Online Teaching Notes… OBS

Open Broadcaster Software (OBS) Studio


Demo Videos


I tend to use OBS when I have slides or other visuals to “talk to”/”talk through”. It lets me integrate a “talking head” shot into a capture window that works with running applications like Powerpoint. This was especially true in Spring 2020, when I already had a set of slides prepared by a colleague. The in-person class drill involved posting a version of the slides in blackboard that had removed keywords (supporting student interaction and involvement) – and I would present these in the context of a discussion+lecture style class period (for ~24 students). When the online switch had to happen, I used OBS to deliver essentially the same thing.

Some “meta” notes

I try to keep any video to 10-15 minutes (the advice I’ve gotten from VITAL‘s team and other teaching experts and literature is that is the generally the most effective length!). I’ve found that there’s a side benefit for the instructor as well. If you target a 10-or-so minute recording, if you goof, it’s simpler to just throw that take away. This has can spare you a lot post-production and editing – and the time limit imposes a bit of organization on me. (Typically, this takes the form of a piece of scratch paper in front me of me with the key points and a rough outline.)

With Powerpoint

When you’ve got slides ready… (first step!)
You’ll first need to adjust Powerpoint’s behavior a little.
At the top, select “Slide Show” and then hit the “Set up Slide Show” button – switch it to “Browsed by an individual (window)” – and hit play. You’ll see the slides in a very simplified window (with a control bar). Note you need to click on that window (not the OBS display window) to control the slides.

Then you can start OBS (OBS Studio on the Start Menu) and add sources. There is a “Sources box” on the mid-left. Hit “+” and

  • select Video Capture Device (to add your webcam) with create new and
  • do “+” again to add “Audio Input Capture” [create new and either
    select the same device or use a separate microphone]
  • Then you add “Window Capture” and you’ll see a list of all the
    windows on the screen.

After that, you’re good to go. Just hit start (or stop, when done)
recording. That’s pretty much it….

Some Final Tips

When done, rename the files it creates – they tend to at most be a time and date stamp, and that gets pretty confusing as you produce more of them. Those files can be added to a shared Google folder or uploaded to Youtube. The output created by OBS is fairly small (for video). My standard backup plan for students on a poor Internet connection was to take those files and put them in a Google Drive folder shared with them. This would allow them to download them and watch them without needing to stream videos.

Also: I tend to set my files to “Unlisted” in Youtube. I’ll take the link provided by Youtube for the unlisted video and put it in Blackboard as a web link along with the slides and any other supporting materials. I will generally leave the “Comments” feature (as a way to capture student reaction) enabled.


If you need to know if students are using the videos, there are two easy tools: Blackboard can track “click” statistics (this has to be enabled) and Youtube provides, by default, a view counter… Note, repeat or incomplete views/viewers can skew this counter a bit.

Other Techniques & Thanks

  • Prof Jon Beagley – who introduced me to the tool (and thanks to him!) – uses it with a drawing tablet for diagrams and mathematical formula. This allows him to “talk” through each step – and handle the complex set of mathematical symbols effectively. You could also use it to do “step by step” explanations for operating things like Excel.
  • Thanks, also, to Prof Coleen Wilder in the College of Business, for encouraging me to write this up – and VITAL & Prof Cindy Rutz for the chance to present it.