Filed Under (e-Learning, Editorial) by David Wiles on 31-03-2009

This is – by no stretch of the imagination – expected to be a “showcase” of how screencasts of tutorials should be done but what can be done with a screencasting program and a microphone. It should serve as an inspiration for you all

Happy screencasting!

David Wiles

Filed Under (e-Learning, Reviews & Opinions) by David Wiles on 27-03-2009

To explain, “screencasting” is a technical term for capturing what appears on your computer screen and presenting this in some way to another person on another computer. Screen casting can be used to show presentations – like Powerpoint – showing how software works, reporting bugs, explaining interactions on the the screen. Just as a screenshot is a picture of a user’s screen now you can record a movie of what a user sees on his monitor. And if a picture is worth a thousand words, a movie is worth a thousand pictures.

Creating a video or still of your screen can assist software developers to show off their work. It is a useful skill for ordinary software users as well, to help report bugs (you know how difficult it is to explain a problem to an Information Technology support person) or just to show others how do a certain task with a specific bit of software.

These days it is easy to record your desktop computer activity with narration and share it as a video or photo. In almost all cases all you will need is the screencasting software, a microphone to record your voice and perhaps a little bit of creativity to make the screencast sparkle. What follows is a brief list of the screencasting software that I have used over the years:

Web Based Screen Capture:

Jing – Snap a picture of anything on your desktop. Record a video of what you do, or what you see, Instantly uploaded. Share in email, Instant Messenger, or blogs. You select a window or region and Jing will record a video of everything that appears in that area. Point to things with your mouse, scroll, flip through photos, click around in a website or application…Jing captures it all. If your computer has a microphone, Jing can record your commentary at the same time. Since everyone prefers short and pithy, However recording time is capped at 5 minutes.

The basic software is free, but lacking some nice features that are only available in the Pro version. (I suppose the adage “you get what you pay for” applies here.) Jing Pro – costs $14.95/year. (that’s about R145 per year!)

Capture Fox – Firefox Add-on is a Firefox add-on and a handy tool to create tutorials about a software, a web site or anything that can be displayed on your computer. It records your screen frame by frame. You can also record your voice, adjust video quality and is easy to use. With two clicks, you can start capturing your screen and record your sound and it is FREE. Of course it only works with the Mozilla Firefox web browser, but then again Firefox is far better than Microsoft’s Internet Explorer!

Screen Capture Tools & Software for the PC

Fraps – (derived from Frames per Second) is a benchmarking, screen capture, and real-time video capture utility for DirectX and OpenGL applications. It is commonly used to record gaming footage or screens/programs that use DirectX or OpenGL graphic technology. If you purchase the software it allows you to then record as long as you like and perform full-size recording with no watermarks on your movie.  You can also capture screenshots directly to JPG, PNG and TGA formats. The registered version with no restrictions costs $37 (R356.00)

Qarbon Viewlet Builder – Qarbon patented the Screen Capture technology and call their flash movies as Viewlets which are basically .swf files. Qarbon seems to have the best Flash file compression algorithm around. There is another bit of software called ViewletCam – from the same company is required to enable moving screen captures.

ViewletBuilder’s automatically reproduces the movement of your cursor, allowing you to create Flash tutorials or simulations that exactly mirror the way your product or web site works.

You can use callouts, notes, interactivity and audio narration. You can also add Flash files and have various actions associated to events making your output more engaging.

You then publish your finished tutorials as small, secure Flash files that can be delivered over the Internet or packaged as executable files to be sent vial email or burned on CDs. The product is the most expensive one reviewed in this article at R3850.00 for a licence but is is the most powerful and multi-featured product.

Wink – Wink (not open source, but free for business or personal use) creates a compressed Flash file, which can be easily embedded in Web pages and is usually smaller than other equivalent products. Flash files are good for representing simple, schematic user interfaces, while it is not entirely suitable if most of the screen is filled with changing or moving complex pictures.

DemoStudio – GPL-licensed screen capture application for Microsoft Windows (open source). DemoStudio records by default to AVI format, but provides an excellent tool called DemoStudio Producer for converting these into Flash (SWF) files.

CamStudio– GPL-licensed screen capture application for Microsoft Windows (open source). CamStudio is a simple, straightforward program to record screen activity to AVI or SWF format. You can also record audio from your speakers or microphone.

Everybody has their favorites, I am sure but you might want to give some of these products a try and see what suits your style of presentation.

The GERGA Website Help page has a few good examples of screencasting that you might find interesting.

I found this site with a lot of good advice for potential screencasters: What is a Screencast?

David Wiles

Filed Under (e-Learning) by David Wiles on 18-03-2009

Contributed by Dr. JP Bosman – Senior Advisor e-Learning – Centre for Teaching & Training

Health Sciences has some of the best e-Learning material as the disciplines within medicine are so visual.
Most of the material that is loaded on WebStudies is Power Point files. Because of the photos, the files are usually very large.

When large number of students print some of these Power Point files, the printers at FHSCUA (“GERGA”)  are overloaded and slow down printing speeds considerably.

As an example one such PowerPoint presentation took over 15 minutes to print out for one student! This is not a very effective use of the printers.

May I make the following suggestions?

  • Use Power Point 2007: The new Power Point 2007 (part of MS Office 2007) handles the printing out of Power Points extremely well. Even if the file is big with a lot of photos, Power Point 2007 sends a compressed version to the printer. The outcome is less trouble for you as lecturer, it is quicker for the student, and GERGA’s printers are used optimally.

HOW DO I DO IT?: Phone IT at 021-808-4367 and ask for Office 2007 – They will remotely install the software for free on your PC via “VNC”.

  • Do not use dark backgrounds for your slides. Dark backgrounds forces one to use white text so that it is legible on the dark background. When such slides are printed out it wastes a lot of ink, it often prints out so badly that it cannot be used, and if the students print it out without the backgrounds then they cannot see the text because it is white. Even if you still want to use dark backgrounds for your presentation, it will be extremely helpful if you load a printer-friendly version (dark text and no or light background) of the PowerPoint presentation on Webstudies.
  • Make a PDF document of the presentation: The presentation is “protected” from students changing it, but PDF files also have the immense advantage that it it printer-friendly. By clicking on a few buttons one can easily convert the Power Point presentation into a PDF Handout. The file size is reduced dramatically, the printers are happy and students can quickly do their printing.


  • Download and install the free PDF-Creator software by clicking on the link: PDFCreator 0.9.7 (Do not install the optional PDFCreator Internet Explorer Toolbar or the Yahoo! Searchbar when prompted)
  • Install PDF –Creator (by clicking on “Run”and following the instructions) and then restart your computer.
  • To create a PDF from any programme: Go to File>Print and choose PDF-Creator on the list of printers.
  • PDF-Creator now gives one the chance to Save your file as PDF on your PC.

I sincerely hope these suggestions find a favourable response. With these simple suggestions we could make the life of the students, the management of Gerga, as well as the printers (cost and time) so much easier.

Dr. JP Bosman


help_desk From an article by Bill Detwiler from IT Dojo:

If you’ve worked in a support role long enough, you’ve probably developed your own style of translating technical issues to users who aren’t that tech savvy. Sometimes your explanations may owe more to art than science.

Even though we try our best to communicate honestly and clearly with our users, we have to admit that we sometimes fall back on a few handy excuses or stalling tactics. I’ll illustrate with a few examples, and you can decide if any of them sound all-too-familiar:

Computer Support says: Hmmmm… I see the problem, but to tell you the truth…

Computer Support means: Whenever a tech begins a sentence with this, they’re often saying, “I have no idea what’s going on so I’m about to heavily bend the truth…”

Computer Support says: It would probably be best to re-install the software.

Computer Support  means: This almost certainly translates to “I don’t know how to fix this, nor does anyone else here. By the time we’ve worked out the solution, you could have re-installed the package a dozen times.”

Computer Support  says: Hmmm….that’s a good one!

Computer Support  means: At this point, I’m wondering “What in the world are you talking about?”

Computer Support  says: There must be some incompatibility problem.

Computer Support  means: I’m actually saying “I have no idea what’s going one, but a vast majority of computer problems are either a hardware or software incompatibility — so we’ll go with that for now.”

Computer Support  says: I’ll check with my team leader.

Computer Support  means: Honestly, I already know she won’t have a clue either, but I’ll ask just to confirm my assumption and assure that that I’ve exhausted all possibilities.

Computer Support  says: We have passed the problem on to the developers and they are working on a fix.

Computer Support  means: Even the developers don’t have a clue, but they might be able to come up with a work around if they ever get time to work on the problem — sometime next decade.

Computer Support  says: Let me just check with a colleague.

Computer Support  means: I’ll press the mute button now, because I can’t stop laughing.

Sometimes, you have to be a little more technical with your directions to users, like this:

Computer Support  says: What operating system are you running?

Computer Support  means: Do you even know what an operating system is?

Computer Support  says: Are you getting a login error?

Computer Support  means: You’ve forgotten your password again, haven’t you?

Computer Support  says: Let’s check your settings.

Computer Support  means: I wasn’t listening the first time you explained the problem, but I can probably figure out the problem by looking at your system settings.

Computer Support  says: I apologize unreservedly for my mistake.

Computer Support  means: Oh no! I just broke the first help desk law!

Computer Support  says: Let’s run through that procedure one more time and check the exact error message.

Computer Support  means: I need to play for time while I reboot my machine, swallow this huge lump of sandwich I just bit off, find the relevant help file, or finish making the coffee.

In this article we’ve poked a little fun at ourselves and the excuses or stalling tactics we sometimes use with our end users.

But in all seriousness, as has been mentioned in previous articles on the hidden meanings of end-user help desk phrases, effective communication skills and a professional demeanor are just as critical as certifications and technical knowledge in today’s IT world. You should never lie to nor speak to your users in a patronizing or flippant manner. Your end-user are clients, and they deserve the same respect and fair treatment as you would expect from someone serving you.

Filed Under (Editorial) by David Wiles on 11-03-2009

notlistening Information is a powerful tool in the right hands and when information and communication is lacking, then a large organization like the Faculty of Health Sciences does not perform at its optimum level.

This blog is intended to address – to a small degree – that problem. We will try to place tips, short articles and tutorials online for the benefit of all students, lecturers and administrative staff.

Small beginnings, but hopefully it will improve in time and become a Tygerberg hub of information.