Teaching videos for maths

The biggest obstacle for adoption of e-learning is to find and learn a set of tools, software and hardware, which does the job. This post is a simple account of a satisfactory approach I took on a mac.



One of the most popular tools to record teaching videos is Camtasia from TechSmith. There are several tools in the Camtasia family. Personally, I tested out Camtasia for Mac. It provides two separate features in one tool. It is both a video recorder and a video editor,

Camtasia can record two synchronised video streams, one recording the screen view (screencast) and one recording from a webcam. A typical use would combine

  • A screencast of a PDF viewer with slides. Like most researchers in mathematics and computing I create my slides using LaTeX and beamer, but it really does not matter what tool you use to create them. Camtasia records whatever is on the screen.
  • A webcam recorder of the speaker’s face.

Once the recording is complete, one has to use the video editor. As a minimum, one has to figure out how to combine the screencast with the webcam recording. Maybe a small picture of the speaker on top of a full-screen screencast. This is straight-forward, with only one trick to remember. If one wants to change the layout, say moving the webcam image from one corner to another, during the video, one has to split the recording into shorter clips.

The video editor has many features which might take time to learn to use, and definately will take time to make useful. However, some useful operations are easy to adopt even for one with no particular interest in video editing. Sections can be removed, for instance if a mistake was made in the speech. Different clips can also be spliced. If you discover an error in the slides midway in the talk, you can abort, update the slide, and start over from them corrected slide. The new recording can be spliced with the first one in the editor.

In short, it takes little effort to get started with Camtasia software, and it does the job. If you are a happy mac user to start with, I think you will find it very good.

Some things annoy me, though. It does crash occasionally, and I had to give up using an external USB webcam, as I tended to lose contact withit midway in the recording. Rendering, or export, of the final video is a very slow process, and it would be much more comfortable if that could be done in batch and in the background, without blocking the GUI for the next recording.

Back to the Blackboard

However simple, the slide and webcam video is not necessarily the a very effective approach to mathematics. For starters, my students complained that the webcam image was more distracting than useful. I ended up with using a single screencast stream for the videos.

More importantly, maths teachers rarely use slides. Mathematics is a tricky thought process, and we need the students to follow as the argument develops. Therefore, we love the blackboard. Let the students follow as the ideas develop on the board. How can we effectively bring the blackboard approach on-line?

It is, of course, possible to use the web-cam to record the blackboard in a regular classrom, but it is not easy to get a good recording. It works best if the room is permanently rigged for the purpose. Quite doable if the instituation will make the investment, but difficult for individual initiatives. I found a different solution for my own part.

  • A Wacom Cintiq 13 HD is a screen (HDMI) with a stylus to allow you to draw directly on the screen. At about US$ 1000, or about 8000 NOK in this country, it is not cheap, but neither is it unreasonable.
  • Skim is PDF viewer and annotator. You can display your PDF slides and make handwritten notes on top. Skim is free to use.

Camtasia can still record the PDF view, while I am drawing thereon. This is a very flexible solution. I can have full slides, using the pen simply to highlight items as I speak. At the opposite extreme, I can start with blank slides, just like an empty blackboard. Or questions may be typed on the slide, with answers and notes added by hand. Or a typed slide at the end can summarise pages of handwritten solutions and proofs. I am still experimenting.

I am not entirely happy with Skim. To change drawing tool or colour, one has to search through menus. In another post, I will discuss xournal, and which gives me both tool and colour pallets on screen. Although I have only used xournal on linux, it appears to be available on Mac OS X as well.


At the end of the day, I don’t think Camtasia (for Mac) is sufficient to make useful teaching videos, at least not in mathematics. Combined with a cintiq and PDF annotation software like Skim, it is a good working solution. The cintiq is certainly well worth the investment.

I shall get back to why I rejected both Camtasia and the Mac for video teaching in another post. If you are otherwise a happy Mac user, you will probably not agree with my reasons.

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2 Responses to Teaching videos for maths

  1. Josh Britt says:

    Hi, I am thinking about going to the i Mac, but the major drawback is the ability to do live screen-cast with the maths like I do on the wacom DTU 1031 and the Microsoft surface pro. I am looking for a similar software like windows journal for the mac. Windows Journal is really amazing. Take a look at my youtube site to see how I do my videos.


    • Hans Georg Schaathun says:

      Xournal is the open-source alternative to Windows Journal, if I understand correctly. I am not familiar with Journal, but I am very happy with Xournal under linux. I have never installed it on Mac OS, but I do believe it should work.

      After my brief spell with Camtasia, Skim, and the Wacom Cintiq on Mac OS, I swapped Mac OS for Linux, Camtasia for ffmpeg + openshot, and skim for xournal. It has made me much happier.

      Maybe you should just try Xournal as a replacement for Journal in your current setup. If it works, switching to Mac OS should not change much.

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