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A great way to make your lessons better is to make them more visually appealing. Incorporating screenshots and screencasts into your lessons can achieve this quickly and easily, many of the tools available to educators are free or very low cost, and they can also be used by students to incorporate visuals into their own work.
DISCLAIMER: The list of tools below are not exhaustive. There are tons of programs available and a search through Google or through the Chrome Web Store (in your Chrome browser) will turn up many great tools. These are tools that I have used before. I do have my preferences, and I will identify which ones are my favorites; this does not mean that they are necessarily the tools that you should use. You should try different tools to find your personal favorite. It may be one that I suggest, it may be one that you find on your own. If you find a new one that is not on my list, please share it with me! Each tool will be linked so you can easily find them and try them!
SnagIt: My personal favorite tool, this, unfortunately, is not a free tool. There used to be a free Google Chrome extension, but TechSmith, the makers of SnagIt, eliminated support for the extension in August. This program has the most features of any program that I have tried when it comes to taking screenshots, screencasts, and editing. You can take screenshots/casts of your full screen, tab only, scrolling, or select an area of the screen. In editing mode, you have numerous options to make your screenshot/cast whatever you want it to be, including a .gif generator. There are also tons of options to save your work, such as Google Drive, Dropbox, save to disk, and others. Even though this a premium program, TechSmith does offer a free 15 day trial of the program. If you like it, TechSmith offers an educator price of $29.95 and discounts bulk purchases of the program if you buy 5 or more. You can also install it on multiple devices (I have a version of SnagIt on my personal laptop and my school workstation). My biggest complaint is that they do not have a Chromebook version of it and the free Chrome extension is no longer available.
Camtasia: This is another premium tool made by TechSmith, this one focus on screencasting, video, and video editing. The features are very similar to SnagIt, but, obviously, more geared toward video editing. Camtasia allows you to edit video and audio separately, import video from outside sources, incorporate a webcam, and even add closed captioning. Like SnagIt, TechSmith offers a 15-day free trial, and also includes an educator price. However, this program is much pricier at $179.00. I was fortunate enough to get a free version of the program, and I do like it, but I am not sure if I would spend that much money on it, especially because I do not use it very often. For my screencasting jobs, I can take care of most of them using SnagIt. If you looking to produce a high-quality video with a program that is easier to use than common video programs like iMovie and is available for PC and Mac, Camtasia may be a great fit for you.
Awesome Screenshot: This is a Chrome app that allows users to take screenshots and make simple annotations to said screenshots. It is also available as an extension through the Chrome Web Store. It allows users to save to a local disk, save to awesomescreenshot.com and create shareable links and also provides support for Google Drive. A premium version of the program is available that provides more annotation tools, but if you are looking for a quick way to take screenshots and make simple annotations, this is a great program for you.
Nimbus Screenshot & Screen Recorder: This program, available through the Chrome Web Store as an app or extension, is a great replacement for the since discontinued SnagIt extension. Like Awesome Screenshot, it allows users to take screenshots and make simple annotations. It also allows for simple screencast recordings, with simple annotations to those recordings. Anything you create can be automatically saved into your Google Drive, to a local drive, or uploaded to the Nimbus website. It has a few more features for annotation that are not available in the Awesome Screenshot app/extension, so if you are looking to take screenshots to another level, this may be a great program for you.
Screencastify: When SnagIt discontinued their extension (notice a theme here? I REALLY liked that extension!), I needed a screencasting program that would work on a Chromebook. Screencastify was my answer. It allows users to record their screens, record the page's audio, and add a voiceover. With the free version, you can record up to 5 minutes. However, there are a couple of downfalls to this extension. First of all, the free version has a watermark on the bottom of the screen. That watermark was getting in the way of items that I needed in my videos. It also does not allow any editing of your screencast, so you need to get it right on the first try! A premium version of the program will eliminate the watermark and allow for users to edit for $24/year. I do like the program enough that I paid for the subscription, especially because it works so well on a Chromebook. Another downfall is that it only will record within the Chrome browser, so taking a screencast of your desktop or within another program is out of the question. However, another great feature is that any recording will be saved automatically to Google Drive and you can upload recordings directly to YouTube.
Screencast-O-Matic: This program is very similar to Screencastify, with a few slight differences. First, this is a website program and it is not available in the Chrome Web Store. Second, you get up to 15 minutes of free recording, with a watermark. Another difference is the premium cost, with Screencast-O-Matic going for $15/year. With the free plan, you can upload to YouTube, but it does not save to Google Drive. You can get that option if you pay for the premium version.
Play around with these programs. Conduct a web search or through the Chrome Web Store to find others and play around with those. Find which of these programs work best for you. You will quickly find that you will create more engaging, visually appealing, and effective presentations for your students. Share these programs with your colleagues and students. Working together, we can ALL improve!
Until next time...
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