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Friday, March 17, 2017

Screencastify

One of the struggles with a Chromebook is recording video. In terms of "out of the box," you can only use the webcam for taking still pictures.  While this is useful, recording videos is a needed functionality for students to better demonstrate their understanding, or create engaging presentations.   However, you can't install programs on a Chromebook, and some sites require a Java plug in that won't run on the device.  For example: for most laptops, my favorite screencasting program is Screencast-o-matic. It can be installed on your desktop (my recommendation) or ran inside of the web browser. The final video makes a glowing holo around the mouse cursor to help track its movements and, if used intentionally while recording, can help bring attention to a particular word, phrase or part of a picture.  Lastly, the video can be easily exported to your desktop or uploaded to your YouTube channel or Schoology Course.  (It's free for exported videos fifteen minutes long or less.)   However, Screencast-o-matic won't work even within the browser of a Chromebook because of that elusive Java applet, and again, you can't install the program.  So if not Screencast-o-matic, what are your options for video recording?

There are several Chrome apps and extensions that will do the job, but from anecdotes, reviews and personal experience, I recommend the Screencastify extension.  The Lite version is free, yet fairly generous: your videos can be up to 10 minutes long, and you can record up to 50 videos a month.  While you can do traditional screencasting with the app, you can also choose the "Cam" option to only record via the Chromebook's camera.

I recommend checkmarking the "Show Preview Window" option to make recording easier.


Best of all, any videos made will automatically be saved to your Google Drive. The first time you record, a "Screencastify" folder is created in your Drive, making it always easy to find clips later.

The directions for installing and running the extension are pretty straightforward.  Therefore, instead of instructions, I want to share some tips for using and installing Screencastify:

  • When installing Screencastify and using it for the first time, be aware of all the various permissions it requires: to access your Drive, to access your webcam, etc.  Make sure to okay all of these so it will work properly.
  • Screencasting can be a performance hog, especially on a Chromebook.  I recommend closing out as many tabs as possible while recording.
  • It will take a few minutes to render the video so it can be played from Google Drive.  If it's the maximum length of ten minutes, that might mean 15 minutes or more to finish rendering.  If in-class time is limited when using Screencastify, plan accordingly.  Once finished, the file can be renamed and shared just like any other Google file.
  • Screencastify, like many screencasting tools, is simple for  "one take jake" recordings.  Don't expect fancy editing tools or ways to cut clips together.  (You may want to consider WeVideo as a cloud based editing option.)  However...
  • Finished videos on your Drive can now be easily inserted into Google Slides.  (In the past, you could only insert YouTube clips.) Once inserted, you can right click the video for some limited ability to trim the video; you can tell it when to start or stop. This might be helpful if doing a presentation and you only need to share part of the video.
  • Last but not least, Screencastify will ask the person installing the extension what their role is; make sure they say "student"!  Next, it will ask if they are 13 and older, or under 13.  I wanted to clarify what the implications of that choice meant, so I emailed Screencastify's support and got this response:

"Under 13 students have the ability to use Screencastify. We have numerous classrooms of all ages using Screencastify. However, students choosing under 13 does a couple things:

1. It removes them from receiving any unsolicited emails from Screencastify. The students can still reach us for help though.
2. It removes them from any Google Analytic tracking."
My advice?  It may be best for students to say "under 13" to better protect their data, but regardless, students should honestly answer the question; under 13 can still use the extension.

I hope your students use Screencastify to bring their presentations and exhibitions to the next level, as well as provide teachers with another way to assess learning.

Update 3/30/17:  In my original entry, I neglected to highlight two other important functions.  When Screencastify is in its Tab (screencasting) mode, you can:

  •  record streaming video while cleanly capturing computer audio
  • annotate in real time while recording using some simple but effective drawing tools.
You can see an example of both in this short linked video I created.   Note that the audio is slightly out of sync with the video.   You can minimize this by reducing the amount of programs running or tabs open on your Chrome browser, but there will likely always be a touch of this lag.

When you only want the "tab audio," make sure to uncheckmark the box for "Microphone." Another option would be to use a headset or earphones/mic and keep both boxes checkmarked; you could then pause the streaming video and make a point or ask your listeners a question. (I don't recommend keeping both boxes checkmarked without a headset or earphones/mic, because your laptop mic will pick up the audio of the streaming clip from your laptop speakers, causing echo and distortion.)


The drawing tools are on the lower left.  You can change color and size, as well as erase.  If you used it with the microphone idea above, you could not only narrate but literally illustrate your point!



Do you use Screencastify, or another Chrome screencasting app/extension?  Share your experience in the Comments below.


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