Lecture Capture – technologies

There are many technologies that can be used to record lectures, and this page outlines some of the options available (or being considered) at the University of Southampton.

Audio only (MP3)

You can record (and edit) audio using free software called Audacity. It takes about one minute to install it on a bench PC in a Common Learning Space room and another 30 seconds to start recording. You will need to plug in a low-cost wired tie-clip microphone (£10) or use a more sensitive (and expensive) wide-area microphone (£40). At the end of the lecture, save your recording to your filestore or a USB drive. Later, back in your office, you can reload the file into Audacity, carry out any editing and processing required, and  export the final version as an MP3 file.

An alternative is to use a stand-alone MP3 recorder, such as a Sony ICD-UX71, which is around £70.  This has built-in stereo mics so you just start recording and leave it on the lecturn, or if you like to walk around while lecturing you can keep it in your pocket by using an add-on tie-clip mic (£20).  It has a USB connector, so you can just plug it in to your PC to transfer the file. You can load this file into Audacity for editing and processing, then save it under a new filename.

The MP3 file can be uploaded as a standard Blackboard ‘Item’ or using the special Podcast LX option. If you use the latter, all your podcasts will be listed on a special page and students will be able to subscribe to them so that new ‘episodes’ (lectures) are automatically downloaded by their media player (e.g. Windows Media Player or iTunes).

Students will be able to listen again to the lecture and refer to the slides (which you also made available on Blackboard) provided you use slide numbers and say things like “moving on to slide 7” while you lecture.

This method is  low cost, but requires some tutor effort to record, edit and upload the MP3 file. If a student is having trouble with the concepts explained on slides 7 and 8, they cannot easily find the audio that goes with those slides.


One solution to the problem above is to use Synote, a web-based service that enables students to add markers that identify specific points in  audio and video recordings. Each marker (a ‘synmark’ ) can include notes, and selecting a synmark from the list jumps you straight to that point in the recording. Students can choose to share synmarks with other students, thus reducing the burden of identifying key points in a recorded lecture.

Synote is being developed by Mike Wald (Electronics and Computer Science) with funding from JISC, and you can access the service at www.synote.org

Narrated PowerPoint slides

If all you want to create are narrated PowerPoints, then this option is free, easy to use and built into PowerPoint (just choose Record Narration from the Slideshow menu). You need to plug a microphone into the PC – for example a tie-clip mic on a long cable in a lecture theatre or a USB headset in your office. Set the audio quality to ‘radio’ before you start recording and remember to pause speaking for a moment before and after you change slides. Save the file with its narrations to your filestore or a USB drive at the end of the lecture and upload it to Blackboard later that day.

Note that narrated slides take about 2.5 MB/minute, so a 40 minute lecture is a 100MB file. The file size could be a problem for students since they need to download the whole file and open it in PowerPoint before they can view it, and 100MB takes a couple of minutes on a broadband connection.

Adobe Presenter

If you want to create high-quality self-study resources based around scripted and narrated PowerPoint slides, Adobe Presenter is an excellent tool that produces these as a compact PDF file. An educational  licence costs around £70. Advantages over a standard narrated PowerPoint include smaller file size, better navigation, greater student control while studying (e.g. pause, rewind) and the ability to include other documents and web links in the package.

Stand-alone screen-capture software (e.g. Camtasia Studio)

Screen-recorder software does what it says on the can; it records audio narration plus everything shown on the screen such as PowerPoint slides, PDF and Word documents, software such as SPSS or AutoCAD and of course anything viewed using a web browser. This is much more flexible and educationally useful than ‘PowerPoint only’. The downside is that you need the software installed on the PC and this means using your laptop (what do you mean you don’t have one?). Costs range from zero for the  free open-source CamStudio to around £120 for an educational licence for Camtasia Studio.

Again a microphone needs to be plugged in to the PC; a tie-clip mic on a long cable in a lecture theatre or a USB headset in your office. Begin recording at the start of the lecture and save the file at the end. Back in your office, carry out any editing required, export the recording as an MP4 video and upload it to Blackboard. Actually a better option is to upload it to a proper streaming media server and add a link to that file from Blackboard, since Blackboard isn’t designed to simultaneously stream videos to lots of students and performance for everyone will suffer as use of videos increases.

Encoding a 40-minute lecture will keep your PC fully occupied for  awhile, so it is best to set it going over lunch, for example. The file size is still about 2.5 MB/min, but because it is a streaming media file, students can start watching it as soon as they click on the link.

The software enables fairly sophisticated editing of the recording; you can remove parts and smooth the joins, add titles and graphic annotations and import and include other audio, images and video.

Networked screen-capture software (e.g. Camtasia Relay)

This is a simplified and automated version of the stand-alone screen-capture software described above. The advantage is that a site-licence is provided, so the software can be installed on every PC,  Mac and laptop used in teaching rooms and offices. Starting a recording is simpler; simply start the software, log in and click to go. At the end of the lecture, click to stop, adjust the start and end points if required and click the Publish button. Your recording is sent to a server to be encoded and is the automatically published to a streaming media server and a link is added to the appropriate Blackboard course.

You can make ad-hoc recordings not associated with a specific course if you wish, and record away from the Internet (using a laptop on a field trip, for example) and publish it later. If you need to carry out sophisticated editing, you can load your recording into a stand-alone copy of Camtasia Studio.

Dedicated lecture capture systems (e.g. Echo 360)

These hardware-based systems capture everything sent to the data projector in a lecture room – note that this is different to screen capture as it will also capture output from the visualiser and DVD player if used. Capture rates are typically 5 frames a second, so video from the PC or DVD will be jerky. The system also captures audio and video of the tutor – typically from a wireless tie-clip mic and a ceiling-mounted camera. The video is not high enough resolution to see what the tutor is writing on the whiteboard, so tutors will need to write on paper under the visualiser or use a SmartBoard if they want to capture this aspect of their lectures.

Again the system is automated; the recording is automatically sent to a server to be encoded and published, with links added from a Blackboard course. As well as ad-hoc recordings, it is possible to schedule recordings (e.g. 10.00 – 10.50 in room 32/1007) so all the tutor needs to do is turn up, put on the wireless mic and start teaching, then remove the wireless mic at the end of the lecture and put it back in its secure storage box  ready for the next tutor to use.

There is a web-based editor that enables them (later, at their convenience) to tidy up the start and end points of the lecture and remove any parts they don’t wish to include in the published recording.


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