Webcam footage in screencasts: pros and cons

In today’s workshop on Using IT when teaching mathematics classes I showed extracts from the following screencasts.

The first screencast (in the list) demonstrates the problems with running the tablet on battery power instead of mains power. (Buggy behaviour, sound distortion, loss of synchronization, etc.!)

The screencasts show some of the options available, including whether or not to include PiP (picture-in-picture) webcam footage of the lecturer, and if so how best to arrange things on the screen.

We had a lively discussion on whether the webcam footage of me in the corner really added anything to the video.

Here are some arguments in favour of webcam footage.

  • The footage adds a human aspect to the video. Students have said that this helps them to engage more with the content.
  • When my mouth is actually visible, and the synchronization is good, my lip movements may help those with hearing difficulties.

However, arguments against include the following.

  • Obtaining decent quality webcam footage is quite hard (In the end I routinely took a desk lamp with me to classes in order to cope with poor lighting conditions!)
  • The footage does not add anything much of value to the content  the video.
  • The webcam footage can actually distract attention away from the important content of the video.
  • Students in class like the lecturer to walk around, and not just to stand in one spot. This does not work well if you have to stay in the shot of a fixed webcam.

In fact, there is an issue here regarding different audiences. What is best for the audience present in the class is not the same as what is best for the audience watching the screencast afterwards.

For example, the problem with poor lighting could be addressed by turning the lighting up high in the lecture room. This would not affect the screen recording, and would give better webcam footage, but would make it worse for the class trying to look at the data projection screen.

Walking around the room is helpful to those present in class, but may be less important for those watching the screencast afterwards.

Is it just a case of “you can’t please everyone”? Or are there really some very strong arguments in favour of one strategy over another?

Comments please!



One response to “Webcam footage in screencasts: pros and cons

  1. Video helps to initially engage the learner. A strategy you may want to try is to only use the PiP to open and close the screencast. This engages the user right away but allows him/her to focus on how you’re solving the problem. You’re right, at this point, having your PiP doesn’t add any real value. But I would still close with video.

    You can take a look at some of the Apple screencasts. They have a Genius on camera who opens the video with stating something like, Have you ever wanted to … and then they cut to the computer screen.

    I’ve done some like this over at too.

    Experiment and see what your viewers like best. I think they’ll like seeing you, your eyes, and your smile. It makes the screencast a bit more human.


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