to choose tools to do three things: show the mathematical work on a screen, use software to capture (and/or edit) the screencast, and store the files on the Internet (see table).<br /> <br /> Show<br /> <br /> Although your show options may be limited to what you already have available, all the options are fine and may change over time.<br /> <br /> Capture<br /> <br /> For capture, software options fall into three categories:<br /> <br /> Short and Sweet. This type of software lets you record a short screencast, produce it quickly without editing, and share it instantly (e.g., Jing). The limited length and lack of editing may not sound appealing at first, but the process is quick and easy. Software like this is best used to answer student questions about homework and record solutions to individual test questions.<br /> <br /> Lecture Capture. Some software (e.g., Tegrity) is designed specifically for classroom recording. Usually configured by your campus IT department, it is super simple to use. The videos are usually not edited, but are automatically produced and stored on a campus server for easy student access. Use software like this to share this semester’s lectures, in their entirety, with your students.<br /> <br /> Recording and Editing. The more traditional recording and editing software (e.g., Adobe Captivate) allows for lengthy recordings and has many editing and production options.<br /> <br /> Learning how to use these programs takes time. Editing and producing also eat up hours. With such an investment of time, use software like this to create core lessons that could be used for multiple semesters, or even multiple courses. If you plan on making your lessons public, you would probably use this software to tighten each lecture and to polish the videos.<br /> <br /> Store<br /> <br /> Before you choose a storage method, think about the ways you might want to share the screencasts: in multiple course sections inside a learning management system (LMS), on a public website, in a course wiki, from an email, in an online homework system, in a discussion board, or in a chat window.<br /> <br /> Instructors often start by uploading screencast files directly to their LMS or online homework system (there’s typically an option to upload video files). However, there are three major problems with doing so: (1) The files can be accessed only from within the system (e.g., you can’t email or share a link to a file); (2) the course gets very large, and every copy of the course contains copies of all the videos; and (3) if your institution switches systems, you may have to re-upload all those files into the new system.<br /> <br /> Ideally, you’ll load all your videos to the same permanent web server on the Internet and then use URLs (links) to point to the videos. Start by asking your campus IT department about storage options outside the LMS (such as a separate campus video server or a account).<br /> <br /> If you’re planning to promote your videos to the public, look for a storage solution that will not cost you or your college anything should your videos become a big hit. The more a video is viewed, the more bandwidth is used (and that costs money). By storing videos on a commercial sharing site such as YouTube, you won’t have to pay extra if a video becomes popular (hey, we can all dream, right?).<br /> <br /> Hard-Learned Tips<br /> <br /> I’ve been screencasting for several years. Here’s what I wish someone had told me before I recorded the first video.<br /> <br /> Go Live. Initially, I staged my recordings outside of class. Later, once I had equipment to record in class, I began recording screencasts “live.” The classroom recordings are so much better than the staged versions, and not just because of improved technology. The inflection in my voice and the pauses between steps of a problem are different. There is additional commentary as I follow up on student questions. Even the problem order changes as I can read the progression of understanding with students. If you can find a way to record in the classroom, do it. You can polish the videos outside of class if necessary with editing.<br /> <br /> Mind Your References. Don’t mention specific texts, sections, or page numbers in your screencasts. If you do, then switching to a different text or a new edition will suddenly make all your videos out of date. If you must reference a section or page number, do it in the text that accompanies the link to the video. It’s easy to change text, but very time-consuming to reproduce all the videos. I learned this one the hard way!<br /> <br /> Avoid Copyrighted Material. If you might ever want to share your videos with the public, create your own graphs and examples. Using the publisher’s material (like PowerPoints) is a timesaver and it’s legal as long as your videos are shared only with students, but you can never publish the materials on the open web. After several years of using screencasts in classes, it has begun to annoy me that—because I can’t share the videos publicly—my students can’t gain access to the videos for prior courses. If I could do it over, I would not have used those publisher materials, and my videos would be on YouTube today.<br /> <br /> Decide Whether to Caption. The best practices for course design and accessibility would be to provide closed captioning on videos. If you require that students watch screencasts outside of class, you must caption the videos (talk to the person who is in charge of accessibility issues on your campus). I suspect we’re right on the cusp of having the technology to do it automatically (technically, auto-captioning exists now, but if you want a good laugh, try auto-captioning a math video).<br /> <br /> However, if the videos are optional, and especially if they are recordings of only what the student could have gotten in a live classroom, it’s more of a gray area. Even in my online courses, the videos are optional. Other options include reading the text, interacting with online manipulatives, communicating on discussion boards, and completing written activities and worksheets.<br /> <br /> Say What You Write, Write What You Say. You can make a great effort toward meeting the needs of all your students, face-to-face and online, visually impaired and hearing impaired, ESL and learning disabled, by saying everything you write and by writing short notes (summaries) about the extra tips you give aloud. Yes, this will slow down your lesson, but won’t that be better for students who are taking notes anyway? And it makes captioning redundant since the important things that you’re saying are written on the screen too.<br /> <br /> Repeat Student Questions. If you are recording in the classroom and a student makes a comment or asks a question, repeat it so the microphone will pick it up. If it’s going to require a lengthy response, write down the main point of the question as well.<br /> <br /> Prep Your Software for Screencasts. In one class, you might use several different software programs and websites. These all take time to open or load. Before class starts, open software programs and websites, convert worksheets to a useful digital format, write or type problems that you want to go over, and start up recording software. <br /> <br /> If screencasting seems overwhelming, start small. Use a short-and-sweet screencasting program (most are free) to answer questions students ask outside of class. When you feel comfortable with this approach, you’ll be ready for the next step in becoming a screencasting star!