Spice Up Your eLearning With A Screencast


Screen casts are extremely popular to use in your eLearning. With years of experience in IT and Teaching online let me explain exactly what they are.

A screen cast is a recording of your computer screen optionally including any audio and webcam input. If you are recording your webcam you can also green screen your background for a more professional look. Most Screen Capture or Casting software also allows post recording editing.

So lets look at what software you can use, what features they have, how to set up your computer, general tips and tricks and some advanced options.

Common Features

So lets start with some general features of most of the major screen casting software tools that you should be aware of.

Recording Screen

All screen casting software allows you to record your computer screen as that is the primary feature. They will all let you film the whole screen, a particular application or window as well as a custom area.

I personally find I either use full screen or the application option and rarely am I recording a custom area. The reason for this is that you can use the post production tools in the software allow you to zoom in but if you didn’t capture the whole screen or window. Later if you decide to change the zoom you can do this without having to re-record as well.

Capturing Audio

When you are capturing audio you need to decide whether you are going to capture with a special microphone or just your laptop microphone. I would suggest using a noise cancelling microphone to stop the echo you get in smaller rooms. There are webcams that come with dual microphones and noise cancelling and you can look at some on my recommended tools page.

Audio Editing

After you have created your screen cast you can then do some basic editing of your audio within the screen casting tool. This allows you to cut and mute certain areas of audio and fade in and out the audio as well in case of background noise.

Capturing Webcam

Capturing webcam at the same time as you are recording the screen is a way to add a personal touch to your recording. It is great at the intro and conclusion parts of your longer recordings but sometimes it can be distracting during the meat of your presentation.

Some webcams have a built in green screen feature and some screen capture software has it built in as well. Alternately you could use something like OBS Studio to remove the background after you have recorded. Remember you will have to hang a single color sheet in the background or paint the wall green for this effect.

If you have not come across a green screen effect it is just the ability to remove the background and only show you on the screen.

TIP : If you are doing a green screen have to lights to do this. One to focus on your face to remove shadows and another on the background to remove shadows to make it easier for the software to remove the background.

Multiple Media Layers

Most screen casting or capturing software has the ability to have multiple layers in post production of your screen cast for different digital media types. This means you can add additional audio, video or graphics to the finished product like intro and exit movies or background music. Having each element on a different layer means you can work with them independently on the time line. The time line is just a bar that represents the passage of time.

Call Outs

Call outs as they are commonly referred to are text boxes or commenting on an action on the screen or an arrow or box highlighting an action you may be doing. They are a way of focusing the watchers attention on exactly what you are doing.

Zooming

Post recording zooming is how training videos zoom into what is important on the screen and is generally done after you record the full screen. This way you don’t have to use live zoom tools while recording and can focus on exactly what you are doing. If you wish to use a live zoom tool you can use a free tool from Microsoft called Zoom It or the inbuilt Windows Zoom by pressing the Window Key and + on the keyboard.

Mouse Click Focus

While recording or in post production you can add mouse click sounds when you are recording your audio. This means you can remove your original audio and still have every mouse click sound. You can also add visual effects to show every time you click the mouse as well.

Basic Graphics

After you have recorded your screen cast or capture you can then add some basic graphics elements with the graphics tool box inside most screen capture software. One such example of using these tools is when you see left or right hand bullet lists as they talk or show something on the screen on a solid color background.

Transition Screens

A single screen cast project may have many smaller videos. The purpose of this is to make it easier to edit and when you are recording it will be easier to record the sections in a single piece. The transition screens then allow you to transition between these smaller videos in a clean way and present the next topic.

Importing Grapics

If you have created your graphics in a professional 2D or 3D graphics package you can then bring those graphics into your screen cast if you are putting them on a power point slide like page.

Export File Formats

Once you have completed your screen cast you can then normally export in multiple formats and to website destinations :

  • MPG4 – Standard video format
  • FLV – Compressed Adobe Flash video format
  • Video Hosting – Youtube, Vimeo ect
  • Cloud Storage – For shared storage like Google Drive
  • SCORM – for loading into an LMS
  • Web – Embeded into a HTML5 page for uploading to a website

There are other video formats and destinations depending on which screen software you are using.

Software

Techsmith Camtasia

https://www.techsmith.com/video-editor.html

The current market leader in screen casting software and not that expensive considering the prices of standard graphics packages and eLearing authoring software. For $250 at the writing of this article you can have the most feature rich product on the market. For a review of the product look at my recommended tools page. This is the one I use for my screen casts and well worth the money I think.

Cam Studio

https://camstudio.org/

If money is an issue you can use Cam Studio as it is free and open source. It does not have any post recording capabilities but you could download a free version of Windows Movie Maker to do some editing after you record your screen capture.

Screencast-O-Matic

https://screencast-o-matic.com/

If you are ok with paying for screen casting software but the price of Camtasia is a little expensive then this software may be for you. But hey you say I can use Cam Studio for free why would I want to pay? Well with paying comes an active community or users and normally a support agreement. This means when you get stuck you get instant support without searching the web for answers to problems. This tool is only a couple of dollars a month on a subscription basis and has a good suite of tools.

General Tips and Tricks

Below you will find a whole heap of great tips and tricks for the first time you create a screen recording and it will help you look professional. It will also stop you from having to re-record your videos by having your settings right first.

Set Screen Size

When you are creating your screen cast it is important if you are going to record the whole screen to change your screen resolution to a size that you want your final recording in.

Clean up Your Desktop

If you want your training to look professional then clean up your desktop icons prior to starting your screen recording. You can put them in a folder called Desktop Icons and hid it in your My Documents folder in windows.

TIP : If you have multiple monitors one of them can be for recording screen casting and the other can be your personal desktop. If you chose to record the whole screen most software will them prompt which one you want to record.

Desktop Background

If you are making professional screen casts make sure you change your desktop background to one with a business logo for brand awareness and recognition. It just adds that extra touch to your videos. I often include a web address to direct further traffic to your website if you have one.

Change Your Mouse Cursor

The standard mouse on a full screen HD recording can be hard to see so change your mouse to a large or extra large curse in your mouse settings. This will make it easier to see as you move around the screen.

Turn on CTRL click for Mouse

While you are in your mouse settings also turn on your CTRL click visibility for the mouse as well. This means that every time you are talking about something on the screen you can tap the CTRL key and show where the mouse is.

Clear You Internet History and Log out of Browsers

You want the experience to be as clean as possible so clear your browser history and log out of any browsers. This will mean your search results will match your students view more accurately and not be skewed towards what you like looking at.

Turn of Recent Files on Windows Start

This is optional but I like to turn off recent files in Window Start bar so no personal files show to the students as well. I also turn off recent applications and windows store to make it a simple windows start menu. This means less distractions for your students.

Advanced Options

Use a Virtual Machine

For my screen casting I use Virtual Machines and this allows me to set them up perfectly and when I shut them down the capture environment is exactly the same for my next recording. It saves me from changing my personal computer settings to and from those required for recording my screen which saves me time as well. If you wish to have a look at a Virtual Machine then download Virtual Box for free and look at some tutorials on Youtube for how to use it.

Green Screen Production

Throughout this article we have mentioned the use of Green Screens that give you the ability to blank out your background. The background can then be made transparent to show the background video or a selected image like a company logo. If you do use a green screen here are some tips and tricks you will need to know.

Hang a Sheet or Use a Green Screen

The colour of the screen is not important as long as you are not wearing the colour or it is not your screen colour. The better the contrast the easier it is for the screen capture software to pick up. You can buy retractable green screens or even ones you attach to your chair. You can even buy ones your strap onto yourself. If you are using a sheet then make sure it is hung up flat or against a wall. This removes the shadows which makes it easier for the software to detect.

Lighting

There are two things that need to have light on them when you are doing a green screen. The first is the sheet or green screen to get rid of shadows. By doing this you make it easier for the software to pick up the background and cut it out. The second light needs to go head on to you so it gets rid of any shadows on your face. With these two lights you will get rid of shadows and make a much more professional video.

Clothing and Hair

If you wear floppy and baggy clothing and you are moving around a lot the software will have a hard time keeping up with your movements. If you are going to move around a lot keep this in mind. If you have longer hair and you are flicking it around this will also be harder for the software to detect so think about how you are going to have your hair and trial a few styles that might work well if you are moving around on the green screen.

Summary

If you are not sure what style of screen cast you are going to do go to Udemy.com and watch some of the most popular courses intro videos. The ones that are selling the most are not just packed with great content but are presented well. See if you can repeat some of those features in your own screen cast. This will also help you in understanding the current industry best practice with screen casts.

Now keep in mind you will get better over time and you may not need yours to be as flashy as these videos but at least it gives you an understanding of what you can do.

What Next?

Now that you know the features of screen capture software and what some of them are in the market. Go and install trial or full versions of them to explore the features. They all have How To videos on their websites to show you how to use the tools as well as screen casts. Then I would recommend looking at this article on making your audio more professional in your screen cast.

Article : Editing Audio : Sound Like A Pro In A Screencast

Glen Brown

I am a Technical Trainer and Manager with over 20 years experience in IT, Education and Business. I have multiple qualifications on each topic including post graduate qualifications. I have a passion for sharing knowledge and using technology to do this. If you would like to know more about me please see the about page of the website.

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