In his book Multimedia Learning, Richard Mayer outlined several principles to guide the development and use of multimedia materials in education. While the principles can be generally applied to any multimedia used instructionally, with the emergence of lesson capture and screencasting options, I thought I’d loosely apply the concepts to outline some best practices for screencasting.
1. Write out a script but try to sound as conversational as you can. This relates to Mayer’s Personalization and Voice Principles. People learn best when words are delivered in a natural, conversational tone rather than a formal or computer-generated one. To achieve a natural, yet focused presentation, I usually start with a basic script that includes the main points that I want to say. I practice the presentation a few times before starting to record the lesson. Even though it is somewhat rehearsed, I hope to capture as much of my natural delivery as possible.
2. Don’t let the perfect be the enemy of the good. Unless you’ve purchased capturing software the lets you edit your recording, you may end up with some “ums” and “ahs” in your screencast. Don’t stress too much about this. Returning to Mayer’s Voice Principle, students learn better when content is delivered in a natural manner. Trying to achieve a perfect recording probably won’t have much of an effect on student learning, so don’t drive yourself crazy recording a presentation over and over.
3. Keep it short and focused. Some screencasting applications limit the length of a recording, which can annoy some instructors. Mayer’s Segmenting Principle, however, promotes shorter, student-paced learning over longer, more comprehensive ones. If you’re planning to deliver a longer lesson that covers several topics, chunk it into shorter segments and let your students access these individual recordings in succession.
4. Provide a roadmap early in the recording. Mayer calls this “signaling.” Students learn more from multimedia when they receive cues about its organization. I usually start my screencast with a brief statement like “In this recording, I’m going to demonstrate..” to signal the focus of the lesson and to help situate students’ learning.
5. Clean up your desktop before recording. If your computer desktop is going to appear in the recording, be mindful of the materials you have posted there. Mayer discusses this in his Coherence Principle. Students learn more from multimedia when extraneous words, images and sounds are removed. While distracting pictures and notes that are tagged on a desktop may negatively impact students’ learning, there may also practical reasons for removing them. I’ve seen several recordings where instructors accidentally show passwords and usernames that they have listed in notes on their desktop.
6. Reduce, reuse, recycle. While this doesn’t apply to diretcly Mayer’s Multimedia Principles directly, it can save instructors a lot of work down the road. If you think you may want to use a recording for another course down the road, don’t include information that would let the viewer know when it was recorded or why. Recording something like “in last Tuesday’s History 101 course, we discussed…” may diminish the screencast’s portability.
Have other ideas for screencasting best practices? Feel free to include them in the comments below.