Screencast Software (Recording Videos and Narration of Computer Screen)

Tool User Friendliness*
PowerPoint (Voiceover) 5 4 Free
Screencast-O-Matic 5 4 Freemium
Snag-It 5 3.5 Paid ($30)
LectureScribe 5 3 Free
ActivePresenter 4 3 Free
Camtasia Studio 3.5 5 Paid ($200)


Drawing/Writing Software

Tool User Friendliness
SmoothDraw 4 5 Free
PowerPoint 4 2.5 Free
ArtRage 3.5 3 Paid/Free
SketchBook 3 3 Free


Drawing/Writing Hardware

Tool User Friendliness
Wacom Tablet 5 4 Paid


Audio (Narration) Hardware

Tool User Friendliness
Blue Snowball 5 4 Paid
Headset  Boom Mic 5 3 Paid
Built-in Mic 5 2.5 Free


* 5 means very user friendly or very effective.

My Experience (Andrew Richter)

I have been recording videos for my physics courses for a couple years. I was inspired in part by the Khan Academy videos. That website gives a suggestion for software tools to use: Snag-It and SmoothDraw, so those were the ones I began with.

I use a Wacom Bamboo tablet to write on the computer screen in SmoothDraw, as if writing on a chalkboard or a piece of paper. It takes some practice to be able to write legibly and you generally have to write a little slower than you might normally. I tend to use a black background with bright pen colors in order to provide some visual “pop.” While I am writing, I use a screen recorder to capture my computer screen on video. I also use a USB microphone to record narration.

I try to keep my videos to be somewhere between 10 and 20 minutes, mostly just to keep file sizes to less than 50 MB. For my area (physics), it is also approximately the time it takes to either introduce a concept or work through an example. Students are free to pause, rewind, or skip ahead, so video length is not always a major concern, though I have found that students get a little anxious when the videos are too long. If your video editing software allows for bookmarks, this can help students navigate within videos.

After recording, I do some light editing using Camtasia Studio. This allows me to lay over text to correct mistakes made on the video, cut out longer errors (I will often repeat a section of a video while recording to get a better take, and I cut out the take I don’t want), splice two shorter videos together, and zoom in on particularly complicated sections or drawings. Very importantly, it allows me to adjust the audio track to improve quality. I often level the audio to reduce particularly loud sounds or amplify soft seconds; and I use noise reduction to remove the sound of my laptop fan and the air circulation sounds in my office.

It generally takes me about 1 hour to record, render, and upload a 15 minute video. A full set of videos covering 40 – 50 minutes therefore takes 3 – 4 hours. This does not include the initial preparation time to write the “script,” so there is a fairly significant time investment. I highly recommend avoiding using phrases like “as we saw in class on Monday” or “looking at page 273 in your textbook” so that the videos can be used as is for several years, even if your presentation order or textbook changes. A good video editing program can help with removing or working around these issues.

I upload the videos to the class’ Blackboard site, with a brief description of the content and the duration.

Other Comments

  1. Bamboo tablet: The Bamboo tablet and pen have been GREAT for me to work out solutions of example problems just like I would do on a board in class. And the best part is that after I post them, students can stop, rewind, and go back to the videos later.  This was a bargain two years ago for $80.  One important thing to note is that I did NOT like the software that came with the tablet, so I quickly began to use a freeware program called SmoothDraw that was much more user-friendly and customizable than the Bamboo software.  SmoothDraw is cool!
  2. Voiceover Powerpoint: Have only used this for one flipped class (one session not entire course). It works fine for this class. Lecture is 30 minutes students complete prior to a 4-hour lab. It is easy to use and free, but not very exciting. Would not want to use it for an entire course- would be boring.
  3. Screencast-O-Matic: As good as webcasts can be. Easy to use.
  4. LectureScribe: This is super basic, super easy software. It’s basically a simple white-board that you write on, in Khan Academy style, which records voice with writing. It’s got several colors, and can do basic lines, grids and shapes.

Downsides: can only make ~25min videos produces macromedia flash videos, so need a file-converter to have other file-types. It worked for what I needed to do minimum, but nothing fancy at all.”

  1. ActivePresenter: Check the volume level with the actual video produced. My videos were sometimes impossible to hear. Don’t use an iPad — way too slow.  Use the fastest computer you can get your hands on to produce video.  Takes a lot of time to process.  Not as fast as Camtasia, but it’s free.
  2. Camtasia Studio: Camtasia Studio is easy to use and the very simple PowerPoint screen capture and video editing I have done (splicing two clips or editing out a mistake) is pretty simple too. I have noticed that the video processing slows down dramatically as the length of the video clip increases.  The uploading of the resulting MP4 files to my YouTube account is much faster by comparison.  All in all even though the software is probably much more powerful than I need, it has been worth the approx. $200 price tag.


Screencast recorders

  • Snag-It—low cost but few features
    • $30 for academic purchase (limited term free trial available)
    • Easy to capture video/sound of any window or screen
    • Output videos as mp4, a common video format
    • Can save to your own computer,, your Google Drive, or to a free cloud service called
    • But, cannot edit videos in any way. Cannot splice together videos, format the video dimensions, add text callouts, change speeds, zoom, adjust audio, etc. This also means that mistakes made during video recording require re-recording the full video.
  • Camtasia Studio—fairly expensive but fully functional recording and editing suite
    • $179 for academic purchase (limited term free trial available)
    • Easy to record screen, including a webcam. Can switch microphone sources and set recording levels easily.
    • Full video editing including transitions, zooming, cursor highlighting, annotations, captions, cutting, splicing several videos together, adjusting video speed
    • Allows for audio leveling and noise reduction
    • Can make in-video multiple-choice quizzes (I have not explored this much). Submissions are emailed to you.
    • I typically record a window about 1400×900 pixels in size, but I produce 720p videos (up to 1280 x 720). This allows me to zoom in when I need to without reducing video quality while not creating gigantic files.
    • I also typically output mp4 files at 75% quality. I find the standard 50% quality to be a little poor, but I want to limit file sizes.
    • I post the mp4 videos to Blackboard. Students can click on the link and watch the videos in their browser or they can download the file to save it.

Drawing/Writing Software

  • SmoothDraw3 or 4
    • Freeware
    • Fairly easy to learn, though no support
    • No lag when using tablet for drawing
    • Slightly smoothes out jaggedness that comes from handwriting on tablet
    • Supports layers
    • I typically make the canvas size to be 1600 x 4000 pixels so that I can scroll down as I work
    • I also put a title and any other static components into the Background layer and put all my writing into Layer1. That allows me to quickly erase my work without having to reprepare the background.
  • Autodesk SketchBook Express 2011
    • Available free (search
    • More functionality than SmoothDraw, but much higher learning curve
    • Very good response and smooth lines. Handwriting looks very neat. No lag.
    • Screen can be cluttered with tools, making recordings messier
  • ArtRage 4
    • $50 (though comes free with some tablets)
    • Geared more for art creation than for simple handwriting. Many features, moderate learning curve
    • Very smooth drawing with no lag
    • Screen is has nice looking controls but they clutter the lower portion of the screen making recordings messier
  • PowerPoint
    • Cntl+P turns on pen mode while running a slideshow. (Cntl+A to return to regular mode).
    • Can change colors, but requires navigating a menu which will show up on screen.
    • Very little functionality, but readily available
    • Lag seems low and writing is smooth
    • Cursor is quite small, so would want to use a cursor highlighter in your recording software
  • Not recommended:
    • net
      • Too much lag. The program appears to try to figure out if you want to draw straight lines or particular curves, so there is a non-workable lag.
    • MSPaint
      • No smoothing, so handwriting looks too jagged
    • Google Drawing
      • Analyzes the scribbling too much so introduces unworkable lag

Drawing/Writing Hardware

  • Wacom Bamboo Tablet (Wacom Bamboo Connect Pen Tablet (CTL470))
    • Older model so a little hard to find. I found it on Amazon for $50 sold by another vender. May disappear since newer models are being produced.
    • Active drawing area is about 7.5 in by 5.5 in. Much smaller and your handwriting may start to suffer. Much larger and it gets hard to fit in front of your computer comfortably so you can write while also accessing the keyboard.
    • No configurable buttons so every drawing selection (e.g. pen colors) has to be done on the computer (though hot keys in SmoothDraw4 take care of this well).
  • Wacom Intuos Pen Small Tablet (CTL480)
    • Seems to be the newer model. $70 on Amazon, $80 at Bestbuy
    • Smaller area (3.5 x 6.2”) so may be cramped. But you will adjust to work with whatever you have. Will fit on desk better than the CTL470.
      • The medium sized version (CTH680) is $180 on Amazon. Would provide much improved writing surface, but would take up more space in front of your computer. And is much more expensive.
    • Has 4 programmable buttons that may come in handy
  • Be aware that tablets plug in through USB, taking up a USB port. This may become an issue if you have limited available USB ports, especially if you also use a USB microphone for recording audio. A good quality USB hub may work, though I have not tried one. Beware of using inexpensive USB hubs as they can allow power spikes to damage your computer and components.


  • Blue Snowball
    • $60 on Amazon
    • USB
    • Has a setting to capture sounds in front while minimizing sounds from the rear.
    • Sound level is a little low unless your mouth is very close (within 6 – 12”), but I find it is very clear and can easily be amplified without introducing much noise.
  • Built-in Mic.
    • Some laptops have pretty good built-in mics, though they can capture a lot of the laptop noise (fans, drives)
    • Benefit: no additional purchase necessary and does not occupy a USB port
  • Headphones with boom mic
    • $20 – $100+
    • Mostly USB, but some audio jack models around, too
    • I find the booms tend to not be long enough to get the mic near my mouth, making recording levels low. I have tried many models but found none that work well.
    • But many people have better experiences, and if the mic is near your mouth, the sound levels should be quite good