Screencasting in the Library

The Cool Tools Café program at this year’s AALL Annual Meeting showcased–like it always does–many great presentations concerning implementing technologies to improve library offerings. For those unfamiliar with the format of the Cool Tools Café, the program features a variety of demonstrations set up in different stations inside a large conference room—attendees are given free rein to wander around and scope out the various presentations on technologies. Standing out among these was the presentation conducted by CUNY Library Associate Professor & Emerging Technologies Librarian Alex Berrio Matamoros; Alex’s presentation regarded law librarians using screencasting software as a teaching tool.

Screencasting__berrio-matamoros
Prof. Alex Berrio Matamoros

Screencasting is software that records your computer’s monitor as you supply voice-over narration. The user sees all the actions occurring on your computer screen, including your mouse movements, typing, etc. Screencasting is an excellent way of demonstrating how to use software—the user sees the software being used correctly, and can follow along in a very discrete, step-by-step format. Alex, who is responsible for introducing new technologies into his library, presented on using screencasting software to create videos on-demand in order to, for example, help answer legal reference questions he receives. Legal reference work, as we all know, often involves helping a patron/user navigate through a variety of interfaces and databases. In the law firm setting, the majority of the reference work we do is remote: there isn’t a user physically present to peer over our shoulder as we explain what to do and where to go in a database or interface. Handling these types of requests via the phone devolves into a game of 20 questions: “what are you seeing on your screen?”, “what is being displayed in the upper right corner?”, “what box are you typing your query into?”, “what is currently selected?”, etc. And, handling via e-mail usually involves a lot captured screenshots with crude (at least when I create them) highlights and arrows. Screencasting seems like a very powerful solution to the typical user-navigating-an-unfamiliar-interface type of question, a type of question we are all seeing more and more frequently.

Intrigued by the concept of employing screencasting software in a library setting, I caught up with Alex to ask a few questions about this exciting, technological solution:

 

How long have you been using screencasting as a legal research-oriented educational tool?

My whole career as a law librarian, so 4 years now. Jing was one of the first pieces of software I installed when starting at Boston College Law Library, which I used to create short videos to answer some reference questions. During my first semester teaching I used Camtasia to make tutorial videos of how to use online legal research platforms.

 

What educational content is screencasting best suited for?

Content where you don’t anticipate the viewer(s) having many questions, such as a walk-through tutorial on how to use an electronic resource or a slideshow presentation where factual information is delivered. Of course, the viewer(s) may still have questions after watching the screencast, so you should rely on prior experiences to help you decide if something is suited for a screencast. For example, if you have given a presentation in front of a live audience and the attendees had many questions and experienced some confusion, a screencast may not be the best tool to use to deliver that content remotely or to a large audience.

 

How has the feedback been from the students/patrons you send screencasts to?

I have only gotten positive feedback from students/patrons who I sent screencasts when answering their reference questions.

 

What aspects of screencasting have your students/patrons found most beneficial?

Some have commented that watching what I’m doing on the screen is easier to follow than written instructions telling them what search to run, where to click, how to filter, etc. Many also like that they can go back and rewatch the video if they forget something that was mentioned, rather than calling or emailing to ask about what they forgot.

 

Are there particular drawbacks to using screencasting as a legal research-oriented educational tool? Is the lack of a back-and-forth dialogue with your patron a big obstacle?

The most difficult thing about using screencasting for reference questions is deciding when it’s appropriate. I conduct a reference interview first, either by email or phone, and only create a screencast if I want to show a patron the steps of conducting the research they’ll need to do. By the point I’m creating a screencast, the back-and-forth dialogue is finished, at least for the time being.

As for research instruction, I only use screencasts to cover topics that I don’t anticipate will result in many questions from the viewers. If I’ve previously gotten many questions in class about a particular topic, I’ll wait until we’re in class to talk about that topic.

 

How long does it take you to create the average screencast/is it a timesaver versus traditional methods of answering a reference question?

I spend around 5 minutes creating the average screencast for a reference question. This only happens once I’ve actually gone through all the steps of the research that will appear in the screencast. So basically, I go through all the steps to make sure what I’m going to record is accurate and makes sense, and then I record. This way I’m not taking long pauses to think about what to do or say next.

 

Having created many screencasts at this point, what helpful hints and suggestions would you give to those just beginning to create screencasts?

My biggest tip is don’t try to make it perfect. The patron doesn’t care if the screencast is perfect; they only care about the helpful information you are trying to convey to them. If you stumble over a word and then have to repeat yourself, it’s no big deal. You wouldn’t care if it happened live and in person, would you?

Other tips: 1) Get a good microphone, preferably a USB headset with a mic built in. New models come out all the time, so search online for reviews. Test it out and get familiar with any settings you might have to adjust in your operating system or in your screencasting software when you plug it in. 2) Be aware of what portion of your screen is being recorded. Most software records your entire computer screen by default, but many allow you to mark off a specific portion of the screen you want recorded. If alerts pop-up on your screen regularly, such as notifications of new emails or a chat reference box, close those applications if you can before recording. Similarly, make sure that there is no sensitive information visible in the area that is being recorded. 3) Try to reduce ambient noise, although it’s not a big deal if you can’t. Turn the ringer volume down on your phone, close the door if you have one, wait for the ice cream truck to move further down this street if it’s right outside your window (this has happened to me more than once while trying to record a screencast), etc.

 

One of the challenges to implementing this technique in a law firm will be to assuage those who would have security concerns. To that end, I’m interested in where the end movie file would be hosted. From what I recall from your presentation, some of the software hosts the movie file for a brief time period (was it 24-hours?). And, before this time period expired, you would upload the video to YouTube and archive it there. Are you able to set the securities for these particular hosts pretty tightly so that only the intended recipient would be able to access the movie file? If you were in a law firm environment, would you approach hosting the movie file differently, say by saving it to the firm’s internal serverspace?

Yes, security and access to the video is definitely a concern. Screencast.com, the free hosting service from TechSmith (who make Jing, Camtasia, and SnagIt), allows you to set a password for the video if you’d like. They give you 2GB of storage and also 2GB of bandwidth per month. If you need more than that, you can purchase a subscription. I usually leave my videos up there for 1 week and then delete them.

If I want to archive a video, I’ll put it on YouTube as a hidden video, meaning it won’t appear in search engine search results. While you can’t password protect a video on YouTube, you can set it to private so that only someone you’ve invited to see the video can view it. They’ll need to be logged in with their Google account in order to view it.

My approach would depend on what file storage options were available to me at a law firm and what the firm’s policies are regarding computer files. As long as the video doesn’t contain any privileged or confidential information, I’d be comfortable putting it on Screencast.com with password protection, or in my Dropbox or Google Drive where I can share a hidden link to the file. Depending on how sensitive the content is, I might put it on YouTube as a hidden video or mark it as private and ask the patron for their Google account email address (which is usually a gmail address, but doesn’t have to be).


For his Cool Tools Café presentation, Alex put together a list of screencasting software for both the PC and Mac. Here is this additional information:

PC SOFTWARE:
Name Price
Camtasia $299
CamStudio Free
Jing Free
ActivePresenter $299
ActivePresenter Free Edition Free
Adobe Captivate $299
MAC SOFTWARE:
Name Price
Camtasia $99 ($75 academic)
Jing Free
QuickTime X Free
Adobe Captivate $999 ($299 academic)
ScreenFlow $99

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