Screen-Capture: The Under-Utilized Teaching Tool


Why so few professors use screen-capture recording programs is hard to understand.    They’re easily learned and not terribly expensive.   Only the producer of the screen capture recording needs to have special software on his/her machine.  Viewers can either use standard browsers or download for free the viewer software needed.


I have used three of these products: Microsoft’s Camcorder, Lotus’ ScreenCam, and Camtasia.   All allow the professor (or any owner of the software) to make a motion picture of everything that appears on the computer screen between “start recording” and “end recording.”   All allow the professor to talk about what’s happening on the computer screen.   Then, all students can view the movie and simultaneously hear the professor talk them through it.   Most of the movies I make are from 30 seconds to 20 minutes in length.


One of my colleagues, Gordon McCray in the Calloway School of Business and Accountancy, tells a story about attending a professional meeting in Las Vegas.  He had left behind a difficult homework assignment.   When several students became confused, they produced a screen-capture movie to show exactly what was appearing on their computers and what went wrong when.    This movie was attached to an email that Professor McCray opened while still in Nevada.    Immediately, he saw the problem.   The solution was less obvious.   After an hour or so of work in his hotel room, he figured out the solution, produced his own screen-capture movie that demonstrated how to correct for the problem, and sent it back to the inquiring students (as well as the rest of the class).  


Without this enriched communication network, the students would have come to the next class fully frustrated, perhaps with the need to dislodge self-doubts about their capacity ever to understand the material.   Even if these students had come to him during office hours when he was on campus, he likely would not have been able to produce a timely answer to their question (since it took him an hour to figure it out).


In my mind, this is one of the most productive ways to use the Internet.   Even when teachers and learners are separated by time and/or space, rich messages that combine motion image with sound can be exchanged.   And, incidentally, once produced the movie can be run and rerun by students who need more repetition, and it can even be shared with students who pursue the same assignment in a subsequent semester.  This is a distinctive way that the Internet can be used to support interactive learning.

Among the screen-capture programs, there are significant differences.  Try them out. Techsmith’s Camtasia may be downloaded for a 30-day trial from  Microsoft’s Camcorder may be installed from the Microsoft Office 2000 CD.  Lotus ScreenCam and its sister product, StreamCam, may be downloaded for a 15 day trial from 


If a professor is looking for a way to show images from the Internet at a location or time when Internet connectivity may not be feasible or reliable, screen-capture can be the solution.    If a novice user of the Internet is wanting to avoid wasting student time with a serious of missteps, and long pauses when he is figuring out what to do next, the screen-capture can be a way to bring forward one’s best effort.  


These programs combine the power of interactivity with the capacity to be used either on line (even with streaming) or off-line.   They are worth investigating.   I would be interested in hearing from you (via about your successful use of this powerful medium.