Camtasia: What You See is What There Is

TechSmith's Camtasia is one of a family of products designed to provide an easy-to-use tool for capturing full-motion activity occurring on a computer screen for later playback. Audio can be recorded at the time of the video screen capture or added later. Having used several competing products fairly extensively, several of my colleagues and I prefer Camtasia primarily owing to its use of nonproprietary file formats and the relative ease with which impressive results can be attained.

Overview

Increasingly, it seems, almost all disciplines are exploring software tools to improve the learning process. Frequently, such tools have steep learning curves that require new skill sets from students. Too often, use of these tools is taught via scarce, and therefore precious, classroom time. Camtasia offers a simple, more effective means of providing instruction on the use of any computer-based activity.

Anyone who can operate a simple cassette tape recorder can use Camtasia. With an intuitive interface, recordings or "movies" can be created within minutes of installing the software. Simply launch Camtasia and click on the "Record" button; from this point until the "Stop Recording" button is pressed, everything that occurs on the screen of the computer is recorded. The product is then saved as any other file might be: It is stored on your local hard drive for later playback, shared on a network for playback by other users, or placed on a Web server for access from a Web page.

Illustration and Explanation

The pedagogical merits of a tool like Camtasia are more profound than are at first apparent. Similar products have been used to provide computer-based training for all manner of computer programs. Indeed, dramatic efficiency gains can be derived from this obvious use of the tool; I have seen a reduction of more than 75 percent in the time I spend teaching students how to use various programs. At the same time, the quality of student productions has risen dramatically, primarily because students can replay the "movies" as many times as they like—treating them as tutorials on demand.

Camtasia is also well suited for rich communication. When separated by space and/or time, two or more people can not only describe something that is occurring on their computer, but also can demonstrate actions or tasks by e-mailing short movies to one another. For example, while I was on a business trip some 2,500 miles from campus, a frantic student team sent me an e-mail with a short Camtasia movie attached. When I played the movie, they explained verbally their problem using a database program while demonstrating the problem on the computer screen. Immediately I was able to discern the problem, if not the solution. After some thought, I fashioned a solution, created a Camtasia movie demonstrating a workaround, and e-mailed it back to the group. Later, the student team expressed amazement that we were able to have such rich interaction over such distances.

Finally, Camtasia can prove useful as a feedback mechanism. Consider, for example, a student struggling with a writing assignment. Word processors provide electronic annotation tools—sometimes even audio annotation—but they are unable to show the process by which the instructor made recommended changes. Using Camtasia, the instructor could create a recording while editing the student's document, verbally explaining the thought process behind the recommended changes. While the same outcome might be accomplished with an office visit, for those students who find it difficult to come to the office of an instructor, Camtasia offers a powerful solution. And, unlike an office visit, the Camtasia recording is preserved so the student is able to replay it. How many times did we, as students, leave an instructor's office certain we did not take in all that was said or that we would not retain it long enough to write it down or apply it? With Camtasia, feedback can be recorded and sent to the student, who can then replay it innumerable times. While this is not meant to suggest that face-to-face student-instructor interaction disappear, it d'es suggest that new technologies can be used judiciously to improve learning outcomes.

Conclusions

Camtasia's power d'es come with an associated expense—rather large file sizes. The specific file size created depends upon a number of factors beyond the scope of this review. However, file sizes of 1 MB per minute of recorded audio and video are common. One must be careful, therefore, not to create movies that last for more than a few minutes. Lengthy recordings equate to unacceptably long download times for those using dial-up connections. The cost-benefit associated with these tools is very attractive for instructors across a wide variety of disciplines. Give them a try and see if you don't agree.

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