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Online Video Lectures - Best Practices and How/Where to Capture

Whether you're doing a MOOC or putting your lectures online for a campus course, a recent study based on student engagement with edX videos shows that you should aim for an upper bound of 6-9 minutes, use a mixture of talking head + screenshots rather than screenshots alone with voice-over, and try to feature “Khan Academy-style” tutorials where there is animation/drawing happening on the screen rather than a static screen.

Live Capture

There are basically two ways to capture video for online courses: live lecture capture or studio recording.

Live lecture capture can be tricky to get right, requires you to structure and deliver your lectures in a very specific way, and requires substantial “postproduction” to create the video segments suitable for MOOC use.

Studio capture usually takes less time up front, but if you are also planning to deliver live lectures, you end up delivering each lecture at least twice.

If you do plan to live capture, you will have to make your own arrangements to have someone operate the cameras.

  • The video team for Berkeley CS10 has published a demo and tutorial of their Best Practices for capturing live lecture video using their “green screen” technique and consumer/prosumer level hardware and software.
  • 540 Cory and 306 Soda are outfitted for live capture and live streaming of lectures, primarily for use by the MAS-IC program in EECS. For more information on setting up use of these live lecture spaces please contact ESG.

Studio capture

Studio capture is more forgiving (you can repeat bad takes and fix errors) and usually requires much less postproduction, but some people find it harder to “lecture” when there is no audience.

For studio capture, you can try capturing yourself with your own equipment, or inquire whether “mini-studio” facilities are available for your use. (Coming soon: a list of mini-studios around campus, and who's in charge of scheduling/supporting each one.)

Tutorials and Resources on Creating Video Assets

If you're new to video and plan on doing ANY of your own editing (and you WILL find this to be a useful skill):

  • People at edX partner schools can take the free course Creating Video for the edX Platform.
  • Take advantage of ETS's video production workshops for faculty. It introduces both the techniques of recording and the use of the video production tools for which the campus already has a site license.
  • ETS has also produced a tutorial and tips on capturing live video with low-cost cameras.
  • Many instructors have found TechSmith Camtasia easier to learn and use than the campus-license Adobe Creative Suite, but you'll have to purchase your own license (about $100 per seat).

Video capture alternatives


  • “Video?” column: Y means captures live video of instructor IN ADDITION TO screencast (which is always captured).
  • “Use for” column: L means can be used to capture Live lectures, S means can be used to capture in a studio environment (eg your office)
  • “Postproduction” column: number of hours typically required to edit/postproduce each hour of lecture. This is the instructor's time unless otherwise noted.
Method Video? Use for Postproduction Dollar cost, 1 semester Hardware/software requirements Pros Cons
Green screen y L, S 6 h $5K see demo/description from CS10 AV team Looks amazing More effort-intensive postproduction
Screencast only L, S 1-2 h Screen capture software, microphone Simple and inexpensive No live video of instructor
Screencast + live video y S 1-2 h Screen capture software that also supports live capture, microphone Fairly simple and inexpensive, and includes some “face time” with you More moving parts you have to work with
Screencast in equipped lecture room 1-2 h $??K, Dept pays VGA output adapter for laptop Braindead simple and automatic; contact to arrange. Postproduction consists of cutting up long video capture into short segments. Current technology has mediocre video quality, being upgraded in 2013-2014; not all classrooms support; captures screen only

Who can help with capture and/or simple postproduction?

  • BRCOE has facilities for both and charges about $125/hour.
  • ESG has facilities for both. Please contact to arrange an estimate.
  • Giant (Cal's filmmaking club) and CalTV have students with capture and editing experience.
  • Advertise for a work-study student on Callisto.

Classrooms equipped with "Matterhorn" automatic lecture capture

The campus has about 55 classrooms equipped with lecture capture technology with the following capabilities:

Full list of capable classrooms and capabilities:

If your course is scheduled into one of UC Berkeley's capable classrooms you will be invited to participate in the webcast.berkeley program and may opt-in using the webcast approval tool (available on your bSpace course-site). After you've signed up your lectures will be scheduled to automatically record for the duration of thesemester. Simply plug in your laptop and turn on the lapel mic, and your screencasts will automatically appear on iTunes U and YouTube, and you can grab them yourself for postprocessing for MOOC use.

More information about Berkeley's webcast.berkeley program:

However, as of Fall 2012, all of these classrooms have outdated equipment that produce a capture of insufficient quality for MOOCS. In Spring 2013, ETS will be piloting the new Opencast Matterhorn system with a limited number of courses in 1 Pimentel. Contingent upon the results of this pilot, ETS plans to upgrade the capture hardware in the remaining 55 classrooms and fully transition to Matterhorn by Fall 2013. This should bring much needed improvement to the overall quality of the captures, especially screencasts, and allow those teaching in video capable classrooms to also select screencasting as an option (among other benefits, more to follow).

Live capture

If you choose to capture your 60 or 90 minute lecture 'live', you or someone else will need to post-produce the lecture to divide it up into 7-15 minute standalone segments with a self-assessment question accompanying each. The editing process is not difficult–it can be done in Camtasia by a bright undergraduate–but it takes some time and requires manipulating quite large files. On the other hand, if you carefully organize your lectures to be post-produced in this manner, it saves you from having to record separate content for a MOOC.

There are several ways to capture a live lecture:

  • To capture screencast only, you can just run Camtasia as described above during your lecture. In this case you'll probably want a wireless microphone to capture the audio, so you don't have to stand next to your computer during the whole lecture.
  • Various classrooms have built-in screencast capture technology; if your class is held in one of these, and you've arranged in advance with to capture your class, all you have to do is plug in your laptop and turn on the wireless mic that lives in each classroom so equipped.
    • Tip: Be warned that the capture quality in most classrooms is much lower than what you will get with either of the above options: roughly 640×480 at 1-2 frames per second. Motion video (eg, if showing a YouTube video) won't capture well. These rooms are due for an upgrade.
  • To capture screencast and live video, you must either lecture in a room equipped with a camera operators' booth and make capture arrangements with ETS. Again, postproduction will be necessary to mix the video and screencast streams.
  • You can also have a student stand in the back of the room with an HD camcorder. If you go this route, keep the following in mind:
    • You will need to make postproduction arrangements to mix the video and screencast streams together.
    • To preserve student privacy, inform students that you'll be recording the lecture and make sure that if they desire they can sit in places where their image will not appear on camera.
    • Give the option of turning off recording during discussions, since students may not want their voices on a public recording. (If your class is heavily discussion oriented, this may not work out.)
    • You will need to capture audio with a wireless mic – the HD camera mic will be too far away to do a good job. See above for suggested products. The Department may eventually have a pool of shared equipment you can borrow.


  • In Camtasia: be sure to export the video in 1280 x 720 mp4 format. You'll find this option under Export > Advanced Export.
  • ETS (TBD pointer to who to contact at ETS to make special capture arrangements)

"Full service" lecture capture facilitated by ETS

(This information comes from Ben Hubbard, interim CIO of ETS)

There are two main impediments to “full service” capture (in which you walk into the room and lecture, a professional camera/capture operator works in the camera booth in the lecture hall, and well-produced video magically appears on the Internet afterward).

  • The rooms with camera operator booths are equipped with only Standard Def (SD) cameras, whereas the world is moving to High Def (HD) and all the major MOOC players expect HD video. (The one exception is 245 Li Ka Shing, which has HD capability.)
  • The current ETS service model is chargeback-based. The estimated cost would be about $16k per course. If shot in 245 Li Ka Shing, this cost would include basic postproduction and/or production of two separate video streams (screencast + HD live video). In any other camera-booth-equipped room, you would get just an SD video stream and would have to capture your own screencast, and any postproduction would cost extra. We are exploring ways to provide better and more cost-effective full-service capture.

"Green Screen" capture (live or studio)

(This method is courtesy Prof. Dan Garcia, who developed it for capturing his CS10 lectures, and his undergraduate student Michael Ball. The method can be used for both in-office pre-recording of lectures and live lecture capture.)

In this setup, you capture a live or in-office lecture while standing or sitting in front of a low-budget “green screen”. Video production software is then used to superimpose your green-screened image over your lecture slides (or whatever was on your laptop screen).

The estimated labor cost is about $5K for a one-semester course; a good undergraduate can easily handle the production work.

The executive summary of how it works is:

  • Simultaneously capture live video (with an HD video camera) and the output of your laptop (with screencast software; see below)
  • If recording in a live environment, may need to separately capture audio (eg through a lapel mic)
  • In postproduction, use software with greenscreening facilities to overlay yourself on top of screen capture

Here's an example of the possible results:

Here's a detailed equipment and procedure list for this method.

Pre-Recording Your Lectures Without Green Screen

Screencast capture refers to capturing what's on your laptop screen (or what's being emitted from its video output port) along with audio. There are various ways to do this.

  • Capturing only PowerPoint + spoken audio. You can record directly while in slideshow mode if you have a mic plugged into your computer, by following these instructions.
  • Capturing whatever is on your computer screen, which may include other stuff besides PowerPoint. Camtasia for Mac or Windows captures everything happening on the screen, plus audio, and can also capture input from your computer's webcam.
  • Capturing what's on your computer screen AND a video feed. Camtasia handles this case too, using either your computer's built-in Webcam or a standalone USB camera. Camtasia lets you switch back and forth between screen capture and video feed while recording, and even superimpose the video as a “picture-in-picture talking head”, though tips from our colleagues suggest that it's more compelling to alternate between live video and slides.
  • Slides, Audio and Video Feed on a Mac (details). Camtasia works better on Windows, but is definitely usable on a Mac. I (Ravi) use a Yeti microphone (from Pieter Abbeel), a Wacom Cintiq 12WX tablet (suggested by Pieter) and a MacBook Pro internal camera. Unlike Windows, Camtasia on a Mac does not run the tablet at 1280×720 natively, only 1280×800. Note that there's a fairly inexpensive product called “SwitchResX” which will let you set your tablet to 1280×720 on a mac. They sell site licenses as well. I actually open my powerpoint presentations in “Browse in Window” mode and maximize, then create a custom Camtasia window of size 1280×720 for capture (Camtasia remembers settings so this is only done once). The other Mac issue is the pen is harder to change settings for; I just use the mouse and menus to do so, editing out the relevant segments later; I've never changed pen colors though this is possible. I set the quality and output settings to output 1280×720 HD video. I save video and audio, and use Camtasia to share onto my YouTube channel. I use COGI (suggested by Dan Garcia) for captioning, followed by a student editing to correct technical terms etc. Using captions and interactive transcripts on YouTube greatly increases search engine visibility, and makes things more accessible (foreign countries, disabilities). I have a student edit the lectures (I did the first couple, and always make the final pass), mainly just chopping out parts to make it shorter, and moving the “talking head” to appropriate regions of the screen where it is not obscured. My lectures can be browsed on my youtube channel at and there is a website with organized videos:
  • Note that many people have had good success with Screenflow for Mac, which seems like a good alternative to Camtasia, and has been around much longer than Camtasia 2 for Mac. (Camtasia 1 for mac was unusably bad.)

Various other software and hardware products besides the below may work; however, to simplify training and support, EECS at least will likely be standardizing on the following:

  • Camtasia for Mac (we're looking into a volume license, but it's only $99)
  • For the live video capture, you can either use your laptop's built-in webcam or a standalone camera.
    • Use the built-in webcam and capture directly into Camtasia.
    • Use a separate USB webcam and capture directly into Camtasia. To do this, make sure the webcam is one supported by Camtasia; not all models are. TBD suggest a specific model.
    • Use a separate standalone webcam and import the MP4 clip into Camtasia. The inexpensive and easy-to-use Flip Ultra HD is OK for capturing audio and video “close up” (it has no zoom, and an adequate built-in mic), then plug it into USB port and just drag the MP4 file into your Camtasia project.
  • BlueYeti microphone, plugs into USB port. The mics built into your laptop and most webcams aren't good enough.
    • Note that good mics are sensitive to picking up sounds from thumping on the table, etc., so if you're prone to this you may also want a stand and shockmount (Blue makes one for this mic). TBD: link to product info on Amazon or elsewhere
  • Optional: Wacom Cintiq 12WX tablet, if you want to “write on” your screen while it's displaying PowerPoint or other material. TBD: apparently this is not optimal for Mac use. Identify a tablet that would be.
  • Optional: COGI for captioning. Of course, substantial manual checking/correction (e.g. by a course assistant) will be necessary, especially for technical terms. (If your course has backend support from EdX, they will take care of all captioning.) TBD link to software info

Various other software and hardware products besides the below may work; however, to simplify training and support, EECS at least will likely be standardizing on the following:

  • TBD someone who has used Windows please fill in this list.

Where to store your lecture videos

While you can post these on any public YouTube channel, you might get greater visibility by also featuring the lectures on the UCBerkeley channel.

Once you've prepared lectures (with transcripts in my case), contact Richard Bloom, webcast administrator at ETS. You will likely need to ask a student to work with him to upload the lectures (this only took us a couple of hours).

For example:

Screen capture software choices

  • Camtasia
  • Final Cut Pro
  • Adobe Creative Suite (campus has a site license)
capture.txt · Last modified: 2018/02/28 17:02 (external edit)