IL2006 presession: Creating Online Tutorials

Creating Online Tutorials in Less Than 30 Minutes

Greg R. Notess – Reference Librarian, Montana State University

[No free internet access available during the pre-conference, apparently.  Grrr.]

New book: Teaching Web Search Skills: Techniques and Strategies of Top Trainers

Began looking at screencasting as a way to teach web searching in an online environment. 

If we’re interested in keeping our tutorials up to date, we need a way to change them quickly.  Programs like Camtasia make it very easy to produce mini tutorials.

Makes note of size of file and length on website for Montana State University. 

Face-to-face interactions can be longer, but watching something on the Internet is like watching television.  You don’t necessarily watch something all the way through.


Demonstration of creating a tutorial on Camtasia.  30-day trial for most of these softwares, so you’re able to try. 

Record screen actions and describe them as you go.  Publish in Flash or other formats, but Flash is installed on the majority of computers.

Know what you’re going to do ahead of time.  What examples will you use? 

Important to have controls on the screen – many screen shots are too large for the monitor, and so you have to scroll down to access controls.  If someone has personal browser open, reduces screen size even more.  Most common screen size is 1024×768.

Reduce the browser window to a point where it will still show on screens, but still show the control bar.

It may not be the full image of the page, but as long as the crucial information is visible, it will work. 

Uses an external microphone – and not a very expensive one. 

Starts recording the screen shots and audio at the same time.  Produces a quick tutorial in a few minutes.  Once it’s saved, can be uploaded onto a web page.

Downside is that you can easily get lost in all the capabilities.  You have to get over hearing your own voice.  Some people get a theatre student to do the voiceover.

Any activity you do on the screen can be recorded.  It’s recording what you see on the screen and what you type in as you type.

Software: Camtasia and Captivate are the two main software products being used.  Full list on website:  Camtasia seems to have more market share.

Wink – freeware.  Not as sophisticated, but usable.  Recently added sound capabilities, but doesn’t seem to be very good.  A little steeper learning curve.

Can do tutorials without sound, but you need to evaluate your users.  Will they be at computers with sound?

Caution with Wink – someone posting on a web forum appearing to be from another company, claiming that the product is built on their platform.  Might be property rights issues.

Asks for submissions of tutorials created – can submit on website.

Has learned a lot from watching other people’s webcasts.

If you’re  going to have call-outs with text have them be more bullet-point oriented.  Don’t just read the call-outs.  Make the audio be more conversational.  One person actually has someone come into their office while they’re recording, so they have someone to speak to.

Try to minimize file size, especially for patrons who might still be on dial-up.  One of the options that takes a lot of bandwidth is fading – fading a frame in and out.  Using a slower frame rate works well for tutorials with screen shots.  (If you’re doing a library tour, would be too jerky.)

Colors – for showing screen casts, 16-bit is fine.  J-peg compression at 65% works; if you feel it’s too grainy, increase the compression.  Audio – 11.025kz, 16bits/sec.

The longer the video, the bigger the file size.  Make mini tutorials; you can then bring them together in different ways.  1MG per minute seems to be the average size produced.

If upload to YouTube, can embed in web page.  YouTube defaults at 320×240.

Zoom and pan can be an effective feature, but is difficult to learn to do well.

If demonstrating how to install software, or something that will involve seeing the desktop, change the background to be plain and create a separate folder on the desktop and store all the icons except those you’ll be using for the instruction.  Close email program and IM clients.  Set the phone to do not disturb.

Try to leave pauses in your presentation.  If you make a mistake, pause for a few minutes – don’t use the mouse! – and start again from the beginning of the sentence you flubbed.  Same if you get interrupted by a phone, etc.

If you don’t like something you’ve done, it’s faster and easier to re-record the whole thing (especially if it’s only 1-3 minutes long) than to try and go in and fix something.

It’s easier to record the audio as you create the video, rather than add audio later, since you need to create audio of exactly the right length.  Talk while you’re showing it.  It’s much easier to delete something than to add something. 

On a screencast, put more pauses in to create time.  Add a pause at the end of every phrase, at the end of words.  It’s easier to delete additional time than to need to add some in.

To set the volume, go to a mainstream video like from a news source, and set your volume.  Then record and try to up the volume there.  If you record softly and have to turn up the volume on the speaker to hear it clearly, it means the users will have to do the same thing. 

With some mics, the very first part of the word will sometimes get cut off.  Same with the end.  Leave a few seconds at the beginning and at the end of the recording.  You can always go back and delete what you need to.

Adding a visual highlight to a cursor helps, but don’t lose track of where your mouse is, or move it too much.

Adding mouse click noises can be helpful.

After sizing and selecting the window size, make sure you don’t move the window you want to record.  Plan ahead for pop-up windows – they can extend past the area you’re recording.  Pop-up the window beforehand and size the window accordingly.  Use alt-tab to move from one window to another.  Pause speaking for a few seconds, so you can later cut out the mini-menu that appears as you alt-tab.

Do be aware of what other windows you might have open underneath.  Try to have them shut before you start.  If something happens, pause.  You can cut it out afterwards.

You can create these, burn them on to a CD and ship them if you have users who have trouble accessing the Internet.

Biggest problem – making the time to do it.  You need to fit time into your schedule to check the videos to see if they need to be updated.

Users you’ll not be able to reach?  These don’t work well for hearing-impaired users if they don’t have call-outs.  You could create one for people with audio and one for people without audio.  You can create them for people without Flash.

Create for the majority of your users.  Most tutorials produced are not highly used.  If they start being highly used, can create additional tutorials for additional audiences.

Note: Very distracting to see the exact same text that you’re hearing.  Have text highlight what you’re saying, rather than be a transcription.

Capability at end of video to go to another URL – may be able to track how many times it’s been viewed.  YouTube will count viewers. 

Planning Outline:

·        Come up with a topic

·        Sketch click path and examples to use

·        Verify example works for instructional point

·        Record

·        Publish to a server

Discussion on terminology – “tutorial” vs. “screencast.”  Greg uses “Show Me” on the website.  “Video” might be good term.  He uses “tutorials” as a way to label a group of tutorials; the rest are within appropriate pages.



Filed under IL2006

2 responses to “IL2006 presession: Creating Online Tutorials

  1. Pingback: InfoSciPhi - Carnival of The Infosciences # 58

  2. Pingback: LibCasting » Blog Archive » Workshop summary

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