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Friday, February 04, 2011

Using Screen Recording Software

After I posted my video on security market indexes, I received a number of emails and messages asking questions on how I make them. So, I thought it would make for a a good post. So think of this a a FAQ on making videos for use in the classroom (or elsewhere).

1) What software do you use?
I use Camtasia, which is made by techsmith. It costs $299, but is available to academics for $180. Many universities make it available to faculty for free off a server, so check with yours to see. You can download a fully-functional 30-day free version to get started. You also need a headset with a microphone - using the computer's built in one doesn't work very well. There are other packages that do the same thing, but most people I know that are doing this are using Camtasia.

2) How does it work? Is it complicated?
Camtasia is what is called "Screen recording software". Basically, it records whatever goes across your computer screen as it happens. So, if you're working through a PowerPoint slide deck or a spreadsheet, it records whatever goes on your screen and puts it into a video file. If you're narrating material as you go through the slide deck, it will record the narration to. Alternately, you could record the video and add a voice-over later.

You can then edit the video to put in call-outs, captions, etc... Once that's done, Camtasia will create videos in just about any format you want - flash, MOV, AVI, iPad, etc...

You can also combine snippets of different videos. For example, I will often record 5-10 minutes at a time, clean it up, and save it. I will then combine the individual snippets. This is helpful when I make an error and want to later correct it.

3) How long does it take to make one?
The most time consuming part of making a video is getting organized before you start - making sure your slides are clean, getting your comments organized, etc... (but then, that's true of any teaching). Once everything is clean and organized, I find that there's about a 2:1 to 3:1 ratio of video production time to video length. In other words, a video with a 30 minute run time might take me about an hour to 90 minutes to create. For shorter videos, the ratio is less - I find that I can usually talk for 5-19 minutes without making a gaffe, so I can usually do my shorter videos in one pass. For longer ones, I often make mistakes partway through and have to re-record some parts. Once feature that adds extra time in the production of longer videos is that I typically put in a table of contents, and doing that takes a little bit of time.

4) How do you use the videos in class?
There are a couple of ways I've used them.
  • As a substitute for a lecture - When I'm away at a conference or class gets canceled due to weather, I'll put a lecture online. I've also used them this way when I get time-constrained (i.e. there's a topic near the end of the semester, and you're running out of time). So this way, I can effectively get more lecture time.
  • As additional resources for the students on selected topics - there are some topics that seem to be harder for some students to grasp at first pass (e.g. in the intro class, non-constant dividend growth valuation almost always confuses some students). So, for these topics, I put up a short primer (about 15-30 minutes with a number of examples and lots of explanation). That way, when a student has trouble, the first thing I point them to is the video. For most students, this is sufficient. If it isn't, I can usually fill in the gaps pretty quickly.
  • For assignments that require technical skills: This semester, I'm assigning a lot of extra-credit assignments in my investments class that involve some Excel work. Rather than spend a lot of time in class showing them (for example) how to estimate a regression, I'll put up a video that walks them through it in Excel. As an aside, once I've got a video on a topic, I can often use it in other settings. For example, I did one on data tables a year or so back. Once I had it done, I found a lot of ways students could use this in other classes (for two examples: They could see how a stock's intrinsic value changes when growth or cost of capital varies. or they could see how duration varies with coupon and maturity of a bond).
5) How much do the students actually use them?
I haven't done any formal studies as to how much they're used, but when I post a new video, my total hits on the video is usually 2-3 times the number of students in my class. My guess is that this means that they might view it in its entirety once and then go back a time or two to see specific subsections.

6) I'm sold. How do I get started?
First, go to Techsmith's website and download the free 30-day trial. Then watch a few of their instructional videos (they've done a great job with these, by the way). Then, get yourself a headset (mine cost about $50 from Staples. Finally, if you want more help, Dan Parks has written an excellent (and inexpensive) book titled Camtasia Studi 6: The Definitive Guide. It's for the older version (the current version is version 7), but the basics are all there.

Finally, when you make a good video, let me know (I can always use more resources).

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