Tuesday, 14 August 2012

The Screencast-Audio Myth

Mic image CC-BY Flickr user AV Hire London
I've seen endless amounts of blog posts and guides recently related to the importance of audio quality when recording screencasts or podcasts. They typically stress the importance of a high quality mic, which can end up costing over £100. I thought I'd write this short post to somewhat fly in the face of such advice, because fundamentally, I disagree with it. So I have 2 key reasons to highlight;

1) High quality mics are simply not required for 95% of screencasts or podcasts. I regularly record screencasts for both my students and for staff. In doing so, I tend to use either the built-in mic in my Macbook Pro, or the mic from my iPhone headphones. As I have these devices, the mic is essentially free. If you have a different brand laptop or smartphone, I'm sure the mics included will be equally sufficient. Unless you are producing something for TV, or other particularly high-stakes content, I wouldn't worry about professional equipment. Actually, experience and anecdotal evidence would suggest students prefer more relaxed video/audio from staff!

2) I have worked in an eLearning support capacity for a number of years now, where I/we encourage academic staff to engage with such approaches to enhance/benefit teaching and learning. I believe emphasising high quality mics has a negative impact on the take-up of such approaches, because academic staff will think they can't/shouldn't engage if they don't have the high quality mic. Now I'm sure the bloggers don't mean to discourage the average academic from pod/screencasting, and I'm sure they're trying to provide useful advice, I'm just concerned it has an unintended negative consequence.


I've created a lot of screencasts over the past few years, and I would really only insist on a couple of points for good practice related to screencasting. For me, far more important than having a high quality mic, is the process and environment for recording audio/video.

1) A structured and planned recording, using regular equipment is much better than an unstructured, unplanned recording using high quality equipment. Every time! So take a few minutes to prepare. If you can't script out exactly what you want to say in your screencast, at least have an outline or plan rather than improvising completely. Indeed a personal approach is important, but too many urms and erms can be off-putting (which often occur subconsciously as our brains try to catch up with our mouths).

2) Record in a quiet place - I'm not suggesting getting sound proof and insulated rooms, but just try to record in a quiet office - I've tried in the past, unsuccessfully, to record screencasts in an open plan office, when mid-way through the phone would ring or colleagues would burst into the office in full discussion. So of course, I'd have to start from scratch. Now, I have my own office so it's not such a difficulty, but I would always recommend finding a quiet room where you can have a bit of piece and quiet to record. Close the windows so traffic noise doesn't interfere, and crack on.

Screencast.com have a much more in-depth set of tips and good practice suggestions if you want to head over to their help pages.

This advice reminds me of what my 6th Form teachers used to say; 'Failing to prepare is preparing to fail'!

What do you think about  my comments above? Do you have any tips for recording screencasts?

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This work by Peter Reed is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial 3.0 Unported License.

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