Pixton…look out Calvin & Hobbes!

Name: Pixton
Cost: Free, Free Trial (Subscription $90/year)
Type: Internet Tool
Rating: 3/5

 

pixton logoDo you talk to yourself? Sometimes that’s the best way to have a meaningful conversation. As someone who dabbles in creative writing, I know the value of a short, engaging dialog to generate and share ideas. For several years now, I’ve wanted to share information with students via scripted dialog, which can be funny and insightful. Creating animated videos seems like a natural approach to creating dialog between characters, but animations are generally time consuming to create, even with tools that help you along with templates. Pixton allows me to create comics without needing to worry about timing the video correctly. The images are static, like a comic strip, graphic novel, storyboard, or poster. I believe I’m pretty funny with my comics, though I’m just hoping students think the graphics are different enough to pay attention.

Goal: carry on a dialog in a hypothetical situation in order to give my audience information they probably didn’t know they wanted to know

Pixton workspace 1

This is a combination of the views you go through when choosing characteristics of your comic.

Benefits:

  • Variety of backgrounds, characters, and character movements to work with. The background you choose will determine the characters you’re offered.
  • Contests are promoted so that comics can be voted into popularity, which might be enticing for student projects.
  • Buttons are “hidden” until you click a relevant object in your comic. If you select a character, then the buttons for changing movement or the look of the character. So, there aren’t dozens of buttons to sort through when you don’t need them.
  • There are tutorial videos, though there’s a note that the buttons and icons in the videos might be out of date. I found the tutorials helpful in generating ideas since this is not a form that I’m very familiar with.
  • I think it’s pretty cool that a Canadian husband-and-wife team cam up with the idea to create a website to allow (average) people to create comics.
  • More about “publication” is noted below, but I like that I can “unpublish” a comic if I no longer want it made public.

Drawbacks:

  • When typing dialog in the bubbles, backspace isn’t an option once you click away from the text. You have to delete it all and type again.
  • The free version does not allow for downloading (which is pretty typical). Also with the free version, you have to share it publicly. This is a big issue for me, since I can’t share specific information like my email in the graphic (without the world having access to my email address). There is a Code of Conduct posted and reporting method to keep comments from getting out of hand.
  • There is a limited number of characters associated with each background. For example, I can’t have an alien in the “fantasy” background. This is probably only an issue for me, since I like using odd characters in different situations for the sake of (dry) humor. It’d be great to have Calvin & Hobbes or other comic strip knock-offs…a nod to the originals without insulting them, perhaps.
  • You can only make comic strips and posters (not graphic novel pages, storyboards, or photo stories) with the free version

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PowerPoint with Audio (Tutorial)

I’ve been skirting around PowerPoint thus far on my blog so that I can explore other digital media options. Yet, most of my students prefer PowerPoint because they’re familiar with it. (A special thanks to K-12 teachers who have PowerPoint assignments so that students are familiar and fairly confident in the technology by the time they reach college/workplaces.)

This tutorial is my process for adding audio to a PowerPoint slide presentation. This is not a video version of the presentation, which is a different option in PowerPoint. Also, this set of instructions was done with PowerPoint 2016, which is similar to PowerPoint 2010 and sort of similar to PowerPoint 2007. I prefer to use Audacity to record my audio clips since it gives me more control over editing out the parts I don’t want in the final version of each audio clip. You’ll obviously need access to a microphone unless you intend to use prerecorded clips/music already saved to your computer.

The process:

  1. Create your slides in PowerPoint.
  2. (optional) Add notes below each slide to detail what you’ll say when recording the audio. (See graphic below)
  3. Save the file as .pptx. It’ll need to be this format to save the audio/video clips within the presentation.
  4. Open Audacity. (See graphic below)
  5. Record an audio clip for each slide; save each audio clip to a folder on your computer.
  6. In PowerPoint, click on the slide you want to add audio.
  7. Click the Insert tab on the top menu.
  8. Click the Audio icon (at the end of the menu, in the media category). (See graphic below)
  9. From the drop down box, select Audio on my PC…
  10. Choose the correct audio clip you that saved to your computer. A speaker icon will appear in the middle of the slide; you can click and drag the icon to different parts of the slide if you don’t want it in the middle. (See graphic below)
  11. Repeat steps 6 – 10 for each slide with audio.
  12. Save the completed presentation (as .pptx, if you skipped step 3 earlier).
  13. Save the files as .ppsx if you want the audience to only see it as a slideshow.
PowerPoint workspace with notes

This is the PowerPoint workspace. Below the slide featured, you’ll see the Notes section. If this isn’t apparent in your view, click and drag up on the gray bar below your slide; you’ll see a double-arrow when you hover over the bar that needs to be dragged up.

Audacity workspace

As you can see in the Audacity workspace, you have different editing options. I like to edit out the pauses at the beginning and ends of my clips.

PowerPoint Insert Audio view

You can see the insert audio clip graphic to the far right of the menu options

PowerPoint Audio clip icon

Towards the top right corner of the slide, you can see the speaker icon, which indicates to the audience there is audio available. I moved the icon out of the middle of the slide, which is the default placement.

Insider View: Keep in mind the file size will increase with the addition of audio clips. Also, this is not a video file, so it can’t be uploaded to YouTube or the like. You can distribute the file as you would any other PowerPoint file (e.g., email, cloud storage, assignment submission through online classroom) as long as there aren’t file size restrictions. The file I created for my class was 144MB, which exceeded the 25MB restrictions for Hotmail and Gmail.

Advanced Insider View: Don’t read this if you’re fine with the .pptx file or the .ppsx file formats. You can create a Flash (.swf) version of your presentation by using iSpring Free 7. I haven’t done a review on this software yet because I haven’t figured out how to get the .swf posted to my blog as an example. iSpring wants me to upgrade to the pay version in order to save the file in a video format that’s easy to distribute. That said, the .swf file created with iSpring maintains the audio clips and transitions of the presentation.

Final Thoughts: There are other recording options built into PowerPoint, but this one was easy and produced the type of presentation that I had in mind. All my previous videos have been created using PowerPoint, but I save the slides as .jpg files, and then use Camtasia or Movie Maker (or the like) to add the transitions and audio, which is all saved as a video file that can be uploaded. I will stick with this process for all my videos, but students may not prefer the extra steps and software needed for the video creation.

Padlet…new school bulletin board

Name: Padlet
Cost: Free (subscription plans for $29/year)
Type: Internet (plus app)
Rating: 5/5

 

Padlet logoThere is something old school, yet appealing, with bulletin boards. Growing up, I remember looking forward to the beginning of the month since that was when the teachers would change their bulletin board content–new graphics, text, colors, and sometimes even new layouts. Some of the posters on the board might be funny, while other content might be a preview of what we’d focus on for that month. Ideally, the bulletin board would have “gold star” assignments posted for everyone to marvel at. I was always hopeful that mine would be up there, though I was more like a silver/bronze star student at the time, so my stuff was only posted if there was room or if it was parent/teacher conference week. Since I teach in a virtual environment and a college classroom on campus, I don’t get a bulletin board, which is probably fortunate since I’d obsess about what I would do with it each month. But, there are a few Internet options for creating a bulletin board sort of webpage, and Padlet is one of the more popular options. Padlet is an Internet tool that not only allows you to “post” text, graphics, and URLs, but also allows your users to add their own content. We used to get punished in school for “adding” to the bulletin board!

Goal: share text, graphics, and URLs in an engaging webpage (that would allow users to also post content, if I needed that feature)

Padlet workspace

This is a blank Padlet workspace. The “portrait” is just the icon that appears before the title and description at the top of your Padlet that you create. Wallpaper, Layout, and Privacy are the more important features under the setting icon.

Benefits:

  • Each “post” allows for a heading, whether the body of the post is text or a graphic. This allows me to label my graphics so the audience recognizes their significance.
  • There is a blog with insights and ideas.
  • The Padlet board can be exported to a file (e.g., PDF, JPG), which kind of takes away the appeal of the board, but perhaps it might make it easier for grading or offline distribution.
  • There is a Firefox add-on so that you can post Internet material to your Padlet boards as you explore the Internet.
  • Supports “audience participation” since you can allow users to post their own content to the board. For example, you can allow for classroom introductions, where students can post a photo and/or text about themselves; or groups can brainstorm ideas and post research for group projects.
  • The completely free-form, post-anywhere layout of a canvas makes me a little crazy, but some may like that chaos. Fortunately, I can choose a layout to be “stream” (one post under the next) or grid (lines them up in even rows). Even if you start with free form, you can change to stream or grid and the posts will be realigned accordingly.

Drawbacks:

  • This is just a reality of this type of tool, but you have to monitor what is posted since anyone can post anything (depending on the privacy setting). So, if you have students who cannot be trusted to act responsibly when posting, then you’ll want to have the “monitor” feature checked to approve additions before everyone can see them.
  • I can’t figure out how to change the font/style of the posts. I think it’s pretty much set for every type of Padlet to be the same. (There are some formatting options, but not as extensive as I’d like in the way of color or font style.)

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LiveBinder…no more paper hoarding

Cost: Free (subscription available)
Type: Internet
Rating: 3/5

 

LiveBinder LogoPlease tell me I’m not the only person who loves to collect information in actual (not virtual) binders. I’m a paper hoarder. I admit it. I love technology, but I still like to print things out or hang on to print items and punch holes in them so they can be included in a binder. Fortunately, technology has not only given me the opportunity to hoard less, but also share non-printed materials with students. LiveBinder is one option for sharing a variety of forms of documents and videos, without having to punch holes in anything. I had used LiveBinder first in 2013, when I needed to create supplemental materials for my students, but didn’t want to upload them to the classroom every term. LiveBinder was a way to create the collection of materials and just provide students with the relevant URL so they can access it on their own. Although LiveBinder seemed like a good idea, I wasn’t overly impressed with it’s appearance or functionality, particularly that I could not embed YouTube videos to play right from the binder page rather than just providing the link for students to click on and go to YouTube. Having started this blog, I decided to try LiveBinder again and happily found the YouTube issue resolved!

Goal: create a “library” of documents for students to access online (without having to log in to the classroom)

LiveBinder workspace 1

This is what your library will look like. I have a few binders already created. From here you can create a new binder or work on an binder you previously created.

Benefits:

  • You can restrict who has access to the binder you create by requiring the user to insert a ID and Password you generate; the user does not need an account with LiveBinders
  • You can personalize it to a certain extent, with a graphic for the binder cover and colors for the background or tabs.
  • You can “lock” the binder so users need the link and password to access it.
  • Easy for users to navigate (not complicated)
  • You can easily reorder tabs.
  • There are multiple sharing options, including embedding the binder as a clickable icon to access the binder or as an “open binder.”
  • There is help.

Drawbacks:

  • It’s pretty simplistic…not very flashy, though it has improved since 2013.
  • If sharing a website that is protected, it only provides a link to the website and a button to click that takes the user to the actual website. I realize that copyright issues are not the tool’s fault, but it’s still a drawback that the page is not more appealing to look at.
  • Cannot include some special characters in the tab title (e.g., apostrophe)
  • It takes a few seconds for the embedded content to appear on your screen after inserting the code. This originally cause me to panic and delete/undo the first few times. Don’t panic. Be patient. It should show up.
  • You cannot open a dialog box (e.g., Settings) on a tab with an embedded video because the video overlays part of the dialog box.
  • The free-version only allows for two levels (i.e., main and sub), whereas the pay-version allows for three levels (i.e., main, sub, base).

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Random Tip #9: Embed.ly

In an online environment, many of us have become accustomed with seeing “extra” content, such as videos or interactive content, along side the text we are reading. I find it necessary to embed content in my classroom announcements, which is the only place that my ecollege platform will allow me to embed content. You’ll also see embedding in my blog when I provide samples of digital media creations. Essentially, embedding doesn’t force your audience to leave your webpage in order to access the relevant video or other content. As an educator, I’m always afraid that my students will get distracted and not come back to the lesson content. If I give a link to a YouTube video, they might then continue to browse further videos that aren’t necessarily related to the lesson. Who can resist the “guilty pet” videos?

 

Embed.ly logo
I hope that you didn’t just prove my point in that video links take audiences away from my website and they don’t come back. Most video hosting sites and Internet digital media tools will provide embed codes for you to use, but there are times when they’re not available. I’ve found that I want to embed links to websites or documents in my classroom in order to have the same “don’t leave this page in order to access this other content” approach. There is an Internet tool to help create embed code for those who don’t have the programming skills to do it themselves: embed.ly. It’s kind of like a screen capture with a link, if you’re just embedding webpage content. It’s a better option for PDFs and videos. If you have some programming skills, or patience to figure programming stuff out, then the tool can do a bit more than just provide embed codes. For this tip, I just went with the basic version.

 

Here are a few things to know about Embed.ly
  • It’s free to use for up to 5,000 URLs per month, requests that are 15 seconds apart. I suspect there are some tech savvy folks who have great use for more URLs at a faster rate, but I know that I won’t intentionally exceed the free version. If you have many users accessing your content often, then you’ll probably max out. I’m happy when a few students access the content every once in a while.
  • There is help and tutorials available, though the tool is pretty easy to use for basic purposes. There is also a blog.
  • You don’t need to sign up or log in to start using the embed code generator. If you want to “customize” the embed code content, then you need to log in.
  • Really simple to use once you find the content you want to embed, since you just copy the URL into the embed.ly tool and copy the code.
  • The tool is not perfect. If there is a video on the page you want to embed, then only the video will appear in the embedded content, and users will still need to go to the link to access the full page.
Embed.ly workspace

After you click the copy to clipboard, if you’re signed in, you’ll see an option to customize your embed view. This is the workspace view for that customization.

 

Since most videos I create or want to otherwise share will provide embed codes, I mostly use this tool for embedding PDFs or documents that are posted on the Internet. The first sample is to a PDF. The second sample isn’t as helpful since it only provides a brief view of content, and then requires the reader to click the link for the full content; the advantage I see here is that the embed code at least entices the reader with a graphic and some content.

IEEE

IEEE.org serves technical professionals and students who are looking to both foster working relationships and gain access to the latest technical research and knowledge.

Haiku Deck…writing an actual Haiku is more fun

Cost: Free (pay versions are available)
Type: Internet tool or iOS app
Rating: 1/5

 

Haiku Deck LogoI’ve been on a kick with making single graphics that convey all the information needed, whether an infographic or just a JPG with an image and some text. But, there are times when I need to convey several related ideas and allow the audience to “click” through the ideas at their own pace. Yes, like a slide presentation. Okay, exactly like a slide presentation since I cannot (yet) afford the software that creates cool interactive training videos. I first encountered Haiku Deck as an app on my iPad. By “encountered,” I mean that I downloaded the app and then couldn’t figure out what I was going to use it for since I did all my work on my PC or laptop. Once I started my blog, I tracked down any presentation tool I could find with the hopes of finding the “perfect” tool. (There could be a unicorn out there waiting to be found by me.) Well, Haiku Deck is not my unicorn, though it’s simplicity might appeal to those who are easily distracted by too many options. While the name of the tool, Haiku, implies this level of simplicity, I find that Haiku poems have great depth and interest that is not constrained by the brief structure of the poem. I have not tried the app version yet, so this review is just the Internet (PC) version.

Goal: find an alternative presentation tool for online classroom announcements that needed more than one slide

Benefits:

  • No distractions from bells and whistles because there aren’t any.
  • There is an app version for those who prefer working with smaller devices.
  • There are a variety of share options (e.g., Facebook, Twitter, email, Pinterest, etc.) or you can get the link/HTML to embed it yourself.
  • It has a cool name and logo associated with the tool. (Sorry, that’s all I’ve got.)

    Haiku Deck workspace 1

    This is the workspace before you start adding content. You can choose a theme and layout from here.

Drawbacks:

  • There are few layouts provided, and you cannot modify them. For example, I had wanted a block of text that was left-justified, but took up the whole slide (not half the slide). I could not change the justification unless I chose a different layout, which would squish the text to one side or the other.
  • No undo button! I had to start over when I tried playing around with colors and couldn’t get back to the original coloring. I got in the habit of creating a copy of the slide I was going to change so that I could go back to the original if needed.
  • Free version allows public access and sharing of your slide decks.
  • There is a “sneaky” (technical term used in tutorial video) button at the top of the workspace for changing fonts, but I can’t find any specific button for making text bold, italicized, or a different color.
  • The Internet version does not always play well with Firefox (Flash), and may crash when going to preview the slides.
  • Cannot import PowerPoint slides directly as PPT files (you need to save them as images and put them in the Haiku deck)
  • There aren’t blank templates. Rather, you copy someone else’s presentation and swap out their text on each slide.
  • Haiku Deck adds a slide to the end of your presentation to advertise creating a deck and “featured decks” (which aren’t related to what your deck is focused on).

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