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Screencasting: DIY visuals

Although the verb to screencast is still flagged as a spelling mistake in my word processing program, screencasting, or digitally recording your computer screen is one of the fastest growing web 2.0 trends. It’s so simple- yet so effective! Finally, an easy way to quickly provide a snapshot of your screen that doesn’t require IT support, the digestion of a help manual or weeks of planning the video fade, narration and special effects.

What makes screencasting different from more robust video tutorial software such as Camtasia? For a start, screencasting software is designed to produce quick on the fly video, narration or snapshots. Videos are normally limited to 5-10 minutes and don’t allow sophisticated annotation, statistics or other features. On the plus side however, many of the software programs are free to use, work from your browser and don’t require downloading. They integrate well with online video sharing sites such as Youtube and provide web storage too. And the programs are beautiful in their simplicity- it really only takes a few clicks to produce a brief but robust video.

From an academic point of view, the ease of screencasting provides another great way for people to interact and participate in the online conversation. Screencasting
allows for different learning styles by giving the option to view a procedure or a model rather than having to follow written instructions. And, most importantly, screencasting makes it a lot easier to communicate with people. The saying “A picture is worth a thousand words” is probably over-cited but it certainly rings true when you’re trying to explain quickly and succinctly how the visiting scholar can get the full text of an article from their mobile device off campus.

Some of the most popular screencasting programs are Jing, Screencast-o-matic and Screentoaster. Jing is the easiest to use and the most flexible, but does require a download while Screencast-o-matic and Screentoaster work from your browser. Furthermore, Jing limits videos to 5 minutes while Screencast-o-matic gives you up to 15 minutes and Screentoaster allows you up to 20MB files. All three have web storage and the possibility of saving a local copy. Jing provides screen capture service too. The major factor in choosing a screencasting software will probably be whether or not you can download a program. I personally use Jing, and it has been so popular that I have persuaded Libraries’ IT to support it.

So what can you do with this new software?! Tutorials are the most obvious use of screencasting. These tutorials could be for patron use, for specific databases that don’t yet have their own tutorials such as Dialnet, or if you wanted to record a database tutorial in a different language. Tutorials for in house library use, for example for staff and student training, are also a great idea and serve as useful reference points throughout the year. These tutorials can also be embedded on subject guides using the ready made embedding code that is produced for each video.

Screencasting can also be used to great effect in instant messenger or email reference- instead of trying to explain where the link to scholarly articles is in Academic Search Premier, simply record your steps using screencasting and send it to the patron. You can also keep a library of most oftenly used videos. And why limit the librarians to making videos? Next semester I’ll be undertaking a pilot to allow students to make quick videos as part of instruction sessions, as part of the drive to reflective learning.

And finally, screencasting can greatly improve communication and collaboration in personal projects. Planning a project? Use screencasting to record project progress or to provide verbal feedback or comments on a shared document. Videos are stored online, so there are no lengthy downloads and because they are short, shouldn’t cause access problems. Screencasting can also be used for presenting digital exhibitions or projects. Create videos to narrate your photos or research, create a talking powerpoint or a brief introductory video for your project. All these uses create exciting visuals that draw different people in, and are easy to keep updated.

Have a go! Screencasting is easy and useful- a perfect combination!

Alison Hicks
University of Colorado, Boulder
alison.hicks @ colorado.edu

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