Screencasting is the act of recording the actions that occur on your computer screen in video format. It allows users to create video files of presentations, tutorials, and demonstrations that can be viewed in many formats, such as in online, embedded videos, CD-R/W, DVDs, portable media players, etc. Screencasts are powerful instructional tools because they offer learners the opportunity to view materials as often as needed and whenever needed. They efficiently expand the instructional time of the teacher. As an example, my better half has been creating screencasts using free software and Microsoft Paint to produce simple, yet effective videos for her students to review math concepts in class or at home. The videos are available to her students via her class website. An example is seen below.

Numerous quality commercial products exist for creating screencasts, such as Adobe Captivate, iShowU (Mac only) and TechSmith’s Camtasia. Both are outstanding products that offer high-quality video and useful feature sets, such as the ability to add text, navigation tools, etc. For the budget conscious educator (all of us, these days), however, there are also some very useful free screencasting tools available that offer plenty of functionality to create useful, quality screencasts. All an educator needs to get started is a computer with an Internet connection and a microphone. For the really ambitious, a graphics tablet is a great addition, as it allows users to write text and make drawings using a stylus, which is much more natural than using a mouse for most users. Graphics tablets of suitable quality can be purchased in many instances for under $50.

Some examples of screencasting software:

  • Jing –Jing Project is a free product by the makers of Camtasia that uses a software download to capture video or still images and works with Macs or Windows PCs. Users set the dimensions they wish to record and the format, image or video. The free version of Jing allows videos of up to 5 minutes in length. Images can be annotated with text or drawings, but videos cannot. Jing Project users get a free account at Screencast.com, which offers online hosting of videos with a single click. Videos can also be saved offline and embedded in blogs, wikis, web pages, etc. Jing offers a paid version, as well, that offers increases functionality.
  • CamStudio –CamStudio is an open-source software tool that lets users create screencasts in either .avi or .swf format. CamStudio also offers some very useful features, such as adding text to videos and adding “picture-in-picture” videos through the use of a webcam. Users can determine the screen area and recording quality, as well, allowing for the creation of videos in large or small file sizes. The interface is very easy to learn, and CamStudio is a powerful and simple tool to get started. CamStudio is a Windows only tool at this time.
  • Screencast-O-Matic –Screencast-o-Matic is a cross-platform, browser-based tool for creating screencasts. Screencasts created with Screencast-o-Matic are stored online on their site, but can also be embedded in other sites or downloaded as .mov files. The video quality isn’t as high as some of the other tools, but, according to the site owners, this helps make the streaming run more smoothly. Users can create videos up to 15 minutes in length and can add notes in the user interface. A useful application of this feature is to create hyperlinked menus to various portions of the screencast. In the online form, viewers can also add comments. Videos can be either public or private. An example describing some of the features can be seen at http://www.screencast-o-matic.com/watch/ci1YYmqh.

In whatever format screencasts are created, conversion to formats compatible with iPods and other portable media devices can add to their functionality. Zamzar is a useful, free tool that allows most video formats to be converted to mpeg-4 for this purpose.

For more information on screencasting tools, be sure to check out this useful list on the Mashable.com site. Travis Quinnelly has another at Makeuseof.com, and Free Technology for Teachers has a review of a new tool that I haven’t tried (yet), Screencastle.com.