Association for Learning Technology Online Newsletter
Issue 16 May 2009   Monday, May 11, 2009

ISSN 1748-3603

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The man behind the hole in the wall
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Screencasting using Articulate Presenter and Adobe Captivate
Letting learners get closer with real time screen capture
Lecture Capture using the EchoSystem from Echo360
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Stairway to online collaboration: The APT STAIRS project
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College strategies relating to learner-owned mobile devices
LEAP2A: A specification for e-portfolio portability and interoperability
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Letting learners get closer with real time screen capture
by Simon Davis

Screen capture software allows you to record any activity that takes place on your computer screen along with an audio commentary. At its simplest, a real time “screen capture” video can be thought of as allowing people to look over your shoulder while you talk them through something on your computer. Being quick and simple to make, the resulting videos can be a great opportunity to get closer to your audience.
This article will look at some of the features that these applications provide and considers how recording on screen activity in real time can be used to support learning and teaching. Traditionally used for software demonstrations and tutorials in IT skills, real time screen capture has also found a number of more innovative uses such as providing visual feedback on student work, or capturing live events for archive or later transmission.
There are a range of free and commercially available tools that can be used to create real time screen capture videos. The free tools are generally light on features but simple to use. They include:

  • JING, a lightweight application from TechSmith (manufacturers of Camtasia) with emphasis on the rapid creation and sharing of videos via provided webspace. 
  • Camstudio, which comes as a portable application so you can run it from your USB stick without the need for permanent installation.
  • and other Flash or Java based online services which allow you to create screen capture videos through a website without the need for the installation of specialist software. Many of them also let you to either download or host and share your videos online for free.

Free applications can be great for creating 'quick and dirty' productions, such as a how-to video for colleagues. However the additional functionality of commercially available packages, particularly powerful inline editors and flexible outputting options can make them a worthwhile investment for serious screencasters. 
Camtasia Studio
The rest of this article will focus on the commercial application, Camtasia Studio, available from TechSmith and one of the market leaders in this field. It should be noted that there are other applications available, notably Adobe Captivate (as reviewed in Graham McElearney's article, also in this issue) and, BB FlashBack, which offers a similar array of features and functionality.
My first experience with Camtasia was in the production of a range of short tutorial videos on using the GIMP image editor (GNU Image Manipulation Program). Developed as resources for a roll on / roll off course targeted at Entry Level 3 / Level 1 learners, the ability to create short informal videos that supported a kinaesthetic learning style, was preferable to relying on text based instructions with still screen shots alone. While Camtasia itself was very intuitive and quick to get started, I soon found that creating coherent content that delivered a targeted learning outcome took planning and practice. While recording the onscreen visuals can indeed be done in real time, I was soon recalling the old adage about “Failing to plan…”
My other main use of Camtasia has been to record two full semesters’ worth of live lectures for year 1 and 2 Electrical Engineering degree programs. The software was used along with a reasonably powerful tablet PC, wireless USB microphone, Air Mouse and webcam to capture several things simultaneously:

  • PowerPoint slides in sync with the lecturer’s comments (audio recording).
  • Equations that were written out in the session using the tablet’s stylus.
  • Pointer gestures highlighting areas of the screen for additional focus or commentary.
  • A small video of the presenter’s explanatory gestures. 

 Figure 1: Lecture screencast example
An example of the screencast is shown in Figure 1. Owing to the types of expressions used, this format was felt to aid understanding more than a simple 'talking head' and was particularly valued by the significant numbers of overseas students within the cohorts. 'Picture in picture' videos of presenters are also sometimes used to personalise tutorial videos.
Following initial configuration, troubleshooting and training, all equipment was set up and recordings were initiated by the academic at the start of each session in the handover time between lectures. One feature that greatly helped adoption in this instance was the ability to start screen capture recordings from within PowerPoint. This allowed recordings to be made by non-technical staff using software that they are accustomed to, letting them concentrate as much as possible on preparing for the class.
If a recording is started from within PowerPoint you are given the option to stop recording as soon as you reach your final slide. After a recording has been made you can access a number of powerful editing tools to complete production (Figure 2). A standard timeline editor allows you to trim or remove sections of your presentation or even edit a series of recordings together, particularly useful in the creation of tutorial materials. After trying and failing to record certain tutorials in one take, I was pleased to be able to record audio narration externally and then import and edit it with the visuals from a number of individually created, short screen capture sections.

Figure 2: Editing within Camtasia
There are a number of editing tools within Camtasia that can also be used to make your finished productions professional, interactive and most importantly ensure they are effective in delivering learning. Titles can be added at the start, the end and at key points throughout the video. Zoom tools and 'Callouts' such as arrows and onscreen text can be used to highlight areas of the screen, e.g. where to click for a tutorial. Interactivity can be added with hyperlinks, pausing for clicks and branching to other parts of your presentation and inbuilt quiz and survey tools that can deliver results to a VLE or your inbox. The bundled audio enhancement tools were very effective at cleaning up and boosting the quality of the audio recorded during the lectures.
After any edits Camtasia gives you a variety of options for producing a final video. We produced all captured lectures in a number of formats, partially to ensure that students would have the maximum level of flexibility, but also so we could confirm the most popular. The formats offered are flash video (.flv) delivered through a browser within the VLE, streaming windows movie videos (.wmv), mp4 videos for small screen playback on portable video devices (e.g. iPod) or audio only mp3s. The embedded flash video was not only the most popular choice but also could be created with a table of contents generated from the titles of the PowerPoint slides, allowing users to skip to a specific section of the presentation.
Export settings can be customised or users can choose from a number of standard pre-sets. In general the compression of videos using codecs optimised for this type of low level of on-screen activity (the amount of change between frames of videos) is surprisingly effective, producing high quality images with low file sizes (approx 100MB per 1 hour of large format video, including high motion webcam content).
Used effectively, real time screen capture can be a powerful and surprisingly flexible tool for creating rich multimedia learning objects. Although there are more specialist applications for creating tutorial videos or recording lectures, the complexity of setup, steeper learning curves or time required for production might mean in many circumstances that real time screen capture will be more than enough for your needs. The fact that the videos are quick and easy to make means that real time screen captures often have a less formal feel to them and are another way for learners and teachers to get a little closer: "like looking over your shoulder."

Simon Davis
Learning Technologist, Staff and Departmental Development Unit (SDDU)
University of Leeds

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