In my role as business librarian, I often get email and Teams chat questions that are very challenging to address with a written answer. Rather than attempt to write out a lengthy answer, I will often record a quick demonstration of my computer screen with Screencast-o-matic and just send the student the link to the quick, raw, and unedited video. While this is a quick way to give someone an answer quickly. it’s not very scalable. Generally the video is not polished enough for me feel comfortable about posting on YouTube, so it’s not usually shared beyond the email back to the student.
I changed things up a bit last week, when I received the following from a student:
I would’ve scheduled a meeting, but my schedule is too complicated. The struggle I’m having is that I’m trying to do a deeper dive into the major companies we have in the amusement park industry……Disney, NBC Universal Media, Cedar Fair etc. I’m looking specifically for consumer demographics for their parks, and I need help. Is there a specific one of the sites you’d recommend for the smaller parks like cedar fair and maybe a specific tab from there?
I’ve been making instructional videos and screencasts since before YouTube existed and I have changed my process over time as both my skills and technology improved. Another business librarian recently asked me about my current process, equipment, and software, and since it’s been a decade since I last shared how I make videos, I decided to write it up. I hope this post gives you some great ideas to create some incredible instructional content.
Make A Script
My video ideas typically come from the repeat questions I have previously received from students or from my own predications of the types of questions they will likely have in the future (which is also based on past experience). If I can put tips to solve common stumbling blocks on the web in a guide, faq, or a video, that can save the students time.
I’ll typically outline my idea using pen and paper, then put together a more formal script in Evernote. I used to be more off-the-cuff with my recording, and doing a script slowed down my process. However, because I am now more disciplined about providing quality closed captions to my videos, writing a script before I hit “record” saves time on the back end. A script also keeps me true to the topic at hand, which helps me keep my videos shorter and more on point.
Once I have a draft, I time how long it takes for me to read the script out loud. I then read the screencast part while practicing the clicking and navigating around the database or website. I then edit as needed if the flow is clumsy or if the script is too long.
What I use
Pen and paper
Evernote (Word, Onenote, or text editor work fine, too)
Would be nice to have
Record the Screencast
Typically I record the screencasts in either my work office, though during the WFH phase of the pandemic I recorded at home. At home my desk is near the furnace and the Xbox, I don’t have a door, the tile floor makes sound bounce, and the dog wants to go outside or play. I therefore have to be more flexible about when I record at home. Fortunately my work office has a door and carpeted floor, and due to many staff continuing to work remotely, it’s reasonably quiet. Regardless of location I prefer recording in the morning to limit interruptions.
I’ve used Screencast-o-matic for years (SOM) to record the screen of my computer, and I still find it to be the best bang for the buck. Currently I use a two monitor setup, so I will place my script (in Evernote) on the primary screen, and put the browser on the secondary screen. I will maximize the browser window to hide the address bar and my bookmarks bar, then set SOM to record the full screen. I always record on a monitor, not from my laptop screen, as the laptop screen has less resolution. The better the screen, the better the recording quality.
When I record, I rarely nail the screencast in one take. I frequently have to stop the recording when I mess up, delete the footage, then record the section of the script and screen again. Fortunately, SOM makes it easy rewind to where you messed up and record the section over. I used to just keep recording and just re-do the sequence until I got it right, but I have found that creates a lot of duplicate clips that you have to weed through later when editing. If you can nail as close to a final version of your screencast footage as possible, that will make the editing much easier later.
A dedicated recording studio with sound dampening (this is why the NPR podcasters recorded in their clothes closets when working from home)
Drink water before recording to prevent a scratchy voice
Make sure you have a quiet mouse surface
If your mic has a gain control (the Yeti does) turn the gain down as much as possible and place the mic as close to you as possible
Use a pop filter for your mic to dampen your P’s, H’s, and other breathing hisses
If recording a browser window, maximize the window and set SOM to record the full screen
Record the screen of a monitor, not your laptop, to maximize the screen recording resolution
Don’t strive for perfection or you’ll never get the recording done
You’ll naturally veer from your script somewhat. That’s okay, but don’t stray too far and ramble too much!
Edit the Screencast
Since I use Screencast-o-matic to record my screen, I also use it to edit the screencast recoding. I use SOM to trim the footage and add transitions between clips. I will do this rough edit before I film the introduction and conclusion on-camera video, as this process can sometimes cause me to tweak the script.
I usually add instructional callouts such as text, arrows, highlights, and shapes to the screencast after I film the on-camera footage. I could edit the screencast footage in my video editor at the same time I edit the camera footage. However, I find that it’s much easier to do the basic overlays and callouts in SOM. As I continue to improve my skills with Adobe Premiere, I may change this process.
What I use
Adobe Captivate has more robust editing functions with additional cost and complexity
Practice makes perfect you better
Record On Camera Intro & Outro
I include an on-camera intro and outro in almost all of my videos. I believe this adds a bit more personality to the video while also showing me as the “expert” behind the screencast.
As I mentioned above, I typically shoot the on-camera shots after I have a rough edit of the screencast. This sometimes takes place on different days, depending on when I have the time (or remember to pack my camera equipment). I’ve also shot multiple on-camera pieces for separate videos in the same day. (These were videos where I deliberately wanted to be seen on camera in the same shirt).
Shooting the on-camera parts can be more challenging and intimidating than the screencast. Sometimes it’s hard to get started with the most difficult part first, but the momentum from the screen recording pushes me over the finish line.
In Spring 2020 I wanted a bit more flexibility to record video away from my computer, so I started using my Sony A6000, which is a mirrorless interchangeable lens camera that originally released 5 years ago. The modern version of this is the Sony A6100, though if I was recommending a camera for making these types of videos (and not for photography), I would suggest the Sony ZV-E10. The ZV-E10 is an all around better camera for video and has a flip out screen so you can see yourself recording.
I also use a Sony 35mm 1.8 lens, which allows me to get the blurry background in some of my recent videos. If you’re just getting started, I suggest using the kit lens that comes with the camera first, then invest in another lens later when you get more experience.
I mount my camera on a tripod as shown in the images below. For this purpose, almost any tripod will do.
The onboard microphone on any camera is not great and bad sound can ruin an otherwise great video. I capture my voice with a lavalier mic that is mounted on my shirt just below my top button. My A6000 is an older camera that does not have a mic input, so I plug the lavalier mic into my phone and record the audio separately with an app. When I do the final edit, I sync the audio recorded on my phone with the camera video footage. Newer cameras such as the A6100 and the ZV-E10 have mic input jacks, so you can plug in and record the audio directly to the camera .
Both areas have decent light, though in some cases I have supplemented the lighting with household lamps placed just out of frame. I have some budget light kits on my radar but have yet to pull the trigger.
I’ve also shot other introduction videos “on location” to make them more relevant, interesting, and fun. Examples from my archive include:
While it’s fun to shoot at locations other than the office, it is a lot more challenging to control sound and lighting conditions. While I’ve gotten a lot better since those video examples linked above, it can still be very difficult to shoot a video off site, especially by yourself. It’s much easier to dial in your settings and repeat the recipe every time with a fixed location.
The nice thing about shooting in a fixed location is that you can use something to hold your cue cards or serve as a teleprompter. While an actual teleprompter would be ideal, I’ve experimented with several no-budget options, including using PowerPoint as a teleprompter.
Combine & Edit Footage
The next step in the process is to combine the on-camera and screencast footage to edit the final video. For years I used Windows Live Movie Maker (WLMM) which is sadly no longer available for modern Windows machines. It has been replaced by the Video Editor app, which will get the job done but is more limited than the software it replaced. FWIW my 10-year-old son used Video Editor for two months before he outgrew its capabilities (he wanted to do more cool stuff with his Fortnite and Minecraft videos). However, Video Editor is a decent free tool if you are new to video editing on a Windows PC and just want to get started. iMovie offers a bit more functionality and is also available for free on the Mac, but I’ve only used the iPad version.
Spring 2020 was the first time I used my A6000 camera, the lavalier mic, and my phone to record audio and video. Adding this equipment made for better quality video and audio, but complicated the editing process. I ran into problems using SOM because I had to manually sync the audio and video. This is a tedious process that requires visually aligning the sound waves from the different audio and video sources, and using SOM was not the best tool for the job.
I discovered that Hitfilm Express was a free video editor that could automatically sync the audio and video. I watched a Lynda.com course and a few YouTube videos that taught me the basics of using the interface and was off and running. Hitfilm is a great video editor, but it does not run very well on my work laptop (it runs awesome on my personal gaming laptop). I used Hitfilm to edit and sync the on-camera audio and video, but would then export a video file and complete the rest of the edits in SOM.
I’ve notes a few observations about the three applications below.
easy to use
a bit limited though more features the Windows Video Editor or iMovie
runs on low-end machines
can import camera footage to edit in addition to editing screencasts
includes automatic captions
most features are free, but can purchase add-ons for additional funcionality
spotty how-tos available on YouTube
one fairly comprehensive course on LinkedIn Learning
can be a bit laggy
useful for creating special effects (exploding books anyone?)
runs better than Hitfilm
robust training available on YouTube, Skillshare, LinkedIn Learning, and Adobe.com
more expensive and available via Adobe Creative Cloud subscription
includes automatic captions
Create Video Captions
It’s important to provide accurate captions for your videos to ensure accessibility. YouTube does provide automatic captioning, but I’ve found them to be a bit hit-or-miss. The advantage of using Screencast-o-matic to edit my entire video is that it also can automatically caption videos. I would use SOM to caption the video, then make edits where it made occasional mistakes in translating my Tennessee accent. I would then export the caption file as an .SRT file to upload to YouTube or Vimeo.
After a recent update, Adobe Premiere can now also create automatic captioning. I have found that the Adobe captioning algorithm to be the most accurate of any captioning feature that I have used. It is also incredibly easy (though still time consuming) to fix the incorrect captions.
Create Video Thumbnail
My last step before uploading to YouTube or Vimeo is to create a custom thumbnail. Odds are if I don’t upload a custom image, YouTube will automatically create a thumbnail image by capturing the most awkward and unnatural look on my face. I have used Canva and PowerPoint to design my thumbnails. Canva has more elements to use if you have more design talent than I do, and I’ve recently found that PowerPoint serves my needs. I now have a slide deck that is full of thumbnail options that I reuse and edit from previous videos.
Note that my process for saving the image from PowerPoint is different. If you simply save a slide as an image using the Save-As option, you get a 1280×720 size image which is not full HD. My workaround is to “present” the slide then use the Snip & Sketch tool to grab a high-res screenshot of the image.
Believe it or not, it has taken me longer to write this post than it does for me to actually make a video. In writing this post I’ve had the opportunity to read old posts and watch some old videos. I can definitely say I’ve gotten better with practice over time and I’ll continue to improve. I’m excited to get better with Premiere, and I will continue to enjoy learning about the latest tech and techniques.
If you’ve read this far, that’s pretty amazing. I hope you’ll be able to use something I shared to make your own awesome videos. If you have questions, feel free to leave a comment or contact me.
Finally, if this blog is around for another 10 years, perhaps I’ll write up my video process again then.
A while back I posted about how I was occasionally finding lip sync lag (ala “Kung Fu Theater” when I recorded my on-camera video introductions and conclusions using Screencast-o-matic. No matter what I did, I would still experience some lag when recording my face, and my lips and words did not quite match up in the final video. They appeared to be out of sync by a couple of frames. I’ve since changed my process and have now removed the lag entirely.
I now use the Logitech Webcam Software to record my introductions. I use my webcam to record my video, but still use the Blue Yeti to record my voice, as the Logitech software allows you to choose a microphone source separate from the webcam. This keeps the audio levels consistent between the Logitech software and Screencast-o-matic records, so I don’t have to do much fiddling with audio in my movie editor.
Since I am editing my videos in Windows MovieMaker (yes, it still works!), the additional step in recording in Logitech doesn’t really take any additional time. After I record the Screencast-o-matic demonstration, I download the video file to my computer, and the file, along with the Logitech video file, into MovieMaker to edit.
Last summer I started using some new hardware that has made my video making a lot easier. The new setup helps me make better quality videos while reducing steps and saving a substantial amount of time.
Some time ago I shared how I make my instructional videos. In that post I detailed how I recorded my video introductions with a dedicated camcorder (or using the video mode on a standard camera) and then captured the screencast using Screencast-o-matic. I was recording the camcorder audio with a lavalier mic, but recording the desktop audio with a gaming microphone headset. While the audio was good, the levels from the two different sources never quite matched, despite my best attempts to equalize them in my video editor. My old process also required me to plug the camcorder into my desktop computer, then download the video from the camera. While this did not take a huge amount of time, it was an extra step.
The picture above shows my new and improved setup. On the left is a Logitech HD Webcam that records up to 1080P video. On the right is a Blue Yeti Microphone that records excellent audio. Both are connected to my computer via USB. I’ve stopped using the video camcorder altogether and now just record my introductory video with the webcam, Blue Yeti, and Screencast-o-matic. I then record the desktop demonstration with Screencast-o-matic and the Blue Yeti mic. Because I am using the Blue Yeti for the audio source for both the introduction and the screencast, there isn’t any need to adjust the audio levels. Both sound awesome since they are from the same source!
Since the Webcam is already attached to my computer, I don’t have to combine multiple video files. I will usually record in the introduction (and outro) at the end of my screencast, using the same video file. I then export the file to my desktop and then do my editing in the old faithful Windows Live Moviemaker. Unfortunately, the editing in SOM is still a little slow and clunky on my machine.
In general, the quality of the video is superior to my old method and my new method definitely saves me a lot of time. However, there are times when the video can lag behind the audio in the on-camera personal introduction segments. This is usually caused by having too many applications open on my computer while recording video, so closing unneeded programs helps.
This video shows the basics of making library instructional (or other educational) videos and screencasts. The video discusses the inexpensive equipment and software needed, and shows how to make a video from start to finish. Discusses camera selection, how to use Screencast-o-matic.com, how to edit the video in Windows Live Moviemaker, and how to upload to YouTube. For a detailed write-up of the process, visit my post on how I make library instructional videos.
Making videos for my library patrons have saved me time, allowed me to better serve my them, and enabled them to quickly find answers to their questions. I first started using web video for library instruction over 6 years ago and have learned a lot along the way. My hope is that the information in this post can help others make web videos and screencasts to reach and teach their patrons as well.
Update: For a video demonstration of how I make videos, please see this post.
Why Web Video?
My job as a librarian means that I help students and faculty find the information that they need. This help is often provided via classroom research sessions, individual in-person consultations, email, chat, phone, and even text. As a single librarian who serves a college of over 2,000 students and 80 faculty, I am constantly looking for ways to provide better outreach and support to my patrons, while also looking to increase efficiency on my end. To this end I strive to reach the most people with methods that can be scaled for the size of the population that I serve. I have found that web video is one of the easiest and best ways to reach as many people as possible with the least amount of my time and effort.
What type of content?
The content for the videos that I make generally comes from the questions that I receive. It’s pretty easy to know what kind for videos you need to make based upon the frequency of questions that you get (or may get). In many cases, I make videos for general topics, such as how to find economic information in Passport GMID. In cases like this, my goal is to make a general video that will show users how to navigate a database with a rather complicated interface. The question that this video answers is a question that I am likely to get quite a bit. When I do get the question, I can easily send the user the URL to the video via email or chat. This saves me time from having to type the email explanation of how to do this, and the user gets a visual explanation of how to find the information.
At other times, I make more specific videos that address specific research topics. Currently I have over 200 business students who are doing a feasibility study of placing a popcorn franchise in the local Athens mall. I met with all 200+ students (5 classes of 40 students) last week to teach them about how to research this topic. I also created a specific Business Blog post to address the tools needed to research the popcorn and snack foods industry. Before the class I made three videos, one for finding industry ratios for popcorn stores, one for finding demographics of popcorn consumers, and one for finding popcorn consumption by location. All three videos were demonstrations of what I did in class, and were created so that the students could refer back to them after the class. I even showed the video about popcorn consumption during class, as SimplyMap, the database demonstrated, can often take longer than 5 minutes (the length of the video) to explain during a live demonstration.
Regardless of the context of the video, I try to make all of my videos answer a particular question. That is, I would rather make a video on “How to Find Stock Reports in S&P Net Advantage” than just “An Overview of NetAdvantage”. This helps in a couple of areas. First, I believe that a video that addresses a specific question will help me keep the video focused and shorter. Second, someone searching for “stock reports” on the web via Google or on YouTube is more likely to find the first title, rather than the second.
How much time does it take?
The first video I ever made (before YouTube was a household name) took me over 6 hours to make. At that time (around 2005 or so) you would have to worry about things like video formats, compression rates, streaming, and more. There was very much a trial and error approach and a very large learning curve when putting video on the web. Since then, web video formats and players have become more standardized and web video hosts have made uploading and publishing video a lot simpler. Technology has advanced to the point that people can now focus primarily on the content of their videos, rather than worry about video codecs and compression rates.
When making web videos for library instruction, the time spent is directly related to the amount of practice you have had. If you are just starting out, your first video may take you a while. You may stumble with the screencasting/screencapturing tools. You may fumble with the recording of your content. You may try for perfection, but not achieve it. I’ve had a lot of practice and have established a pretty good system over time (I will try to write up time-saving tips in a separate post soon), so I am usually able to create and publish videos very quickly. With the three examples mentioned above, I was able to record, edit, publish to YouTube, and post all three videos to the Business Blog in just under an hour. My record is seven videos in about 90 minutes. I’m still not as efficient as I would like to be, but I have gotten a lot better over time.
How much time is saved?
One may think that not much time is saved if you have take extra time to learn how to do something new. That may be true early on, but I can guarantee that as you get better making videos, your return on time invested will increase exponentially. At the time of writing this post, those three videos that took me an hour to create from start to finish have been viewed a combined 172 times in the past 10 days. I can tell you for sure that having those videos available has saved me and my students a huge amount of time. They get the answer they need quickly and in the context of their specific research, and I can avoid answering the same question over and over again. That frees up my time so I can answer the more unique (and harder) questions.
How long should my videos be?
I try to keep my videos to less than 5 minutes. Limiting the length to 2-3 minutes is even better, but some concepts or databases can’t be explained in that amount of time. If the video is likely to go over 5 minutes, I try to find ways to divide the video up into several smaller videos. As an example, a single video covering every single feature of Passport GMID (a huge and powerful market research database) would likely take 10-15 minutes minimum. I’ve chosen to divide all the various features of Passport GMID into multiple videos. The important thing to remember is most people are not watching my videos for entertainment. While I try to keep the videos as interesting as possible, the fact of the matter is that few people are going to find “demographics of popcorn consumers” a lot of fun. Therefore, I try to get them through the content to find their answer in the most efficient manner possible.
Script or no script?
Depends. If you are just starting out, I’d suggest going with a script or at least a brief outline. Most of my outlines have been written on a Post-It note, so you don’t necessarily have to have an elaborate script with storyboard. For most of my videos, I will usually run through the search demonstration before recording, then repeat the same basic process for the recording. This practice run helps me to avoid stumbling and having to repeat the recording numerous times. A script is also useful in keeping your thoughts on track and keeping you within your time limits.
Which software for screencasting?
While there are a ton of options for recording your computer screen (screencasting), my favorite is Screencast-O-Mattic. I like it because it is web based, and it has free and paid versions. I’ve been using the free version for quite some time, and I have found that the only drawback is the company watermark in the bottom left of my videos. I recently upgraded to a Pro Account for 12 bucks a year, which removes the watermark and gives me some more advanced editing features. If you are just starting out, stick with the free version for now.
How do I record my voice?
For most of my recordings, I use the microphone from a Logitech Webcam. It’s easy to use and the sound is decent. You can also use the microphone line-in port and a lavalier mic or even a Skype/webchat headset. The hardest part for me (and others in our cubicle farm) is finding a quiet time or place to record the screencast. I’ve found that I can get a lot of recording done before 9 a.m in my office, but you may find that late evening or lunchtime may work better.
Where do you record your videos?
I almost always record my videos in my office in the library, though I have been able to record a few at home. Making videos is a good work-from-home task, especially while a sick child is taking a nap. In a recent video, I actually recorded part of a sports business video in front of our football stadium (in the cold). I’ve got a list of other locations around town that I may use for the introductions in future videos, just to spice things up a bit.
Screencast-O-Mattic allow you to change the size of your video to meet your needs. With the availability of modern widescreen monitors, I prefer to record with Screencast-O-Mattic’s HD setting of 1280×720. This gives me the largest size file to work with, should I need to resize in my video editor. In general, I upload all my videos in HD 1280×720.
Why and How do you add the video of yourself in the videos?
In all of my videos, I bookend the screencast with a personal video introduction and conclusion. I do the video introductions to make sure students and faculty place my voice and name with my face, and to personally introduce myself as the expert. Without the video introductions, I feel like I am just a voice on the screen. The video introductions add a little personality to the videos and highlight me as a resource in addition to the databases that I am demonstrating. Plus, as shown in the image below, the video introductions allow me to show off my collection of sweater vests.
I use a small inexpensive video camera to record the video clips. I then piece the clips together with the video from Screencast-O-Mattic in Windows Live Movie Maker. The process is a little outside the scope of this particular post, but I will write that up soon in another blog post and link to it from here.
To edit or not?
If you are just starting out, my advice is to try to avoid editing. With editing you add another level of complexity that you may not need or want to mess with. If you totally flub something in your recording, it should be fairly easy to re-do the recording, especially if you are sticking to the 2-5 minute time limit.
How do I know when my video is done?
The easy answer to this is “when you have covered your topic as clearly and as efficiently (short) as possible.” However, the definition of “done” can depend on individual expectations. I almost always record my videos in one take, listen to them once, then publish them to the web, warts and all. If I notice in my listen-through that I provide incorrect information or if I am not very clear, then I may re-record the video. A couple of “umms” and pauses won’t really harm the quality of your video, so don’t be too concerned with perfection. I’m not trying to be Lucas or Spielberg—I’m simply trying to make content that helps students and faculty. If I was super critical of my videos and demanded perfection, my videos would take a lot longer to produce and I might not meet my patrons’ needs in a timely manner. In other words, I don’t think they will care if I mispronounce a word or two as long as they get their question answered. If you think your video is bad, you can search YouTube to find worse ones and feel a lot better about your skills.
Where should I upload?
YouTube. But don’t stop there. You can’t automatically assume that because you upload it to YouTube that your intended audience is going to find it. You will need to cross post and promote your video all over the place. Embed your videos on your libguides/research guides, your blogs, and wherever you think your audience will find it. If you can’t embed the actual video, try to look for creative ways and place to link to the video. We even have an image link in our EBSCO database interface that links to our videos about searching EBSCO.
But you don’t use just use YouTube, do you?
That is correct. I actually use a service called Blip.TV as well. I started using them when YouTube was in it’s infancy because Blip had better video quality than YouTube. This may also be covered in another blog post, but for now let’s just say I use both Blip and YouTube. If you are just starting out, just stick to YouTube to keep things simple.
How do I promote my videos?
I have my YouTube account set to automatically Tweet my upload, which occasionally gets picked up by our official @aldenlibrary account, which can then get picked up by students, the official @ohiou account, and others. I’ve often had pretty good success emailing a video to faculty members. I usually tell them that I’ve been helping a lot of students with the same questions, and my video should help others with similar questions. They are usually pretty good about forwarding the email to their students if they know it will help them find better information for their projects. I also usually show at least one video in every class I teach, and show them the link on my blog where they can find all of my videos. I also use a WordPress plugin to show related posts and promote the videos that way (yet another concept that should be its own post when I get around to it).
What else should I know?
Hopefully by now you have the basic knowledge needed to create your own videos. In future posts I will address related topics such as cameras, editing, WordPress plugins, and additional resources/readings. Stay tuned for more on the topic, but for now have fun making videos. Should you have any questions or comments, please feel free to submit one on this post. Finally if you would like another business librarian’s take on making videos, check out Steve Cramer’s recent post on the topic.
Camstudio was the first screencasting program that I ever used. It’s also one of the only ones I know of that will record in AVI format, allowing you to edit the video with Windows Movie Maker. For future installments of the Monday Night Update, I may incorporate some screen grabs from the web or from my computer, and this will do the trick. The tutorial linked above shows how to change the default settings of Camstudio for the best recording possible.