Screencasting has been a lifesaver.  Assigning screencasts for students to watch at home means more time in class for problem-solving, less time repeating information to students who were out sick, and better-organized lessons.   Here are a few things I’ve learned along the way that might be useful to other beginning screencasters.

I use Jing as a recording environment

It’s free and easy to use.  It limits files to 5 minutes (which I appreciate) and creates .SWF files.  My 20/20 hindsight:

  • Wait for 2 seconds after hitting the Jing record button — it often hiccups there and misses a second of audio, just as you’re introducing your topic.  On the other hand, if Jing looks like the clock is hung up in the middle of recording, keep talking — it’s probably fine.
  • I keep my hand on the F8 key — the pause hotkey.  That way I can stop recording when I need to write, copy/paste, or otherwise do things that would slow down the presentation.
  • Watch out for the F7 key — it stops the recording and you can’t start it again.
  • Don’t let the mouse pointer hover in the middle of the document while I’m  talking.  It’s distracting and looks like I’m pointing to something when I’m not.  Move the pointer off-screen if I’m not using it.
  • Definitely move the pointer off-screen before unpausing recording.  Otherwise, every pause-unpause action causes the mouse pointer to materialize in a different part of the screen (especially distracting if it’s fairly close to its previous position, a sort of “jump-cut” effect)
  • Jing doesn’t track very well while scrolling.  I like to scroll “on-camera” so that viewers can see the spatial relationship of the elements — but it comes out jumpy in the video.  Oh well.
  • If there’s any serious information density, I need a script.  Otherwise I fumble my words too much.  But writing a script from scratch takes forever.  So my workflow is: do a trial run while recording.  It will be terrible, but it will make me think of every visual element I wish I had and every unfortunate turn of phrase I wish I had avoided. Don’t delete it you gutless coward. Remind myself that I’m getting better.  Play back the trial run and type up a script based on it.  Fix everything that irritated me.  Do another recording with the script.  Often, that’s enough.  Time: 20-30 minutes per 5-minute screencast, from planning to product.  The result is a shorter screencast that’s much more pleasant to watch repeatedly, since there’s less “um.. ah” filler when I’m reading from a script.

Bluebeam Revu is whiteboard software and PDF annotator all in one.

I love this software.  The educational license is $75 and I find it completely worth it.

  • It’s easy to copy and paste from various formats and drop things on the PDF
  • The tools are one or two mouse clicks away
  • Every tool has a hotkey
  • It integrates well with the tablet I’m using for annotation (even including pressure-sensitivity, which is a big plus in the legibility-of-my-handwriting department)
  • Handwriting recognition is easy to integrate
  • Subscripts!  Polylines!
  • You can group objects and store them as a unit in a “toolbox”, which becomes a library of your custom visual elements.  I’m actually using it for simple schematic drafting because it’s faster to use than my schematic package
  • Objects can be aligned to each other, which really helps when sticking text boxes and formulas all over the screen
  • Just because I use a quad-paper pad for my daily note-taking does not mean I want quad paper as a background for all my screencasts… this is something I will change in the future.  Since objects can easily be aligned to each other, it’s not necessary to align to grid lines.  The quad background just makes it look overly busy.

Visual Design

It took me a while to get the font size right.  I sometimes use my screencasts in class so they have to look decent when projected.  When using an 8.5″ x 11″ workspace projected in my browser’s “full-screen mode”, 16 pitch is about right to keep the subscripts readable.  Your mileage may vary, depending on monitor/projector size and resolution.

Other results so far:

  • Landscape layout makes better use of monitor real estate, but I like using portrait layout (zoomed in a little closer) so I can have an easy “reveal” of info by scrolling down.
  • Start recording with the document zoomed to 100% and scrolled to the top.  That way if I pause recording to make changes and accidentally scroll (this happened a lot while I was getting used to the tablet) I can get back to a known size/position before resuming recording.  Again, this is about avoiding the jump-cut effect.
  • A consistent colour code is nice (formulas in black, results in red, etc).  I’ve started using it in class too.

General Organization

I always forget to mention the related section of the textbook.  I’d like to start doing this, maybe using it as the “closing credits.”

I now upload the stupid things right away.  It only took one day of showing up to class without my memory stick to teach me that lesson.

Next

I’d really like to learn a bit of basic video editing.  I can’t help thinking it would save me time, since I could cut out mistakes instead of starting over.  Maybe this summer…

Credits

I wouldn’t have gotten started if it hadn’t been for the excellent articles by Andy Rundquist of I’m Not Watching TV and Robert Talbert of Casting Out Nines.  If this was of any help to you, check out their blogs for more depth.