As one of the staff members in my building that has the unofficial responsibility of supporting technology integration I am constantly re-explaining how to set up, configure, build or find things for teachers. We recently changed our web publishing tool in district and somehow I got tagged with the responsibility of training anyone who was interested in how to make and maintain their web page on the school server. I could already see the 40 separate one-on-one sessions I was going to have to have to explain the nuances of the process and I wondered how I would survive. As in most cases, I was able to find a technology tool that would help me be more productive.
A screen cast when you use a program to record what is happening on your computer screen. Most of these tools let you include audio (usually your voice) from your computer's microphone. This is perfect for those of you who have to explain things on a computer screen often. Screen capture is similar but only takes a still image of your screen and some screen capture programs let you draw on, circle and type on top of the image to point things out or give direction. Surprisingly, many of these tools, which used to cost money, are free! Here are some I've played with.
Jing. This is the best one I have used so far. It is a program that you will need to download from their web page, but it is free. It's available for PC and Mac, and can be running in the background until you need it. It does video, audio, screen cast, screen capture and lets you edit the pictures you take. Additionally, it has some great sharing features that let you save the file on your machine, on your free screencast.com account (comes with the program), ftp, or even embed the code into a blog or web page. You can even share on Flickr. Great tools and really helpful tech support (I ran into a small snag with installing but the staff responded quickly and efficiently).
Camtasia. This is downloadable software that offers a 30-day free trial (after that it's quite pricey). But, for 30 days you get the fully functional version that lets you do basically all that Jing does more smoothly and integrates with PowerPoint, lets you add audio during recording or after and even has an editing function that lets you fine tune your screen cast. This is great if you want to make a really powerful presentation and you can do it in the 30 day window. It appears to be a PC product only. This blogger says you can get a free older version of Camtasia until January 7th, 2008. So if you like this tool, get it now.
For those of you who are not allowed to add programs to your school computer, there is an online tool alternative to these. Screencast-o-matic.com is an online, free screen casting tool. It lets you define the area of the screen you'd like recorded, lets you choose to use audio and will let you download the finished file or share it on their website. It's honestly a little murky in terms of the screen clarity, and sometimes the audio skips a bit, but as far as a free way to try out screen casting, this is a great place to start. No need to install software, but you'll want a high speed connection to work with, and you might need to update your Java (the site links to Java's update page to see if you have the right one so it's a free easy fix if you don't). Works with Mac or PC. The nice part about this site though, is that you can look for screen casts others have done in a searchable database (why reinvent the wheel when someone already has the definitive "How to use Screencast-o-matic Screen cast").
So what would a teacher in a classroom use these tools for? They have many implications beyond technology training. For example, imagine a writing teacher recording his/her writing and thought process in a video file to share with students how they plan, draft and edit. Imagine taking students on a tour of a website like Wikipedia and pointing out want makes it a credible source and what to look for when doing research citations. Or making a screen cast or capture of your class or school website for as a tour for parents and community.
Even better yet, why not have students make screen casts to edit each others papers (think aloud peer editing), review websites, teach how to use a program, or voice over in a foreign language. Why not have students make screen casts teaching staff how to use technology tools? There are all kinds of possibilities here when you start sharing what you see with others.