Camtasia…tentative steps into the world of movie making

Name: Camtasia (version 7)
Cost: $100+ (there is a student version for a reduced price); 30-day trial available
Type: Download (you might be able to purchase a CD version for student use)
Rating: 3/5

 

Camtasia logoThere is something addictive about the ability to create a movie (video). Perhaps it’s a generation thing, as I remember the early days of the Internet, prior to YouTube. I never delude myself in believing that I’ll make real movies/animations, with a moving or compelling storyline. But, I do like the power of mixing text, audio, graphics, and movement. I teach online, so I’m often teaching synchronous sessions with audio and slide presentations. This made it easy for me to transition into video making with Camtasia, where I could combine my slides with audio and transitions. Camtasia also allows for screen capture video recording, so I can record my screen actions (e.g., showing students how to upload their assignment) and add it to a longer presentation with other graphics, audio, and text. The screen capture feature has more clarity than Jing, but Jing is free. I use Audacity to first record my audio files, which can be added individually to the movie during the development process.

Goal: A robust tool to combine graphics (e.g., PPT slide JPG), screen capture videos, audio clips, and transitions. I also wanted to add overlays to the video content, such as an arrow cued up to sync with audio or other highlighting methods.

Camtasia workspace 1

This is the workspace that you’ll see before adding files to work with.

Benefits:

  • Does not require Internet access since it’s software on my PC, thus increasing software stability during editing
  • It is intuitive as long as you know how to work with a timeline when editing video content. Drag and drop to add content, with icons for other features of the tool
  • Provides all the necessary files for editing in Camtasia and then uploading to YouTube; it even creates a screen shot of the first moments of the video in case YouTube doesn’t get it right when choosing the video still image (i.e., what you see before clicking Play).
  • There are tutorial videos on the software’s website.
  • There are “stock” background music and other options to add to your presentation.

Drawbacks:

  • It can’t embed links that work on YouTube. If I upload the video to my Screencast account, which has limited free storage, the links will work; but, users need Silverlight loaded in order to view the video (which isn’t usually a problem, but YouTube is more accessible). I’ve tried work arounds, but they are messy. YouTube and Camtasia need to work out their compatibility issues, or I need to see if posting to a different website is the solution (e.g. Vimeo). Camtasia 8 has not addressed these issues.
  • The timeline can be a little quirky to work with when trying to edit video screen captures and audio. I cannot seem to break the screen capture video if I want to pause it or slow it down at a certain point. [The work around I use to to add the clip twice, cut/delete portions of the video, add a jpg (e.g., screenshot) between the cuts, and then edit the videos as needed. Without transitions, the clipped videos are seamless to the audience this way.]
  • I tried a stop-motion video with hundreds of photos and the software continually crashed, to the point I gave up. I tried researching the error message, but didn’t get satisfactory responses. After spending hours taking photos of “moving” letters, I was too frustrated to figure out the software any further.
  • Very limited shape animations (e.g., arrow) are available. I could get around this by recording my PPT as a video with animations, but editing the captured video is cumbersome, so I have to rely on the software’s stock animations (e.g., appearance of an arrow or box). Free Internet tools have significantly more options to “slide” graphics/text on to the screen.

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BagTheWeb…best way to bag bookmarks

Name: BagTheWeb
Cost: Free
Type: Internet tool
Rating: 5/5

 

BagTheWeb LogoIf you still bookmark webpages, then this is a good way to ease into the modern era of social bookmarking. I’m going to skip all the technical jargon and break it down. So, bookmarks are typically saved to your computer and you need to be on that computer in order to access your bookmarks, and unless you’ve been hacked, you can’t share those bookmarks except by pasting them into an email or social network post. [Yes, for those very bright users out there, some web browsers allow you to set up a cloud account to access bookmarks and settings anywhere you log in.] I often come across articles that I feel might interest students who are choosing topics for my Composition II course, so I wanted a way to easily capture the dozens of websites I find in a semester and share them with students. I didn’t want students to have to log into anything or even need special knowledge figure out how to access the shared web addresses. I also wanted the list to be up to date every time they access the collection of links, even after they finish the course. Thus, BagTheWeb was my answer in 2012 and I still use it. [Note: Yes, I’m hunting for better options and will post my findings to my blog eventually.]

Goal: easy way to capture Internet addressed of websites for students to easily scroll through

BagTheWeb Workspace view 1

After creating a bag, this is what it looks like, though only you can add or modify links

Benefits:

  • Once the account is set up, the “bagging” is easy, especially with the tool bar button. (When on a website you want to save, there is a toolbar button that opens a box allowing you to choosing the “bag” to put the website under.)
  • Once you’ve created a bag, you can use social media buttons to share it.
  • It’s automatically set to open the clicked link within a bag in a new tab, so users aren’t taken away from the bag when opening a link.

Drawbacks:

  • If choosing to have the videos load in the list, it delays the loading of the entire list (so the screen skips around a bit).
  • It isn’t as popular as other methods of sharing Internet research, such as Pinterest or Zotero, which is not the fault of the tool, but may impact your “cool” factor with students.
  • The page listing the websites is a bit cluttered and unattractive. Not a big deal for me, but I’m trying to get students to read through the suggested sites and click those of interest.
  • Further sorting or organization within a bag is not possible.
  • Firefox and the BagTheWeb browser button are quirky, where you click the browser button to bring up the dialogue box to save the website, and the box either doesn’t load all the way or won’t go away when you’re done. Wired.com generally doesn’t play well with the BagTheWeb browser button.

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Piktochart….charting with fewer numbers and more graphics [updated]

Cost: Free (limited options)
Type: Internet tool
Rating: 4/5

Picktochart LogoI love the infographic trend! Okay, I’m a little behind since that trend has been around for a several years, but since infographics often are based on numbers, it took me a while to understand them since I’m an English major. Granted, infographics can be used for evil, especially on unsuspecting English majors who have to do math in order to figure out if the statistics are even logical. But, I still think they’re cool and I want to make them myself. Actually, my quest did not begin with the idea of making an infographic (again, because I don’t want to deal with numbers), but rather the need to create one-page newsletters and cheat sheets that are visually appealing. I tried using a table in Word to create a newsletter that I could swap information in and out of like a template…yeah, tragic. Then, I moved on to Scribus (think InDesign or Publisher desktop publishing)…yep, epic fail. But, Piktochart lets me create a streamlined and interesting looking one-page newsletter without much fail or epic involved.

Piktochart view

After logging in, you can choose the type of document you want to create and then the template.

Goal: create a one-page newsletter like document to briefly review the unit’s highlights

Benefits:

  • I only partially paid attention to the brief tutorial, and was still able to figure the tool out.
  • As you maneuver textboxes and graphics around your workspace, guidelines appear so you can easily line each feature up prior to placing it. (e.g., all icons can be lined up in a row)
  • Great selection of backgrounds, graphics, and icons to choose from (even in the free version)

Drawbacks:

  • The phrasing of some of the tools and features is a little confusing. E.g., adding a “block” is adding a whole new page, whereas I think of block as a textbox or module on the page
  • Some of the TEXT FRAME options are really interesting, but you can’t edit the color or font size for most.
  • You can’t make text changes to single words in a textbox…it’s either all bold or not at all. It’s also single-space.
  • PNG and JPG are the only file download options, unless you “level up” (i.e., pay), then you can download as a PDF….I have Adobe Acrobat Pro, so I can convert the JPG to a PDF
  • I can’t seem to reuse my completed projects as templates for new projects. Right now, I’m just cloning a page to appear at the end of the document; when I download the whole JPG, I can download each page (block) as separate files.

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Gimp…limping along without Photoshop

Name: Gimp
Cost: Free
Type: Software (download)
Rating: 3/5

GIMP logoWho doesn’t love Photoshop? It’s a candy store of brushes, textures, tools, and features. You get lightheaded when just thinking about the amazing changes you can make to your non-impressive photos from the zoo or beach. In fact, you get so lightheaded that you fall forward and crack your skull on your desk so that you don’t even notice how much the software costs. (If you are familiar with the costs of Adobe CC, then you may need a second concussion to truly not feel that financial pain.) Personally, I didn’t want the concussion or any other form of pain, so I sought out software that had the same qualities of Photoshop, but cheaper. Like, “free” sort of cheaper. GIMP answers that need. If I were a professional photographer or graphic designer, then I don’t think GIMP would be enough. When starting out with editing my first photos, I didn’t need a “candy store,” but rather the “candy aisle” of options to crop, remove backgrounds, and adjust lighting.

Disclaimer: I need to be honest at this point. I caved recently and purchased Photoshop Elements. I can’t even give you a good reason other than it was bundled with Premiere Elements, which is the software I really wanted. While I’m still learning Photoshop Elements (and there is a lot to learn), I don’t think I’ll go back to using GIMP unless I’m on my laptop, which doesn’t have Photoshop Elements installed on it. With this in mind, GIMP does have a newer version than what the screen captures show, but it’s essentially the same features a previous versions.

GIMP Workspace view

This is what GIMP basically looks like as you start editing a photo.

Goal: find free photo editing software that goes beyond just creative textures and cropping.

Benefits:

  • Did I mention it’s FREE?
  • It is fairly intuitive, especially since all the tools can be made visible on the tool bar so that you don’t have to go digging through menus or clicking other icons. (Some tools are buried, but the useful ones are visible.)
  • You can export the file as JPG, PNG, or other common file types.

Drawbacks:

  • No in-software guidance. (Yeah, this would be asking a lot of free software that has a variety of features.) You’re left on your own to figure out the tools and what they do to a graphic, though there are plenty of free tutorials, including ones on the GIMP site.
  • It takes a few seconds to startup after you click the software icon. Not a big deal, just have to be patient.
  • It doesn’t allow for editing RAW photo files. This is a big deal for avid photographers. You can convert the file, as described by Kat, in “RAW Photos with GIMP.”

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Random Tip #3: Google Image Search

I’m not sure how this tip would best serve my blog’s audience, as I used it in specific situations that turned out to make my life a bit easier. I will share the tip and then my story so that you can ignore the narrative if you don’t care how to use the tip.

Google Images screen 1I’m a Google groupie. I know there are other search engines out there, but Google has always worked for me. I’m preparing for when Google actually takes over the world, and then I can honestly say that I was there in the beginning of it all. I especially like the ability to search for images based on the characteristics of an image I already have. In other words, if I have a photo of the Eiffel Tower, but I want to see other images that are like the one I have, then I can do an image search with my image.

Once you get to the Google Images search screen, just click the camera icon in the search box. You can paste a URL for the website with the image that you want to base your search from or you can upload an image you have already saved to your computer. The search will yield “matching” photos and then you can access the websites that host those photos by clicking on the found image and clicking the “visit page” button. You can do pretty much the same search method with the Google app….snap a photo and search Google images. Google image search options

That’s it. That’s my tip. If you’re wondering why you should care, then here are three scenarios to consider:

  1. Imagine that you went to Chicago Botanic Garden and took 500 photos of a variety of flowers, trees, bushes, grass, and children running around unsupervised. While there may be posted signs for much of the vegetation (not the children), not everything will be marked or you may not notice the signs. When you get home and sort through your 500 photos, there is one amazing shot of a flower that you don’t recognize. Bring in Google Image search. This is not foolproof, since your photo needs to be similar to other photos uploaded to the Internet, but sometimes it works.
  2. Many years ago, I did not model good “citing” behavior by writing citations for graphics I included in PowerPoint presentations. Now, I’m a more responsible adult and will build citations for graphics I use in lecture presentations (well…okay, I am more likely to do this in courses that I teach citation formats in). I had a very cool World Wildlife Fund PSA graphic that I couldn’t seem to track down with a regular Google search. I used the original graphic from my old presentation and found the graphic on several different websites. I didn’t find the original WWF version, but I had enough information to build a citation for the graphic.
  3. Imagine you’re sitting in a local restaurant and a friend notices a poster on the wall that looks like Chicago (or wherever). You and everyone at your table spend the next 10 minutes arguing if the view is in fact Chicago. While they’re arguing, just take out your smartphone, take a photo of the poster, open the Google search app, and search for the image using the photo you just took. Then, continue eating your meal until you can’t handle the drama of “IT’S CHICAGO! NO IT ISN’T!” and then reveal your findings.

Animoto….putting my ideas in motion

Name: Animoto
Cost: Free (for 30-second videos)….Free “unlimited time” for educators!!
Type: Internet tool
Rating: 5/5

 

Animoto logoI’m a fan of trailers….not the mobile kind, but the movie kind. I like that the movie trailer breaks down the main concepts into very brief visual flashes set to music. Well made trailers capture your attention even more than the opening scene of the movie (and sometimes the trailer is the only good part of the movie). To me, Animoto, gives me the tools to create these brief presentations of information that are visually engaging. The tool provides a theme with an interesting background throughout the video, but then you add the graphics and text to interact with the theme. Like a movie trailer, I have to edit down my ideas to just the highlights, which is more of a challenge that using the tool itself.

Goal: create short, movie-trailer type of video that is visually engaging

Animoto themes

Here is a view of some of the available themes you can start with.

Benefits:

  • The tutorial makes it look pretty simple to get started, as long as your focus is on graphics (not text).
  • Free music is available; suggestions are provided based on the chosen theme
  • Educators get a FREE version that includes more templates and a longer video length

Drawbacks:

  • The preview of the templates does not give a clear indication of how text would work with the theme, as the preview is for a photo gallery presentation.
  • Each slide cannot have it’s own “time frame” (e.g., 5 second pause for one slide and 10 seconds for a different slide).

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