Screencasting 101: the Definitive Guide!

Okay, it’s not really a definitive guide, but isn’t it nice to think so? This is a guest post by Cory Bohon, an undergraduate student in Computer Information Systems at the University of South Carolina Upstate. Cory’s my research assistant this semester-and hopefully in future semesters, too!-on Look, Listen, Touch , a project in which we’re exploring best practices in applying universal design principles to digital humanities projects.

I wrote up a bit of the introductory material, made some specific suggestions about images, and edited a few things here and there. Most of the content, however, is Cory’s. -GHW


Screencasts can be a great way of showing people with basic computer skills how to accomplish more-than-basic tasks on their computers. When done well, screencasts illustrate a technical and otherwise potentially confusing process in a way that’s easier to understand than text alone. You create a screencast by recording and narrating your on-screen computer activity as you accomplish any number of tasks.

For example, at Look, Listen, Touch, we’re working on screencasts that illustrate what some of the more well-known digital humanities web sites are like when they’re accessed using the kind of screen reading software often used by visually impaired users. In other words, we’re evaluating whether or not these sites work well for scholars and students who listen to digital resources rather than look at them. It’s one thing to tell people what we’re doing. It’s another thing altogether to show them.

However, you can also create screencasts to explain and illustrate simpler tasks that your students or your colleagues might find confusing, tasks like these:

  • accessing online course material,

  • searching a library database,

  • formatting a word processing document,

  • collaborating on a document through the use of a wiki.

It’s probably not a good idea to assume that you won’t occasionally need to supplement your screencast with some face-to-face time (unless you become adept at making really good screencasts), but screencasts can be a powerful method for teaching and tutoring.

Because everything we do at Look, Listen, Touch is released under a Creative Commons license, we’ve decided to publish this basic tutorial covering how to screencast in hopes that others would find it useful.

Software Options

There are many options available to the would-be screen caster, but these are some of the most commonly used tools:

Tools for capturing the activity on your computer screen

  • ScreenFlow $99, Mac only.

  • QuickTime X $29 (the price for an upgrade Snow Leopard upgrade), Mac only.

  • Jing Free for the basic version. $15 per year for the "Pro" version. Produces quick-and-easy but unpolished videos and audio tracks ready for publishing. Windows, Mac.

  • Camtasia $299 for the Windows version. $99 for the Mac version.

Tools for editing the video that you capture

  • iMovie ’09 iMovie is Apple’s consumer-level (but still powerful) video editing application. It allows you to import your recorded screen capture to add voice over, text and subtitles, and fade ins/outs to make your videos more polished and professional looking.

  • Windows Movie Maker Frankly, we’ve not tried out Movie Maker, so we don’t have much to say. We didn’t want to omit mentioning a video-editing tool for the Windows environment.

What to consider when choosing your tools

There’s no perfect set of tools that everyone should use; each has its own strengths and weaknesses. Your choice will depend on several factors, including price and operating system, which are detailed above. You should take the following factors into consideration:

  • Audio quality and flexibility: ScreenFlow or Camtasia allow you to capture the full audio from the computer, while also giving you the option of capturing audio from your computer’s built-in microphone. By contrast, QuickTime X or Jing only allow you to capture from the computer’s built-in microphone, making computer audio less than stellar because of background noises.

  • Ease of use: If you want to quickly and effortlessly capture your screen while briefly talking about a subject and publish out for your audience, then Jing might be right for you since it has a built-in publishing platform that gives you a clean and simple URL to share your capture.

4-Step Process

The step-by-step tutorial below describes the process as it works in a Mac OS X (Snow Leopard). For screen capturing, there’s one set of directions for using Screenflow, and another set for using QuickTime X. Finally, an explanation of how to use iMovie ’09 for post-capture editing is provided.

Step 1: Record your screen activity

ScreenFlow: select the camera icon in the menu bar and select "Record…"

QuickTime X: select “File > New Screen Recording,” and in the resulting window click on the record button.

Step 2: Export what you’ve recorded

Directions for ScreenFlow: Click the camera button in the menu bar and select "Stop Recording"

Once the video opens in the preview window, select "File > Export" and change the following settings:

  1. For the Preset select "Web – High" and then click the "Customize" button.[Clicking Customize on ScreenFlow Export][16]

  2. In the resulting window, select the "Settings" button underneath the "Video" section.

  3. Set Key Frames to "All," Data rate to "Automatic," Compressor quality to "Best," and the Encoding to "Best Quality – Multi-pass"

  4. Click "OK"

  5. Uncheck the "Prepare for Internet Streaming checkbox"

  6. Click "OK"

  7. Under "Dimensions," do a scale by of "100%" and click the "Export" button. The exporting process will take about 20-40 minutes depending on video length and processor speed.

Directions for QuickTime X: From the menu bar, click the stop recording button

The movie will automatically open in QT X and allow you to export it

From the Share menu, you can quickly export it to iTunes, YouTube, or MobileMe.

  • iTunes export

    1. Select "Share > iTunes"

    2. Select "Computer" for the size as this is the top quality export that it provides

    3. Click "Share"

  • YouTube export

    1. Select "Share > YouTube"

    2. Sign in and validate your account

    3. Type in the metadata, and

    4. Click "Next" and then "Share"

    5. Your video will be exported and uploaded to YouTube using the metadata that you just provided.

Step 3: Edit the video you’ve captured

If your project requires speed more than it requires polish, then you don’t need to do much (or any) editing. In fact, for a quick and basic screen capture, you should probably just use a tool like Jing from start to finish to capture and upload your screencast.

However, if your project requires a more polished and professional screencast, then you’ll want to use a tool like iMovie. Editing and recording a voiceover will take more time than using a tool like Jing, but the results can be worth the effort.

Importing your videos

  1. File > Import > Movies; Import all of your recorded screen captures

  2. Your videos will be imported (copied or moved; although moving the files will decrease the amount of space used) to an "event" that is created in iMovie. You can name the even whatever you’d like, but I’m calling mine "VoiceOver Screen Captures." All of your imported videos will go here.

Adding videos to the time line

  • You can add your videos to the "timeline" by dragging and dropping the original files from the event to the above timeline

  • Adding titles and fade ins/outs is as easy as clicking on the appropriate buttons in the toolbar and adding them (this will be different for your specific video editing application)

Exporting your videos with the highest fidelity

  1. In click Share > Export Movie

  2. Type in the appropriate file name

  3. Click the "HD" export option — this will give us the highest quality file

  4. Click "Export and the video will begin exporting to the location you specified

Step 4: Upload and share your screencast

  1. You can now upload the resulting .mov file to YouTube, Vimeo, or your favorite video sharing website.

  2. You will end up with a mid-range file size of roughly 40MBs for ~6 minutes of video.

  3. The file upload to YouTube or Vimeo will take around 10-15 minutes from a fast Internet connection


Obviously there are several steps to this process, and you’ll want to experiment for yourself with whatever tools you use to get a sense of exactly what works best for your purposes.

Have you been creating screencasts? What tools have you used? What tips do you have for others?

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