Leadership

Use a screen recorder to create better documentation

Some of us learn much better by example. Using a screen recorder to produce training videos can make your help desk available "on demand!"

Like most of you, I rely on TechRepublic for an overview of tools and tips that will make my job easier. While the tool I'm going to recommend today has been discussed on TR before, I think it's worth highlighting again, mostly because it has been so useful to me lately. I am nothing if not self-involved.

A big part of the work that I do for our help desk involves developing documentation. This can be an arduous process, as you probably know. Noting down every step of a procedure—even one you know by heart—can be time consuming, and stopping to take illustrative screen shots can make the process run even longer. Well, no more doing things the hard way, thanks to a new tool in my support kit.

It all started with a project for our organizational web site. We conduct some training sessions for teachers and principals as part of the promotion of our research work. In an effort to make sure that training will be available to as many people as possible, we decided to distribute our presentation materials online in the form of a streaming video.

We've never had the need for a lot of multimedia production in the past and we don't have video recording equipment on hand, so recording the real seminar wasn't an option. I had heard of a software utility called Camtasia that could plug into PowerPoint and record presentations with an accompanying audio track. We purchased a software license for Camtasia and used a USB headset to record one of our researchers narrating our presentation for educators, and the software rendered the screen recording into Shockwave video that was easy to attach to our site. Problem solved.

Since using Camtasia with PowerPoint was so easy, I decided to see what other uses we might have for the program. It turns out that the recording tools in Camtasia work just as easily for recording procedures in Windows applications and menus. I realized that I had just discovered the tool that would make my documentation production workflow much less painful.

Now, when I have to document something for my users that might be a little difficult, I can easily create and narrate a video demonstrating the process. That video then goes on our intranet. A video demonstrating how to use our VPN client to connect their off-campus computers to our network should keep me from having to directly support anyone's home machine.

Even for those cases where a demo video might be overkill, Camtasia has proven to be useful. If I need to develop a "flat" documentation of a procedure, I can use Camtasia to record myself working through the steps. Then, I grab individual frames out of the recorded video and paste them into my procedural file.

Good documentation makes the job of computer support that much easier. Camtasia has made producing documentation easier for me.

Since I also have a love of open source and free tools, I want to point out that you can experiment with screen recording without having to resort to licensing Camtasia. There's a project for Windows called CamStudio that offers a lot of the same features. I won't be trading in Camtasia because it offers more video encoding options and its PowerPoint plug-in makes it easier to use if you plan to record a lot of presentations.

Whichever application you choose, though, you can't go wrong by adding a screen recorder to your software tool kit.

For previous discussions of screen recording and Camtasia on TR look here and here.

20 comments
kikidelivery
kikidelivery

I purchased one Flashdemo Screen recorder (http://www.flashdemo.net),it's really good for making program instruction tutorials,cause it's output looks exactly like the original one and the text inserted look rather comfortable. Worth trying for who wants a screen recorder~

elearningchen
elearningchen

I think DemoCreator could be an alternative of Camtasia. And it is really easy to use.

AtCollege
AtCollege

What do people use for a Mac that is similar to Camtasia?

AtCollege
AtCollege

I use short video lessons produced on a CD and distributed to new staff and faculty to introduce them to the college computing environment along with an offer from me for deskside training. The CD has about 20 lessons, all 3 minutes or less, that users can view in any sequence. The CDs have been well received. In the past I tried classes, but everyone is so busy only a few people attended. Brown University has some great videos which introduced me to the concept of very short and to the point clips. So now in addition to the CD's, I make short videos whose links are distributed through the daily e-news. The program I use is Camtasia. It was fairly easy to learn and use, especially if I wrote the script first and didn't just wing it. I don't create anything in PowerPoint. I have not been able to get a quiz to run at the end of a video and the documentation is not helping much, but I am not giving up yet.

robva65
robva65

Hi guys! Hey, for what it's worth, we've been using Captivate to do our screen recording. And although there are a variety of tools that can effectively do what Captivate and Camtasia do, I feel Captivate 3 is stronger, especially when developing soft skills and system training. Because of it's "multi" recording capabilities, Captivate gives us the flexiblity of capturing a "guided demo", simulation exercises (where you get to try it yourself), AND assessment content all during the same recording session! That alone saves us a TON of time without having to re-engineer our recordings for different delivery methods. Rob

sylvain.drapeau
sylvain.drapeau

We use DebugMode's Wink here. Free, with audio support, quite easy to use. And yes, screen recordings are VERY useful for documentation. www.debugmode.com

steve.hards
steve.hards

Camtasia is excellent, but I note you are producing your videos in Shockwave format. You will find, I think, that outputting them as flv, using 2-pass V6 compression (from the flash options) produces better quality video with smaller file sizes. You might want to experiment too with the outputted screen size. It is counter-intuitive but in some cases larger screen sizes have smaller file sizes. Steve http://www.opazity.com

Jaqui
Jaqui

On my Linux system I use GTK-recordmydesktop, which will capture the entire screen, just one window, or only a selected area of the screen, and audio track from a microphone on the system. It saves to the smallest file size video format theora-ogg. [ Theora video, vorbis-ogg audio, with .ogg as the extension. ] best of all, you can get it and use it for free, legally, no expensive license fees. :) I never thought to see if the open office or Koffice presentation software could import the video content. Since the poor Windows and Mac users can't watch .ogg without getting another video player* installed, I've been trying to convert the videos to another format, yet not lose the size benefit of ogg. I'll have to see if the presentation tools will import the video format. *Miro, free and will play ALL video formats.

elearningchen
elearningchen

I think DemoCreator could be an alternative of Camtasia. And it is really easy to use.

williamjones
williamjones

...the Adobe product that robva65 recommends above. It claims to have a number of interactivity and assessment features that I'm not sure Camtasia can match. And if you can get EDU licenses, it's not much more than Camtasia. Thanks for contributing your thoughts!

williamjones
williamjones

Wow. Thanks for drawing my attention to Captivate, robva65. I wasn't familiar with that one. Looks like it might be overkill for what we needed, and its price tag is a little harder to swallow. For those organizations that might have dedicated training departments, or need the interactive CBT development features for some other reason, Captivate looks like a powerful tool.

williamjones
williamjones

Since we were posting a screencast of a Powerpoint presentation, our file size was very reasonable, even without any optimization. I think in cases like ours, where the graphic only needs to update periodically, audio compression has more of an effect on overall file size. I'll try it your way with our next video and compare! The great thing, I think, about Camtasia, is that even if one is unfamiliar with the ins and outs of web formats or compression types, the built-in wizard allows for good results.

cerilogon
cerilogon

For Windows 7, FlashDemo screnn recorder is a good choice, or Jing, because it is free.

arvindkakade
arvindkakade

I use CamStudio - Desktop Screen Recorder which can be Freely downloaded from http://sourceforge.net/projects/camstudio/. CamStudio records activity from your screen and audio from a microphone into AVI video files and can also convert the AVIs into Streaming Flash videos (SWFs) using its built-in SWF Producer. The good thing about CamStudio is you do not have to install it, just unzip the files and you are ready to use it. I allways carry it on my USB.

williamjones
williamjones

I don't spend enough time on Linux to do much documentation development there. I'm usually shelled in from my Windows or Mac GUI. Thanks for the Linux-native suggestion though, Jaqui.

williamjones
williamjones

I mentioned CamStudio in my original post that spawned this thread, arvindkakade, but your contribution is appreciated. Have a good one.

Jaqui
Jaqui

And I checked, Open Office's Present, the presentation software will import the ogg video just fine, and play it back. but it still is only playable on a system with ogg support. [ Mac, *BSD, Linux ... ] Windows users would need to use Miro to watch an ogg based video. There may be other video apps that will support ogg on windows, but a free cross platform app is the one I'll push, since saving every penny you can is always a good option to take.