Why Screen Recording Software is so Useful

Screen recording programs such as Camtasia and Screenflow enable the video capture and editing of everything that appears on your computer screen. They are widely used to create online video tutorials, including all the tutorials on this site. But many scholars may find these programs invaluable because of two other possible applications:

1. Translating Keynote/Powerpoint presentations into movies.

2. Enhancing Keynote and Powerpoint slides.

Creating Movies from Keynote and Powerpoint

For the majority of academic researchers, combining Keynote/Powerpoint with Camtasia/Screenflow may be the easiest and most effective way of creating videos for classes or for introducing one’s research. The basic process is straightforward, and involves three steps:

  1. Prepare a presentation in Keynote/Powerpoint, and then use Camtasia/Screenflow to
  2. Record yourself as you play and narrate the presentation, and then
  3. Edit the recorded video, excising any unwanted segments, and inserting additional media (sounds, videos, captions) and effects as desired.

This trailer about the surprising social history of acupuncture–along with the two longer videos that follow it– illustrate how movies made in this manner offer an engaging way to introduce one’s research.

For scholars, the wonderful virtue of this method of creating videos is that the core of content composition centers on software that most of us already use, namely, Keynote or Powerpoint. Camtasia and Screenflow make the rest of the movie-making process accessible even to novices. Recording presentations involves little more than pressing the Record button, while learning to edit the recordings with these programs requires far less time than mastering more advanced film editing programs such as Final Cut Pro or Adobe Premier. Camtasia and Screenflow both offer free trial downloads, and good tutorials (Camtasia tutorials; Screenflow tutorials) so that you can begin experimenting with them quickly.

Enhancing Presentations with Screen Recording Software

Camtasia and Screenflow are used primarily to create stand-alone videos. But scholars may find them useful as well for composing short clips and GIFs that they can drop onto a Keynote/Powerpoint slide to enhance their presentations. Often, such animations enable viewers to experience what is being discussed more directly and vividly. Below are just three examples of Camtasia used in this way.

Example 1: Spotlighting with Camtasia

We’ve suggested elsewhere that the highlight effect may be the single most useful presentation technique enabled by digital technologies, and explained how to create the effect in Keynote and Powerpoint leveraging the power of masking. But with Camtasia, it is possible to create a true spotlight effect, which looks like this:

This video explains how:

Example 2: traveling to the Island of Run

The clip below was used in a presentation to emphasize how far away and small the Island of Run is (as a lead-in to its unexpectedly immediate and large role in history).As the audience viewed the clip it, the lecturer spoke first of how far away–how really, really far–the island is, and then, as the clip approached its conclusion, of the island’s tiny, truly miniscule dimensions. The clip was created by using Camtasia to 1) capture a journey from Cambridge to Run Island in Google Earth, and then 2) to slow down the clip to underscore the sense of travel across great distances.

Example 3: Turning the anamorphic skull in Holbein’s Ambassadors

Hans Holbein’s The Ambassadors (1533) is renowned for the anamorphic skull at its center, which can initially pass unrecognized because of its distortion. Using Camtasia, it is possible to turn the painting, so that the skull can be viewed obliquely and thus become more perspicuous.

Here are the steps to create this animation:

Which Program Should I Use?

Camtasia and Screenflow have broadly comparable functionality. Camtasia offers versions for both Mac and Windows and has more features, but is more expensive (currently $169 with educational discount). Screenflow is available only for Mac, but is cheaper (less that $120 with educational discount) and slightly easier to learn. Mac users are encouraged to try out the free trial versions of both to see which they prefer. This article offers a balanced account of the strengths of each program.

Cost-Free Screen Capture and Recording

The remarkable usefulness of programs like Camtasia and Keynote lies above all in the versatile and easy-to-use tools that they provide for editing screen recordings. You should know, however, that for those cases in which simple recording is all you need, there are numerous free alternatives. Both Keynote and Powerpoint both allow users to record their presentations and export them as movies. If you are presenting over Zoom, you can use Zoom’s recording function tp capture your presentation. Finally, both Mac OS and Windows now allow users not just to capture snapshots of their screens, but also to make screen recordings with narration. (See Capturing and Recording Screens in Mac and Windows 10).

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