Classroom-Friendly Screencasts Thanks to Easy Captions

USB mic
Thing 1 & Thing 2 help capture audio during a screencast.

Classroom-friendly screencasts complete with captions and a full transcript are now an easy reality thanks to YouTube and Google Voice technology.

Every semester I teach three Intro to Computer Graphics classes at my local community college. I teach them back to back on the same day, which means I give the same lecture/software demonstration three times in a row. I have to make checklists to make sure I show each class the same things – it’s very easy to leave something important out and firmly believe I’ve already said it (because I said it to a previous class).

For the last two or three years I’ve been dreaming of offloading this repetitive part of my teaching duties to video. There are many advantages to screencasting these demonstrations:

  • Each class will receive exactly the same information
  • I won’t leave out anything because the screencasts can be scripted and recorded in advance
  • Screencasts can be made available to students’ mobile devices and home computers
  • Students can view, pause, rewind as many times as they need, at their own pace
  • No one misses something by being embarrassed to ask me to repeat part of the demonstration
  • Class and lab time can be freed up for more one-on-one attention from me
  • Students become more responsible for their own learning (well, that’s the theory anyway)

But the big drawback has always been this: how to accommodate the hearing-impaired. Online video has been awfully slow to provide for this need. And captioning a DVD is such a tedious process, there’s no way I can do it efficiently, especially given the frequent need to re-record software demonstrations due to operating system and application updates.

(I know what you’re thinking: I’ve forgotten the visually impaired. No, I haven’t. I’ve had ability to provide HD screencasts, and zoom in to more clearly show a small part of the screen, for a couple of years now. That takes care of most visual issues, certainly all the ones I’ve encountered. I freely admit it won’t accommodate a blind student, but so far I have never had a blind student enroll in a graphic design / visual communications course. It may happen at some point, but then I will have the help of my campus Disability Resources office.)

Finally, this is my year. Google and YouTube have made captioning screencasts ridiculously easy. Provided you prep a script before you record, you can turn your script into captions and a transcript in one simple step.

Example screencast script

Example screencast script (click to enlarge)

I always type out a simple two-column script for my screencasts, with what I want to say on the left, and what I want to see on the right. This works for me. Do it your own way. I don’t really worry about sticking exactly to the script. But it helps to have everything I want to do planned out, and I can refer to my script quickly if I forget what I need to do next. Use of a script cuts the number of times I use filler sounds like “um” by 99-100%.

In case you want to know the rest of my workflow:

With script in hand, I record the audio and video portion of my screencast simultaneously using iShowU HD. I have a decent USB mic, so I don’t generally have to worry about my audio quality.

Goofy but effective tip: make a title graphic and display it on screen while you introduce the purpose of the screencast. Then there is no need to edit in a title after you record. You can do the same with a credits graphic for the end of your video.

If I need to edit the video, my first choice is QuickTime Pro. I can mark in/out points around mistakes or long pauses and just cut them out. From QuickTime Pro I can just re-save as a stand-alone .mov and upload that to YouTube (I do export podcast versions as well). If I want to zoom in on a particular part of the screen or add overlay graphics I move to Final Cut Pro, where the workflow gets a tad more complex. Lately I just avoid that for efficiency’s sake, mainly because the HD version of the video allows viewers to easily see what I’m doing on screen. But if I really want the video to be clear on a smaller device, like an iPhone, editing in some zooms is the way to go. Since we have broadband Internet access on campus, I’m not sweating this too much, but I will rethink it if feedback from my students indicates I should.

But, the captions.

Here is how to do the captions: Save the voice-only part of your script as a plain text file. Edit your uploaded video on YouTube by going to the Captions and Subtitles tab. Browse for that text file, mark it as a Transcript, and upload it.

What happens? Google Voice technology reads your transcript while listening to your video, and automagically generates a caption file timed for your video. You can then download and tweak that file if you need to. But I find if I stick pretty close to my script, editing the generated captions just isn’t necessary. See for yourself in this example (click the up arrow in the lower right corner, then click CC to turn the captions on):

Or just check it out on YouTube, where you can also activate an interactive transcript.

For a more thorough how-to, scroll to the Captions by Voice Recognition section of this Mashable tutorial.

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2 Responses to Classroom-Friendly Screencasts Thanks to Easy Captions

  1. That’s pretty great Cheryl. I haven’t tried it yet on a real project but Universal Subtitles looks like it will be another option for this kind of stuff. I’m hoping to get something like this built into the next version of the Firefox help site.

  2. cherylcolan says:

    I am so watching your feeds for when that happens, Verdi.

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