A closer look at Screencast-O-Matic

As free screencasting tools go, Screencast-O-Matic is my favourite. It features as number 27 in the Top 100 Tools for Learning poll of 2015 and is an easy way to create fairly short screencasts (15 minutes or less) to help reinforce key topics with learners. If you haven’t done one before a screencast is typically a video recording of all, or part, of your screen that’s accompanied by an audio or video narration. It’s ideal for demonstrating what you are doing on your computer, such as a software demo or web search, a presentation run-through or is even being used by some organisations as a means of providing formative and summative feedback to learners.

Admittedly, there are a range of other proprietary software options available to create your own screencasts with some great feautres (Snagit and Camtasia to name a couple), but if you’re just starting out with screencasting or are on a limited budget there’s also a lot you can actually do with the free version of Screencast-O-Matic too.

Here’s a quick overview of the key features:-

Compared to some of the other screencasting applications the learning curve for Screencast-O-Matic is relatively modest , so it’s fairly easy to get to grips with the basics of the software straight away. However, the key to producing quality screencasts relies on the effective planning beforehand, and here are some of the key lessons I’ve learned along the way:-

It’s worth noting that although a standalone microphone will usually provide better audio quality, a built-in mic or a headset mic means that the speaker doesn’t need to worry about any peripheral noise and can concentrate on their presentation. Background noise and interference can be a major distraction to screencasts and there are some further tips on reducing these here. For me the top priority is to make sure you invest in a good headset mic in the first place.

It’s worth taking the time to reflect on what you are trying to achieve before diving straight in with the recording – what are the learning outcomes? What content do you need to include? How long should the screencast be? And so on. One useful feature of Screencast-O-Matic is that it allows you to upload a transcript of your narration as a text file which will show up as subtitles, this not only makes it particularly accessible for learners with hearing impairments but also makes you think carefully about what you want to say beforehand, ensuring you focus on the key points.

There’s a great script template you can easily download from the Techsmith blog which helps you think sequentially about the key points you need to include in your screencast and also helps to consider how you can make best use of the variety of features within a screencast (the pointer, zoom, and so on).

I’m as guilty as the next person when it comes to adding conversational ticks and the occasional ‘hmmm’ and ‘erm’ to the proceedings. If you find yourself hitting a mental block don’t be afraid to make use of the pause button (or the keyboard shortcut Alt-P) in Screencast-O-Matic to cut out any dead footage. Again, there might be an unexpected delay in what you are demonstraing too through no fault of your own, such as a file taking too long to upload – hit that pause button!

You get three options following the recording on Screencast-O-Matic, you can either save as a video file (MP4) locally to your computer (my preferred option). This allows you to edit the video in iMovie (or something similar) to give it an extra polish if needed or you can upload to the Screencast-O-Matic site or straight to YouTube.

Speaking of which, here’s a quick example I did of a screencast to complement a training session I did in Bracknell. It’s not a stellar example, by any means, but you can quickly get a flavour of the types of things you can do with Screencast-O-Matic (and the things to avoid!).

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