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Heather VanMouwerik is a PhD candidate in Russian History at the University of California, Riverside. Find her on her website or on Twitter.



Let's say that you have decided to teach an online course or incorporate digital components into your classroom, your syllabus is solid, and you have written a comprehensive technology policy for your students. The next step in digitizing your undergraduate course is figuring out how to turn your amazing ideas into reality.


Today I want to address the nitty-gritty details of creating digital materials by recommending a few software programs that I have used to create mine.


As a self-diagnosed indiscriminate software adopter, I have tried just about every program that released in the last five years. Plagued by the feeling that the perfect program exists just around the corner, I pick up and toss out software weekly.


Below, however, are the programs that have outlasted my fickleness and proved to be easy to use as well as effective.


Screen Capture


As I discussed in one of my first GradHacker posts, screen capture is one of my favorite digital tools to use in the classroom. A screen capture is a short recording of your voice and anything that is on your computer screen. When you just need to quickly help your students find a library resource or troubleshoot a computer problem, these quick videos are a lifesaver. In fact, I used it just the other day to help my students find newspapers through the library website.


For all of my captures, I use Jing. This is a great program for impromptu “How To” videos, because it is easy and quick to use. Jing operates in the background on your desktop, with a little yellow sun sitting on the side of your screen. When you need to capture something, you just swipe your mouse over the icon and begin to record. In addition, once your capture is complete, it automatically posts your video online and gives you a link to share with your class. Most importantly, the cost is perfect for graduate students: free!


Although I have never had a problem with Jing, I can imagine that the five-minute maximum for video uploads would be problematic for some people. If that is the case, the makers of Jing also make another program called SnagIt, which, for $30 (with educational pricing), allows you to make longer videos. Another option I have been playing around with is Screencast-O-Matic, which is free. Despite the ridiculous name, my first impression is favorable. Hopefully a more seasoned user will share their thoughts down in the comments.


Audio Recording


Although I have been a vocal supporter of video lectures, I have also used audio recordings in class with great success. In one project, for example, my students had to write a short paper that used a painting as a primary source. Since they had never before used art in this manner, I recorded my thoughts on a similar painting and posted it online. While the students looked at the painting, I was modeling for them the process of evaluating art as a historical source.


From freelance musicians to professional news reporters, Audacity is the program most people use to edit and mix audio recordings. So, in recommending this program, I am echoing a general consensus. Audacity allows you to record audio through your computer or an attached microphone, overlay or intercut music and sound effects into your recording, edit it, fix and enhance the audio quality, and export into several file types. Audacity is far from user-friendly or intuitive, so, unfortunately, you will have to use some of the great tutorials available online. Nevertheless, the price—free!—and the strength of the program itself will more than compensate for the steepness of your learning curve.


If you are feeling constrained by Audacity and want to use audio recordings more extensively in your class, then Adobe Audition ($19.99/mo) might be for you. I tend to find Adobe products rather user unfriendly and difficult to learn; however, Audition has some neat features Audacity lacks. For example, if you want to interview someone over Skype, Audition lets you record the call directly, preserving audio quality. In addition, Audition defaults to auto-save, so an up-to-date copy of your work is always available. I hesitate to recommend this since I have only played around on the trial version, but it could be helpful if you want to do something a little more advanced.




In my opinion, videos are the most powerful tool in an instructor’s digital arsenal. A while back, for example, I created a video on the cultural history of zombies. Designed to be a quick introduction to the topic and an example of historicizing popular culture, the video is still being used (with my permission) in a historical methodologies course. Just the other day a student, who I had never met, came up to me and told me that they loved my video. They even asked me a couple questions about zombies in history. The fact that they recognized me, felt compelled to stop me, and even asked questions (!!) speaks volumes about the medium.


When you want to kick your digital tools game to the next level and add video to your repertoire, I recommend Camtasia (PC and Mac), a program that simultaneously records audio from your microphone and video from your webcam and computer screen. Unlike the screen capture programs mentioned above, video production software allows you to edit, add images and effects, and export the video in any format you need.


There are two things that make Camtasia stand out. First, the multi-track editor is very easy to use and is beautifully designed. When you make a video, Camtasia saves the audio, the video from your webcam, and the video of your computer screen as separate tracks, which the program visualizes in three stacked bars. This makes it very easy to go from the video of your face, to your PowerPoint, and back again. Second, Camtasia comes with a lot of easy-to-use visual effects (like slow motion and video filters) and animation (like scrolling text, zooming images, and pointing arrows). Once you have mastered the basics, these add-ons are a lot of fun.


For Mac users, Camtasia is an affordable $75 with an educational discount. If you are a more advanced Mac user, Screenflow is also a great option; however, it is very feature-rich, making it a bit intimidating for first-time users.


For people on the PC side of the spectrum, Camtasia is $179 with an educational discount. If that is too much, Microsoft Expression Encoder will get the job done.


Normally I demure from recommending a specific program because it shifts attention from the message (content!) to the medium (shiny, fashionable toys!), but in the case of Jing, Audacity, and Camtasia I am willing to make an exception. These three programs are easy to use, they make my work look professional, and I keep coming back to them quarter after quarter.


Interested in other ways to incorporate digital pedagogy into your classroom? Then check back later this week as Anne and Travis share their innovative ideas!


Have you tried any of these programs in your courses? Do you have any other tools and tech you would like to recommend? I’d love to hear about all of that in the comments!

[Image by Flickr user Eric Norris and used under Creative Commons license]