September 7, 2018

Active Presenter: A Complete Solution for the Production of Video Tutorials

This text was initially published by Profweb under a CC BY-NC-ND 4.0 International licence, before Eductive was launched.

I have been producing video tutorials for several years, for all the courses I teach. Over time, I have used different software (JingPro, Camtasia, Screencast-O-Matic, etc.). When I heard about Active Presenter, I watched some tutorials on the official YouTube channel. I found that this software is very complete, even in its free version, and allows me to vary my teaching styles. The channel also allowed me to learn quickly and independently and exploit many interesting features to record my videos.

The Benefits of Video Tutorials

From the first year I started producing video tutorials, I noticed that students gained several benefits, including:

  • Memorizing concepts more quickly, which made it easier for them to complete assignments and exams.
  • Supporting learning among international students (they told me that they watched the capsules several times by doing the exercises again in class to improve their understanding).
  • Developing autonomy and resourcefulness to carry out their work, as well as commitment to their studies.
  • Gaining time if they were absent from class; watching the tutorials outside of the classroom allowed them to have access to the concepts taught in class and to do their exercises during the week, to catch up with their group the next class.
  • Improving their success rate on exams, because the capsules become a valuable tool for revision (especially for repeat exams).
  • Obtaining remote troubleshooting quickly during classroom contingencies that prevent them from doing the requested task.

I also noticed several advantages for teachers:

  • Standardization of teaching methods to facilitate learning among our students.
  • Decrease in the number of classroom troubleshooting requests, appointments and email exchanges.
  • Reduced preparation time for new teachers (training tool).
  • Standardization of specific guidelines to be respected (title page, bibliographic references, list of references, page numbering, etc.).
  • Remote support (accessible at all times) to facilitate the integration of new faculty and supply teachers who may have little time to prepare a class.

A Few Teaching and Learning Strategies Involving Video Tutorials

In one of the courses I teach in a flipped learning format, the level of computer literacy is very different from one person to another. My students complete a weekly step-by-step training exercise with a tutorial that I made to measure, to allow them to be better prepared for the next class.

I focus initially on learning objectives so that they understand their value and become aware of the importance of doing these exercises to prepare for summative evaluations. I give them an estimated time for watching the tutorial and performing the exercise, so they can plan it in their schedule.

As for my in-class teaching and learning strategies for the following classes, I reintegrate the notions of my tutorials into new exercises where the context is different, in order to transfer the students’ knowledge and insight and also to consolidate in-class participation rates. This has paid off, since by asking them to perform the operations for the first time in their preparatory exercise, I noticed that my students memorize the visual and the location of the buttons in the software more quickly; teaching is thus simplified.

For students who are less comfortable with computers, I noticed that my tutorials make them more confident and motivated in class, because they manage to do the exercises at my pace after having practised at home.

The Active Presenter Environment

In Active Presenter, I have imported a PowerPoint presentation to introduce myself, to add the list of points that will be covered in the tutorial (the learning objectives), in addition to the standards to be respected for the completion of the task, which also have to be mastered on assignments and exams.

In Active Presenter, I can change the text and location of text boxes on slides, but it’s a long process because the layout is not perfect after you import the slides into the software. I prefer to save each slide in jpg format and import the resulting images into Active Presenter to save time with the layout. I have kept my PowerPoint presentation in case I have to make changes and updates in the future, because I can easily make these changes to the desired location without completely repeating the tutorial.

Active Presenter Interface, showing an imported PowerPoint Presentation

Then, I completed my presentation with new slides to incorporate short videos where I filmed my operations on the screen to show the buttons and steps to accomplish the task at hand. It is also possible to include screenshots, as well as .mp4 and YouTube videos.

I noticed that some of my students only looked at the pictures in the tutorial (without the sound) in class, because they did not always have their headphones on hand. To solve this problem, I always add slides to explain the concepts of the tutorial in writing and I use the tooltips, as well as the captioning function in Active Presenter to offer complete explanations (while reducing troubleshooting requests).

The software offers several features that increase the efficiency of the production of video tutorials:

  • Recording sound independently on each slide to simplify changes and updates to the audio track.
  • Editing with other images, shapes, and effects to help guide students on-screen. It is possible to change the appearance of the slider to make it more visible, zoom and spotlight on a specific place to focus on an item, add the cursor path to the screen, add new items that appear and disappear on the screen after explanations are complete, speed up or slow down a video clip, add subtitles, etc.
  • Cutting video and sound to eliminate imperfections.
  • Interactivity, since Active Presenter allows to make an interactive quiz (multiple-choice, true / false, etc.) and to insert a space where I can ask the student to perform an easy task, directly inside a slide in the tutorial, before going to the next step (for example, I can ask students to enter a number in a cell of an Excel spreadsheet before showing them how to create the formula).

Production example of a screenshot containing Spot effects available from the Annotation tab

Once the tutorial is finished, I save it and export it in the mp4 video format. I can then import it easily into YouTube and distribute the URL to my students or on a website.

It may also be interesting to use Stream instead of YouTube. This software is included in the Office 365 suite. It allows you to create a channel containing all video clips and control access to them, as well as centralize course content in the same environment. There are also other export formats, as shown in the screenshot below. Unlike other programs such as Screencast-O-Matic , Active Presenter does not insert a logo by default at the bottom of the video. I keep both my original Active Presenter files as well as my final tutorial in mp4 format by saving them on my computer. It is better to compress the files because they are large!

Overview of the Export tab

Is Active Presenter Always the Best Choice?

Active Presenter is definitely the software program I prefer. I have been using it for a year to produce all my tutorials, whose duration is about 5 minutes (custom tutorials related to homework are longer, between 15 and 30 minutes). As I have created several tutorials, I have standardized presentation formats using the same PowerPoint theme, the same colours and fonts to get a professional and consistent result. Of course, this requires an important time investment from the teacher, since the planning, recording (including a practice run and sound tests), as well as the production of a video tutorial can take between 5 and 10 hours in total. It is better to first conceive a strategy, to plan and schedule the work to be done and to write a scenario to facilitate the recording of the tutorials and especially, to save time.

About the author

Caroline Demers

Caroline Demers has been teaching Office Systems Technology at Cégep Garneau for about 10 years. She has also held a position as a digital pedagogy advisor at the Bureau de la mise en oeuvre du Plan d’action numérique. She holds a college degree in Office Systems Technology and a graduate degree in College Education (MIPEC), which has enabled her to acquire digital competency, project management skills and versatility. She is currently studying in educational technology. In addition to knowing how to target the needs and pedagogical potential of ICTs, she exploits them optimally by integrating them into different active pedagogical approaches in order to facilitate learning and collaborative work, with the objective of making them a real added value for students and teachers. Caroline likes to share her expertise by advising, training and guiding her peers, as well as by working as part of a team on different innovative digital projects.

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