EdTech Tip: Using Screencasts for Feedback

I once worked for an editorial director who held us to a very high standard: If even one student could misinterpret our text, then it was unclear. We went back and forth as to whether this was a realistic goal, but it certainly improved our products. I often think back to it when we direct programmers or designers to make changes. If we are not very clear, it is almost guaranteed we will not get what we (thought we) asked for.

One way to make feedback more clear is to use pictures. These can be screen captures, which are simply snapshots of your computer screen. You can use mark-up software to comment directly on a screen capture, ensuring that you and your team are always “on the same page.”

An even better way to be clear is to say it with video. Static images alone cannot tell the whole story, especially when there is interactivity.

A screencast is a video made by capturing the action on your computer screen. I used the screencast below to send feedback to programmers. In this case, we had user feedback that the graph data could not be seen behind the timeline events. Our tech team came up with a nice solution, but it had a bug.

screencast feedback video

You can see the final software at http://eduwidgets.org/#/widgets/1106.

5 Tips for Screencast Feedback

At Victory, we’re always reviewing different stages of proof, generating feedback that needs to be precise and concise. Here are some insights we’ve discovered about giving feedback with a screencast.

1. Start with a script.

A script helps you to be concise, organize your thoughts, and make sure you don’t leave anything out. If you need to record your change requests in a log, you can paste in your script.

2. Keep your screencast short.

Just brush off your “dictation” skills so that no editing is needed! This saves you time, and it saves your audience time.

3. When necessary, reduce the file size.

Will your screencast get there as an email attachment? Although email options are improving, it’s a good idea to keep your attachments to less than 10 MB. Of course, you can always deliver larger screencast files using services such as Google Drive or DropBox.

You may not need video editing software. Often, screen capture software let’s you reduce file size when you export. Just reduce the resolution or the frame rate (or both). If what you are capturing does not change rapidly, then a frame rate of 10 frames per second is often good enough. CAUTION: Review your exported file to make sure it is legible.

4. Don’t reinvent the wheel.

Many people have worked on these issues; take advantage of their hard-earned wisdom! Here are two excellent resources:
http://diythemes.com/thesis/how-to-create-screencasts/
http://libguides.suu.edu/UCET2011-Jing

5. Sometimes a screencast is not the answer.

  • If you are focusing on text, then use software that tracks changes. This will be faster and more efficient.
  • When the changes are very complex, a videoconference is even better than video (and more efficient).

Other Uses of Screencasts

  • Bug Sleuthing Sometimes you report a bug, and the programmer says, “I can’t recreate it!” Making a screencast is very helpful in determining when and why bugs occur. (At the very least, you can prove to the programmer that you’re not crazy.)
  • Recording Videoconferences If you want to record a videoconference, make sure everyone attending has been informed. In many states, it is against the law to record without consent. You are probably okay if the invitation sent by your videoconferencing software alerts people that the session may be recorded.
  • Commercial Use If you plan to use a screencast commercially (for blogging or a tutorial, for example), make sure you purchase permissions or go royalty-free. After all your hard work, you don’t want YouTube or Vimeo telling you that your video has a copyright issue.

Reviews of Screencast Software

There are many options for screencast software—in fact, too many! Here are some excellent reviews to help you narrow down the choices.
CAUTION: The free versions may be all you need, but they often limit you to a 5-minute screencast. One program, screenr, publicly publishes every screencast you make, so be careful!
Best Free Screen Capture Tools
Overview of the Best Video Screen Capture Software
10 Clever Screen Recording Tools for Mac

Do you use screencast software? Please share your stories in the comments!

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