Next week I'm going to be teaching a client how to use Typepad to maintain a simple website I developed for her organization. I was looking at pulling together some reference materials to leave behind after my demo when it occurred to me that the best reference material would be a screencast of how to use the site. Enter Screencast-O-Matic. (Note if you want the entire lowdown on screencasting, check out Beth Kanter's Primer on Screencasting)
First--some background. For those who are wondering what a screencast is, it's simply a video that captures action on your computer screen. Usually you can record audio narration too, so you can basically show someone how to navigate through a website, use a particular web application, etc., explaining things as you go along.
What's cool about Screencast-O-Matic is that it's web-based--no software to download to my computer. You can record and upload a screencast of up to 15 minutes with the tool--for free. You can choose the size of your screen to capture and whether or not to include audio. Once you've recorded your screencast, you can encode and upload your screencast to the site where it's available to others to view, either through a link or by embedding the code of your screencast into your site or blog, similar to embedding a Youtube video. To learn more about how it works, check out this screencast (made using the tool).
So this is why I'm excited. I didn't have a lot of time to learn how to use a software program--I just wanted to be able to record some simple instructions and leave them behind for the client. I'd bookmarked Screencast-O-Matic awhile ago and decided now was the time to test it out. And it really worked like a dream. Within 20 minutes, I'd recorded and uploaded an 8-minute tutorial on how the client could log into the Typepad account I created for her and then create and edit posts. The whole thing worked pretty seamlessly. A few little glitches in the playback at points, but it was my connection, not the software.
So why am I not sharing with you my screencast? Because I created one that was personalized to this particular client (including using her username and password). But that's also the beauty of the thing. In the time it would have taken me to type up some instructions for her, I was able to actually SHOW her how the site works. And I could make it just for her, including making a few jokes and comments specific to her organization.
A few other features worth noting--
Screencast-O-Matic lets you add notes into your screencast after it's finished. So as you watch the screencast (before you upload it), you can put in a sort of Table of Contents to the videot. That way if a person wanted to skip your instructions on how to log into a site and move directly into how to create a post, they could click on that note and be taken to that part of the screencast. Pretty nice.
Also, I can embed my screencast in the same way I might embed a Youtube video. So this means I could create a wiki and include a screencast directly in the page. Or I can paste the screencast into my blog or website. Another nice little feature for training. You can create a wiki to follow up on or supplement a staff development session, include links and resources in the wiki, and embed your screencast right on the page. Think about how cool it would be if your organization's policies and procedures were in a wiki and then you could embed a screencast showing staff exactly how to enter customer data into the computer system. How cool would THAT be?
To me what was great was this was a really down and dirty little tool for creating a quick screencast of reasonable quality. There was virtually no learning curve and I was able to do something personalized for my client in the same time it would have taken me to create handouts. In fact, it was so easy to use, I could see staff creating their own short screencasts to share computer tips they've learned, etc. I definitely recommend checking it out.