Screencasting using Articulate Presenter and Adobe Captivate
Screencasts can be seen as a quick, easy and low-cost way to produce e-learning resources. But what we call screencasts fall into (at least) two main categories, with different potential uses and approaches in creating them:
- Online presentations – these are typically PowerPoint presentations that have been annotated with an audio commentary, and in some cases a video of the presenter.
- Software demonstrations – these are where the activities on screen, typically the operation of a particular piece of software, are 'captured' in an animated format, with the optional addition of an audio commentary, and/or visual annotations for clarity.
In both cases we are effectively 'casting the content of the screen'; this is normally played back in Flash format for effective online viewing. There are a range of different tools available for creating these two types of screencast, and there is a degree of overlap between them. This article reviews two of the most popular commercially available packages: Articulate Presenter and Adobe Captivate.
Online presentations using Articulate Presenter
PowerPoint is arguably the most commonly used piece of software by teachers and lecturers. Whilst it is certainly possible to upload PowerPoint files to a Virtual Learning Environment (VLE), they can be rather static. Adding an audio commentary has the potential to transform them into a more engaging online resource, although using PowerPoint’s built-in ability to add narration can result in files that are too large and unwieldy for web distribution.
Using Articulate Presenter
Articulate Presenter is an “add-in” to PowerPoint, so there is no new software interface to learn. Most of the additional features Presenter provides can be accessed by clicking on the Articulate tab (Figure 1).
Figure 1: Articulate tab (as shown in Microsoft Office 2007)
Although the current version (Presenter ‘09) contains quite a few new features, recording your narration is still at the heart of the package, and so the Record Narration option is the first offered. Clicking on this button opens the Narration ribbon, (Figure 2). Narration can now be very easily added by clicking on the Start Recording button. If your slides have individual animations on them, Presenter should recognise these and by default record your narration for each individual “build” of your slide. Speaker’s Notes can also be used as a script for your narration, and can be made visible in the final online presentation. You can change how your narration and animations interact later on using the Audio Editor and Sync Animations features.
Figure 2: The Narration ribbon
Figure 2 also shows one of the most useful new features of Presenter '09 – the annotation tools. These allow you to place graphical annotations into your slides to add emphasis to points, these can also be animated. In particular, the rectangle and spotlight annotations would be very useful in visual subjects for highlighting particular parts of images, and the timing of these can be synchronised with your commentary. The latest version also includes new features which improve general workflow, such as an enhanced way of previewing your work as you go, and managing your output files – both of which could be a little ungainly in previous versions.
One of Presenter’s greatest strengths is the way it delivers your final online presentation. The entire presentation is delivered as a Flash movie, which makes it ideal for online delivery. Your presentation is displayed within the well-designed Presenter playback engine. As well as providing basic playback controls, it includes a number of other useful features. These include the ability to “brand” the presentation, provide biographical information about the presenters, navigate via a tabbed panel with either a thumbnail view of the slides, or a list of slide headings, and the ability to search the text of the slides, or the speaker’s notes if included. The choice to include these various elements in the playback engine is configurable at the time of publishing the presentation, as are other parameters such as the amount of compression applied to the audio narration. The online presentation can also be delivered as a SCORM compliant module (Shareable Content Object Reference Model), although this facility has not been tested in this review. One final addition to the latest version is that presentations can now be made deliverable to mobile devices, either via Flash Lite V3 (Symbian mobile phones only) or as more generic MP3 files suitable for audio podcasting.
Software demonstrations using Adobe Captivate
Many of us need to teach specific software applications to students. Often it may feel like we spend precious time just helping students to develop basic skills in these applications, before we can teach examples that are authentic, relevant and meaningful to our audience. One way of tackling this is to provide online demonstrations or simulations of these packages as a means of preparing students for hands-on classes. This may be particularly true where licensing or other restrictions on specialised software applications prevent them from being available across campus, with students only having limited access to them.
Using Adobe Captivate
As with Presenter, the latest version of Captivate (4) comes with a range of new features. Lying at the core of the package however are its screen capture functions, which make creating this kind of screencast quite straightforward. After deciding whether to capture a specific “application window” (i.e. a program running on your machine) or a “screen area” (i.e. a region of your screen within which any program is captured), you are taken to the capture window (Figure 3). There are a number of other parameters that can be controlled from here prior to starting the actual recording. One of these is whether to include an audio narration. Another important choice to make here is between “Automatic Recording” and “Full Motion Recording”. By default, Captivate uses its intelligent Automatic Recording feature, which just captures screenshots at strategic moments, such as when a menu item is activated, or a dialogue box is launched. This enables a compact Flash based output, comprised of animated screenshots. In some situations you will need to use Full Motion recording, for example when any kind of animated or dynamic on-screen activity is to be displayed. Performing Full Motion capture, at the same time as recording a narration can be quite processor intensive, so a fairly high-specification computer is recommended. You may also find that you need to practice with the software a few times, and will almost certainly need to do things a little bit slower than normal!
Figure 3: Captivate’s capture window
After performing the capture, you will be taken to Captivate’s editing window (Figure 4). Choosing the Preview option from here allows you to view your screencast. You will notice that by default Captivate adds extra elements into the screencast, such as “captions”. These captions fairly intelligently indicate to the viewer that they need to choose a menu item, click an option in a dialogue box etc. All the components of the captured screencast can be edited, including the timing and appearance of the captions, the relative timing and duration of the screenshots, and how these synchronise with your narration if one is recorded. As with Articulate Presenter, narration can also be added to the screencast.
Figure 4: Editing in Captivate
Captivate 4 comes with an array of new features, many of which enable a greater degree of interactivity in the final screencast. Some of these are extensions to existing features. For example, the appearance of captions and/or pictures can now be triggered by the mouse rolling over user defined hotspots on the screen, using the Rollover Caption and Rollover Sidelet features respectively.
A whole new category of interactive features has been added with the introduction of quiz questions. Most of the typical quiz question formats are offered, including multiple choice, drag and drop matching pairs, short answer and image hotspot. These can be used for either formative or summative assessment, and in fact it would be possible to use Captivate solely as an online quiz generator without performing any screen capture at all.
As with other products in the Adobe range, Captivate also offers support for those interested in technical development, with the inclusion of accessible system and user defined variables, functional widgets, and support of ActionScript. The use of variables and widgets allows you to do things like record the student’s name in order to provide personalised feedback, and print a certificate on successful completion of the activity. Third party contributors are already developing widgets, enabling for example the inclusion of a Google Earth viewer within a Captivate screencast. Captivate’s output has now also been enhanced to allow the kind of navigation provided by the Articulate Presenter playback engine, and output can now also be delivered in AVI format for those wishing to deliver their screencasts as video clips.
Both Articulate Presenter and Adobe Captivate offer the ability to rapidly create e-learning resources without having to invest large amounts of time learning new software. This is particularly true of Presenter, as it sits within PowerPoint as an add-in. The packages are quite different, but there is a degree of overlap between them, especially as Captivate now has a much improved ability to import and add narration to PowerPoint files. What both packages have in common is that they involve the recording of materials in advance of their use by students, rather than capturing the live delivery of presentations. It is in our next two articles, looking at Camtasia and Echo 360, that the capturing of live events is discussed.
Articulate Presenter can be purchased directly from Articulate, (www.articulate.com), and 30 day trial copies can also be downloaded. Educational pricing is available, and discounts depend on the number of licences purchased.
Educational copies of Adobe Captivate can be obtained from Pugh Computers (http://www.pugh.co.uk/). 30 day trial copies can be downloaded from Adobe, (www.adobe.com).
Graham McElearney is a Learning Technologist from The University of Sheffield’s Learning and Teaching Services (www.shef.ac.uk/lets).
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