The throwaway screencast

My attitude to screencasts has always been that they need to be done properly.  They need to be slick and have some decent production values, and that needs some time to be invested in setting up the right equipment such as a decent microphone, in a quiet place (not an office with ringing phones and interruptions).  I think it might be my dodgy past as a media student (with career aspirations to be a VT Editor – that didn’t quite work out!) that means that I like to do some post-production with screencasts to make them as slick as possible.

Last week I had the pleasure of co-facilitating a workshop about screencasting with my colleagues Andy Raistrick and Cath Ellis.  One of the points that Andy and Cath made has really changed my perspective, that as well as being a medium for 1:many communications (ie to a group of students) they can also be used to good effect on a 1:1 basis for answering “how do I…?” type questions, perhaps using a free online tool like screencast-o-matic or Jing rather than the more complex commercial tools like Captivate or Camtasia.  The free tools are quite basic and don’t allow you to edit your work (although you can download the movie and edit it in a desktop video editing program if you need to).  This isn’t necessarily an issue because of the “throwaway” nature of the screencast – it’s expected to only be viewed once or twice by one person, so it doesn’t need to be particularly slick.

I received an email from a colleague who wanted to know how to set up a Turnitin assignment in Unilearn (the branding we use for Blackboard) and I couldn’t find anything pre-prepared that answered it, so I thought it was a good time to give screencast-o-matic a go, just using my desktop PC and a cheap headset mic.  This was the result:

The main measure of how successful this was is that the user it was intended for described it as “amazing” and said she had managed to set up three assignments following the process I demonstrated.  She also liked the detailed description of each of the advanced options.  I certainly couldn’t have written instructions that were that comprehensive in the space of time it took to record this. I was able to turn this around – including looking for existing material and setting up screencast-o-matic for the first time – in 26 minutes.

The screencast is not the most polished performance you’ll ever hear but it serves the purpose.  The subject matter is something that I’ve explained to colleagues in person and on the phone time and time again so I’m very familiar with the content and I was able to do this in one take without rehearsal.  Whether I’ll be as lucky next time is something that remains to be seen.

What is not in doubt is that there definitely will be a next time.

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