Screencast Software: Using the Right Tool for the Job

by William Guth

Until recently, voice over Powerpoint has sufficed for home-based and low-budget creators when it comes to producing lecture videos, downloadable presentations, and animated demonstrations. The Microsoft software, while clunky, is familiar to most people, somewhat easy to use, and absolutely, positively, the wrong tool for the job.  

Yes, you can add photos and upload videos to Powerpoint slides. You can add or record audio content onto slides. You can also insert animations to give the appearance of movement and flow. All these functions, while convenient, result in oversized output files, some of which are proprietary and which cannot be uploaded to platforms like YouTube and Vimeo or to LMS systems like Canvas.

And, as online education evolves, so do the types of presentations formats, whereas PowerPoint has remained presentation software. In response to this antiquated presentation style, the space has evolved to a new medium called screencasting.

How is Screencasting software different?

  1. Screencasting software allows you to record desktop demonstrations and/or webcam video with voice-over at the same time. It is excellent for how-to videos and real time process demonstrations. You could even record your presentation of a PowerPoint deck and export that in a transferable file format, such as MP4.
  2. Screencasting software allows you to record and edit your recordings and/or premade footage, adding human presence to your content, even when you don’t have access to professional camera equipment, a crew, or high-cost software like Final Cut Pro or Adobe Premier.
  3. Screencasting software allows you to import, edit, and piece together media from different sources into a combined, fluid presentation, rather than sending your users piecemeal to content and media within a course site or externally sourced from the Internet.

To put it simply, screencasting software has video recording, editing, and production tools all wrapped into one. And while you might not fancy yourself an editor or producer, there’s no prerequisite experience for achieving greatness.

Home-based and low-budget creators can create and edit good-looking, great-sounding, shareable and transferable content without a background or experience in video production, audio recording, or editing. The interface and built-in tools are simplified, user-friendly versions of professional editing tools, and users of any technical ability can access easy-to-follow demonstration videos and well-documented support sites.

Useful Features of Most Screencast Softwares

  • Help & How-To. Camtasia by Techsmith and Screencast-O-Matic have created excellent and freely available documentation and how-to videos to ensure users hit the ground running with their software, as well as understanding the process of basic production – start to finish.
  • Annotations and Callouts help direct viewers’ attention to where it needs to be. These include, but are not limited to, Highlighter Effects, Arrows, Shapes, Blur Tools, and Masking.
  • Cursor and Click Effects make what you’re doing with the cursor stand out and show where and when to click.
  • Animations draw focus to especially relevant areas of the screen. Includes but is not limited to Zoom (in & out), Pan (right, left, up, or down) and Fade (in & out).
  • Video FX add clickable interactive hotspots. Speed up or slow down speed. Add Drop shadow to objects, Sepia tone, Spot lighting and Reflection.


Some screencast softwares come in different versions for PC and Mac.

For example Camtasia by TechSmith was initially designed for PC users, and the PC version is far more feature-rich. That said, the Mac version is capable of producing equally diverse results, and in the opinion of this author, offers a simpler user interface.

No matter which platform your are familiar with, our instructional technologists are able to assist you in both Mac and PC versions.

Screencast-O-Matic, by contrast, is an internet platform with a desktop controller which is exactly the same for PC and Mac.

Software as Add-Ons

Albeit late to the game, Microsoft has a competitive product in Beta right now called Office Mix, which is a screencasting add-on tool for PowerPoint. It works exclusively for PC, and only for users with Microsoft Office 2013 or higher.  

Camtasia also has a PowerPoint Add-On exclusively for PC. The add-on emulates the strict voice over PowerPoint style that technology stragglers are used to, but allows users to bounce move to Camtasia in order to produce and finish presentations. Excellent idea, but somewhat confusing to implement.

What Tools are out there?

Camtasia by TechSmith is the most robust screencasting software available on the market and is made available to SPS Distance Learning (DL) faculty for free during their course development period. Users can record, edit and produce high quality presentations with little to no video production experience. And with local copies of this software installed on DL staff machines, faculty and staff can pass files back and forth to collaborate on all projects. Start by downloading the 30-day free trial version to your computer, and take the Getting Started Project for a test drive, located under the Help menu. Interested faculty who would like to utilize Camtasia for their lecture content production should contact their learning designer for a full access licensing key.

Screencast-O-Matic is a web-based tool with similar capabilities to Camtasia and cool features, which comes in both a free and paid version. The free version is limited in terms of features and each video that you export has a Screencast-O-Matic watermark baked in. SPS’ Distance Learning faculty will be able to access professional versions of licensed softwares such as Screencast-O-Matic at no charge. Contact a learning designer or instructional technologist for access to software licenses.

Online, Screencast-O-Matic offers a wide range of video tutorial on how to use their editing tools, and ideas for making good and productive edits.
Apple QuicktimePro is free on all Mac products and only $29.99/year for PC users. Quicktime offers a variety of transferable file format which can upload directly to your video host or LMS, and that you can import them into Screencast-O-Matic or Camtasia, to edit manipulate your recordings even more. Quicktime has limited clip editing features, which is better than no features at all.

Windows Movie Maker is a free Microsoft product available for download on your PC, if not already installed at point of purchase. Using this software you can stitch media together, and record webcam videos.

Apple Keynote is Apple’s version of PowerPoint, only more modern- looking and easier to use. Users familiar with PowerPoint should not have any trouble adapting to this software which does allow you to export your presentation as an MP4, and other transferable formats. Recording and exporting may take some getting used to, but not much.

How do I get started with Screencasting?

For some, screencasting software may seem like a mountain to climb in terms of learning new software, and adapting one’s presentation style. Let us show you, that’s not true. It is entirely possible that your presentation style may evolve as you come to realize the potential of these tools, but at the price of student engagement and their mastery of your content, your sacrifice will not be made in vain.

Once you have determine a need to create video content in support of your learning objectives and assignment activities, consult with your learning designer and instructional technologist to determine which software best meets your needs, and technical abilities.

This post is an update on “Using the Right Tool for the Job,” originally posted on July 6, 2015.

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