How To Screencast Like The Khan Academy

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Whiteboard screencasting is all the rage for creating educational videos like those featured in the Khan Academy. Here’s a quick look at how Salman Khan does it and some free (and not-so-free) tools that you can use to create your own educational videos to benefit you and your students.

The Khan Academy Videos
The Khan Academy website provides a FAQ that lists the tools that Salman Khan uses to create his videos:

Looking at this list reveals three basic types of tools needed to do a whiteboard screencast: a video screen recorder, a drawing program, and an input device. The basic concept is very simple: you plan your lesson, then record what you draw using the drawing program and your narration with the video screen capture program. The input device (use a graphics tablet for best results) allows you to draw or write on a tablet rather than trying to use the mouse. The programs that Sal Khan uses are all fine, so here is a closer look at the Khan selections and a few more, including free and more advanced (and expensive) options.

Screen Capture Programs
These programs run in the background of your computer and allow you to record the action as it happens on your screen as well as any associated audio, including that coming through your microphone. In addition, the best of them, such as Camtasia and Captivate allow you to record separate voice over narration and edit pointers, highlight areas of the screen, embed hyperlinks, and adjust the timing of the video you produce.

  • Camtasia Studio ($200): The official choice of the Khan Academy, Camtasia Studio, or Camtasia Recorder is a robust program that allow for considerable editing after the video is recorded. Here is the official demo video for how to use this program:
  • Camstudio (Free): This free, open source program is basic but effective, allowing you to capture video and audio and produce AVI and Flash movies.
  • Adobe Captivate ($799): Captivate is the professional level tool that has the most robust editing tools. It also allows you to make interactive quizzes and Flash presentations. This is a program that I have used to create online training applications. It might be overkill for this use, but does provide a lot of flexibility should you need it.
  • Screenhunter (Free): The free version of this program allows for basic video capture of your computer screen.
  • Snagit (Free Trial): More robust than Screenhunter, this program allows for some editing after the recording, but is only a free trial – the full version is $49.
  • Free Screen Video Capture (Free): This freebie allows you to capture full screen or a selected window and contains its own built-in compression program to export video in a variety of formats with some nice controls.
  • Koyote Soft Free Screen to Video (Free): This basic, free tool allows full screen or window capture and creates Flash movies.
  • iPad Video Capture: For those interested in capturing the action on an iPad 2 or 3, this helpful video from MacMost Now will explain how.

Drawing Programs
These programs are for the actual on screen writing that the Khan videos are so well known for. Essentially, you can use any drawing program from Adobe Photoshop, to Paint in order to create the images on your screen. The real heavy lifting is done by the capture programs listed above. Here are some of the options available, but you probably already have one or more programs on your computer that can do this.

  • SmoothDraw3 (Free): Sal Khan’s official choice integrates nicely with a graphic tablet.
  • Windows Paint (Free): This free program is pretty basic, but will do the job – and it’s probably already installed on your PC.
  • Pencil (Free): This powerful free program allows you to not only draw, but also to import vector graphics, video, and other formats, and to animate those assets using key frames. More complicated, but for someone looking to make some truly engaging and interactive videos, this would be a fun choice.
  • GIMP (Free): The Gnu Image Manipulation Program (GIMP) is one of the staple free programs for those looking to do graphics work but not pay the heavy price for Photoshop. Essentially this is a slightly less-robust Photoshop clone, but the price is right.
  • Autodesk SketchBook Pro ($59): There is a free trial for this program as well as an iPad app, so you can take this option on the road with you. This program offers professional quality sketching and illustration tools, so it might be overkill for screencasting, but it offers a lot of flexibility for future use.
  • Adobe Photoshop ($699) or Photoshop Elements ($99): Photoshop is the industry standard for graphics works and is sufficiently versatile to allow you to create almost any graphic you could imagine. Again, probably overkill for screencasting, particularly at the price, but the high-end features are unrivaled.

The Stand Alone Program
With the rise to prominence of the screencast model, there is a new entry into the arena,ShowMe. This iPad-specific app allows you to write with your finger (or iPad stylus) right on the touch screen of the iPad and capture the action as a video with audio added right through the device’s built-in microphone. The best part about the ShowMe app is that it is also a social platform for teachers (or anyone, really) to share the screencasts that they create. It already has a collection of lessons on math, science, language learning, English, and social studies – all in the popular screencast format.

Hardware: Graphics Tablets
If you are not using ShowMe and an iPad, you will need to use a graphics tablet and stylus in order to get the smooth drawing and illustration that Sal Khan does in the Khan Academy videos – sorry, but the mouse just won’t do the job. These tablets work with any of the drawing programs above to allow you to use a stylus to write directly onto the tablet surface. What you draw or write is captured by the drawing program. This About.com article reviews several of the best tablets, including the one that Sal Khan himself uses to create his videos.

Benefits of Screencasting
There are two obvious reasons for screencasting some or all of the content for your classes. The first is that it makes your life easier. The second is that it makes your students’ lives easier.

In Washington State we have several Tiers of technology integration as part of the State Education Standards. Tier 1 is using technology to make your job as a teacher easier. Screencasting some of your lessons allows you to archive them for future use. It is easy to build up a library of content this way that you can simply access each year as long as the information is still current. In mathematics or grammar, for example that information never goes out of style. Your clothing, hair style, and glasses might, but the material never will.
For students screencasting and archiving lessons, either on a site like ShowMe or your own YouTube channel, allows you to flip the classroom. This simply means that students watch the lesson videos in their own time, at their own pace, and wherever they like. The benefit for them is that they can pause, rewind, or replay you as often as they need to in order to best understand the material. For you, flipping the classroom frees you up to work one-on-one with students, either to remediate things they didn’t get on their own, or to provide enrichment at the individual level.

These tools are pretty simple to use and generally free or very low cost. A graphic tablet will cost a bit (under $100), but that’s a small price to pay for all the potential time screencasting will save you and for the learning benefits for your students. Get to it and share some of your work on this site.

This is a cross-post from Justin Marquis and content partners at onlineuniversities.com

  • Steve P.

    I record all my physics classes. The graphics tablet is for the birds. I use a touch screen monitor and it works far, far better and requires no practice or training. Invest in a nice 22 inch touch screen, costs about $275. Turn off all multitouch features, they just cause problems. I use an aluminum rod rounded off at the end with a belt sander as a stylus. Works great. Students can also come up and work a problem with no training. Can’t do that with a tablet, they are too hard to use because you can’t look at the screen and at your drawing hand at the same time. Takes too much practice. I use camtasia and gimp. I have a document camera and a webcam for demos and showing things on paper during class so they show up on the screen. I use yawcam to integrate the webcam into the video. Works great and is free. I am upgrading my system to use two projectors this year for a double-wide screen experience. Wish me luck, not sure if the files will get too big.

  • Mohamed GadAllah

    Thanks for the awesome review and good article.
    Please what is the exact wacom mamboo tablet model you are talking about?
    What is the exact model that salman khan is using?
    I’d like to make video tutorials for educational purposes using the same exact model of wacom mamboo tablet.
    Thanks once again :)

  • Alex Salazar

    I want to invest in a graphics tablet for online tutoring. Will the small Wacom tablet (6 in by 3.5 in writing surface) do the trick?