Screencasts in Teaching Web Technology

2 minute read

I’ve been using screencasts again this year in COMP249 (Web Technology) and have settled on a fairly stable way of producing them using Camtasia on Windows. This post is here as a container for the videos that I’ve produced this year so they can have a life outside of COMP249 as that website is updated.

I began using screencasts after seeing John Udell’s and others use them to explain or demonstrate new technologies; they struck me as a very accessible medium for showing how things work whcih is exactly what we often need to do when teaching Computing.

It turns out we can do a few different things with screencasts. The simplest example is just to demonstrate a procedure like installing a piece of software or publishing a file to a web server. The power of a screencast here is the old ‘picture paints a thousand words’ adage since it’s so much easier to show these procedures than it is to describe them. A short video replaces a page of text and screenshots and gets the message off much more clearly. Another type of screencasts demonstrates developing some code - here I can show the code, explain what I’m doing and demonstrate how it works in a compact way. Students can watch the video, pause it and copy down the code to run themselves if they need to. This is so much more powerful than posting a bit of code on the web however good my comments are. However, I think the most powerful use of screencasts is to try to illustrate problem solving strategies by making mistakes, tracking down bugs and generally showing how bad situations can be recovered from. This is an area of computing that is really hard to teach in other media or even face to face; screencasts give us the chance to bring this thinking to the surface and model how real coding is done.

Having said this, I’m not sure I’ve managed to reach the final level in many of these screencasts this year. Most of them are used to introduce new ideas or walk through the solution to a problem. In some cases I’ve made mistakes (sometimes on purpose - the best ones I think come naturally!) but I think there is a lot more scope for carefully planning the errors and recovery strategies that are illustrated in the videos.

Here’s a list of the screencasts from this year’s COMP249. These are all properly the property of Macquarie University and myself so please if you want to make use of them include appropriate acknowledgment.