Screencast-o-Matic: An Online Lecturer’s Best Friend

In part two of my discussion on converting a workshop into a distance module, I will be discussing another great piece of kit: Screencast-o-Matic. When creating my lectures for the online module, I had several options available to me.

  • I could write a paper on the topic and upload this as a text document or Adobe PDF.

There was already a great deal of reading required on the course, however, and I wanted to include as much variety for the participants as possible. Moreover, many of the concepts I wanted to explain were only intelligible when presented alongside animated diagrams; something easily achieved in a live PowerPoint presentation.

  • I could record a live lecture.

Yet, creating what I considered the bare minimum in production value required an investment of time I did not have.

  • I could record an audio track for a pre-timed PowerPoint presentation.

Unfortunately, including both audio accompaniment and timed slide progression is only possible on the latest versions of the programme, and I could not ensure that my students would have access to this. Moreover, these files could not be easily embedded into my university’s website system for streaming nor could they be downloaded in a reasonable length of time (a 30-minute lecture ended up being simply gargantuan in size).

  • I could give up and rely upon readings and worksheets.

This wasn’t really an option. It was simply how I felt after recording my first lecture in PowerPoint only to discover the above difficulties.

  • I could screencast the lectures.

I had been told about Screencast-O-Matic from a colleague who used the programme to offer his students audio feedback on their electronically-submitted essays. Simply put, the Java-based web application allowed you to record whatever you were doing on your screen with an audio or video track taken from your computer’s microphone or webcam. It required only a few seconds to install the necessary JavaScript within my browser and recorded up to 15 minutes for free.* You could pause the recording, in order to switch to another window and align the screen and cursor appropriately, and rewind if you needed to rerecord a section. Even if your computer crashed or the browser unexpectedly closed, the recording remained in your cache and could be restarted the next time you visited the page (even months later, I found to my delight).

In my miserliness, I recorded my lectures in 15 minute sections and then used video editing software to combine them, but at a mere $12 I would really recommend you purchasing the programme outright and supporting this wonderful software.

Having this piece of kit in hand, I simply loaded up my PowerPoint presentation, plugged in my microphone and gave my lecture as I had so many time before. I then exported the .mp4 to my computer (you can also upload directly to YouTube) and I was done. No fuss. No muss.

…that is, except for my colleagues’ uncanny ability to ring or knock on my office door whenever I was in the middle of recording. But that’s a story for another day.

*Jing is another screencast programme that come highly recommended by my colleagues. However, it currently has a more severe time-limit and greater “pro” purchase price with essentially the same functionality. A more thorough comparision of the two is available here.

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