Dropbox…preventing computers from “eating” students’ homework

Name: Dropbox
Cost: Free, with pay versions for increased storage ($100/year for 1TB)
Type: App (web and mobile device), plus download for computer
Rating: 5/5

 

Dropbox logI’m old enough to remember floppy disks. In fact, I remember storing data on cassette tapes (or, at least attempting to). Oh, the days of limited storage. I had a variety of cases to store my floppy disks, and then not-so-floppy disks, and then CDs…just don’t ask me to find a file quickly. Thumb (flash) drives were a miracle….well, until I bumped one with my knee while it was plugged into my PC and could only access all my graduate school work if I jiggled the thumb drive just right. After that, I had several thumb drives so that I could still transport documents (from school, work, the library, and between my laptop and PC). The trick was remembering that work documents were on the purple drive, while school documents were on the red drive, unless I forgot it at home, and then they were on the blue drive. Enter “the cloud.” With cloud storage, I could save my documents to someone else’s servers and access those servers via internet access. Granted, this was a bit touch and go when internet access wasn’t as widely available as it is today. But since wi-fi is widely available, if a student has a question about feedback I provided on his research paper, I can access my saved version with my mobile device while at Starbucks. Don’t be fooled. I don’t just use Dropbox to work more, but I also store my photos and other documents that I don’t want to lose if my hard-drive crashes.

Goal: Ditch digging in my purse/bookbag for thumb drives.

Dropbox browser version

This view is of the browser version (i.e., log in through internet browser). To the left, you can see the view options. The Sharing folder shows just the folders you are sharing (or have been shared access to) with other users. As you can see, the screen and functions are pretty self-explanatory. It’s a good idea to organize all files into folders for easier access on mobile devices (with small screens).

Benefits:

  • I rarely get error messages with uploading to the cloud. Actually, only once, and that required me to uninstall and reinstall the desktop version. Once in the 5+ years I’ve relied on it daily isn’t bad.
  • Easy to use, especially the desktop version. I just save my files to the folder already linked to my Dropbox account and it is automatically saved to the cloud (and available on my other devices). The desktop version also allows me to drag/drop files into folders.
  • Access through multiple devices (e.g., PC, laptop, mobile device), along with web access on any device (e.g., a library computer). I like this for my photo portfolio, so that I don’t have to store my favorite photos on my phone, but can still show them off (when I have internet access).
  • Versioning is available, so that if you need to return to an older version of a file, you can do so through Dropbox (up to 30 days). I haven’t had to use this feature before, so I can’t comment on how well it works, but it’s nice to know it’s available.
  • Better security than what I had on my thumb drive (or floppy disks).
  • If you’re sharing files, the other person doesn’t need an account. You just give them permission via email link to access the folder. It can get tricky if the person isn’t familiar with Dropbox or similar cloud storage sites (see Drawback below).
  • Gives email alerts when you’re going to max out on available space, so you can either delete files or upgrade.
  • I can upload photos from my iPhone to Dropbox (and even choose which folder they should go in).Dropbox mobile device workspace views

Drawbacks:

  • I don’t think it always plays well with Office 2016. Opening an Office file from a Dropbox folder generally results in the file changing its name to something generic (e.g., W000001.docx) so that I have to do a Save As to get it back to the original file. I keep hoping for a Microsoft update to resolve the problem.
  • This isn’t Dropbox’s fault, but not everyone is familiar with this tool, so file sharing can be confusing to those who haven’t done it before. That said, there is a help center (and community), and it’s a popular enough tool that there are tutorials on YouTube and social media

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Windows Movie Maker…here all along

Name: Windows Movie Maker (2010)
Cost: Free (only for Windows users)
Type: Software
Rating: 2/5

Movie Maker logo

This may be news to some Windows users, but you have access to video editing software already loaded on your computer, as long as you have Windows 10, 8, or 7. Movie Maker is not really well advertised, as compared to iMovie (which is the free software on Macs), but that might be because Movie Maker is not as comprehensive and professional looking as iMovie. Nonetheless, when looking for a video editing tool, why not rely on the one that’s already on your PC? I am always anxious about downloading new software, so it’s great that my operating system actually provides useful software for “free” (if you define “free” as, “rolled into the costs of the operating system”). I had started using Movie Maker over 10 years ago, but then promptly stopped once I got access to Camtasia. Movie Maker is easy to use, which made it a good introduction to the concepts and skills needed to piece together short video clips that have photos, screen captures or other video files, and audio clips. It has the MS Office feel with the menu tabs and options, so it may not feel foreign to users already relying on PowerPoint for visual creations.

Goal: Rely on a free, easy to use video editing tool to create short videos (mostly graphics and text)

Benefits:

  • Drag and drop ability for adding media to the timeline.
  • Very simple looking workspace. Sometimes a long timeline along the bottom of the workspace can be intimidating to new users, so Movie Maker has more of a graphic approach that downplays the look of a timeline.

    Movie Maker workspace

    As you can see, this is a pretty simple workspace, with a drag and drop option to add movie clips, audio, or graphics.

  • There are some tutorials and guides available on the Microsoft site so that you don’t have to rely on YouTube and other non-Microsoft support sites.
  • As mentioned above, it has a similar look and functionality as Word or PowerPoint, so there isn’t much to learn about navigating the software.
  • The transitions options are interesting, especially when adding some overlays (e.g., sparkling lights around the corners). These might work well if you’re creating a photo montage for an anniversary party or wedding reception, where dozens of photos are projected on a screen in video format.
  • There is the ability to type (or paste) in captions. So, if you have a transcript, you can add it to the video. The trick, though, is timing the captions with the audio so the audience is hearing the content when it appears on screen.

    Movie Maker transition options

    This is the menu bar with the most “feature” options for the software. It is a variety of transitions and slide animations you can apply to each graphic or video clip.

Movie Maker timing tools

I spend the most time with these tools when working on editing a video based on PowerPoint slides and audio narration. I have to adjust the timing so the audience has enough time to read the graphic and/or hear the audio narration before transitioning to the next graphic/video clip.

Drawbacks:

  • Syncing up audio and video can be a little tedious, though this is true for most video editors. One change in transitions or video clips and the audio syncing needs to be redone (the extent of the revising depends on how close to the start of the video the change was made). Students who have used the software have reported similar frustrations with adding audio. I try to add audio only after I’m pretty sure the video is what I want it to be.
  • Although this is true for most video editors (except for Camtasia), video clips created with Jing cannot be added/edited to Movie Maker for further editing or combination with other file types. So, if I want to add a screen capture video to my video, then I need to . Microsoft Support provides a list of accepted files, which is extensive, but .swf for a Jing video is not on the list. To get a Jing video in the right file format, I have to use Camtasia to save it as an MP4. Do not despair, though. My favorite screen capture tool create MP4 files: Screencast-O-Matic.

    Movie Maker error message

    This is the error I got when trying to add an MP4 file I downloaded from Pixabay. The “help” links didn’t provide further insights. So, if I want to use these movie clips in future videos, I’ll have to go with different software.

  • The video is saved as .wmv, so the audience needs the Windows or you need to upload it to a site like YouTube. Mac users won’t have access to Windows Media Player, which will play the .wmv file. So, if you just want to email the file or share it (e.g., Google Drive or Dropbox), then Mac users will need to download a comparable media player (e.g., Free WMV Player, which I haven’t tried so use at your own risk).
  • I like to add background video clips from Pixabay, where there might be a train going by or an abstract figure in motion, and then overlay text to emphasize any points made in the audio narration. Unfortunately, every time I tried to add the MP4 file from Pixabay, it came back with an error. When I tried to use the help function, it wasn’t very helpful beyond explaining that the file was not compatible with Movie Maker even though it’s in MP4 format. I’m not sure if this is a user error or software limitation, but since I’ve used the Pixabay files in other video editing tools, I’m guessing it’s a software limitation.

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Wideo….going for a W (in video) [UPDATED]

Name: Wideo [UPDATED: This is the new link]
Cost: Free for 45 second videos [UPDATED: no free version available]
Type: Internet tool
Rating: 4/5

Wideo logoAs mentioned often on this blog, there are many more options than PowerPoint when presenting text and graphics (and audio) in a video format. To be honest, if I am pressed for time, I still go old-school with PowerPoint and Camtasia to create videos based on slides saved as graphics and transitioned together. This is especially useful for longer videos since most other tools require subscriptions for videos over a minute or so. Wideo provides templates so that I don’t have to put thought into the overall design or animation/transitions when creating videos. I am forced to keep my stunning and enthralling messages to 45 seconds (for the free version), which is probably appreciated by my students.

UPDATE: Ugh! Wideo is no longer available free. Which is disappointing, but even more so that the videos I created are now gone unless I pay for the subscription option. So, my review hasn’t changed except that it is no longer is as accessible for those of us who rely on free versions of software. Considering there are other options that are partially free on the internet, I’d suggest playing around with a free option than investing in Wideo unless you have a budget you need to spend. I’ve edited some of the review content to reflect the change.

Wideo pricing options

Since the free version is no longer available, I thought I’d provide the list of prices and features.

Wideo pricing options for education

For those of you who can prove you’re in education (teacher or student), there are cheaper options. Again, I’m not a big enough fan of this tool to even pay the cheaper prices.

Goal: Create videos with some text (not much) and visual interest that look (almost) professionally designed.

Wideo workspace view 1

This is what the workspace looks like when using a template.

Benefits:

  • Blog and newsletter provide tutorials and insights.
  • Templates are provided to get you started. They seem to be within the 45 second (free) time frame.
  • Templates have guides built in (e.g., Insert Image Here)
  • Provides photo editing tools, including special effects, frames, lighting, resizing, touch-ups, stickers, and meme.
  • Guidelines appear when moving textboxes so that you can line things up.
  • Upload your own voice over files or choose from three background music options.

Drawbacks:

  • Limited to 45 second videos, which might actually be a benefit if you’re like me and tend to cram too much information into one presentation.
  • Wideo.co watermark appears throughout video
  • Editing can be a bit tricky. You have to slide the marker on the time line to see all the items in a template slide. So, if five items are animated on the slide, you may only see the first three when editing, but you can reveal the next two by adjusting the timeline.
  • Without watching any tutorial videos, I can’t readily figure out how to animate graphics I add to the video. They appear in place (rather than flying in like the template’s text).
  • Cannot download the completed project in the free version. This means the video is shared on the web (can be reused and seen by the public).
  • Cannot change the color of objects from the icon library (e.g., a light bulb icon only appears in black outline).

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OneNote…the note that rules them all (not really)

Name: OneNote (2016)
Cost: Included with MS Office, free app version available
Type: Software, plus app
Rating: 4/5

OneNote logoI love Evernote. It is simple. Not just easy to use, but it doesn’t distract me with all the possibilities. But, I didn’t think it’d be fair to praise Evernote without also giving OneNote a good look over. They are very similar in features and functionality, but if you’re a Windows/PC/MS Office user, then you may take to OneNote very quickly. I’m a Windows-person (…I can feel whatever “cool” factor I had with some of my readers decline significantly with that admission). But, I really wanted to not like OneNote. I had tried it over five years ago and didn’t really get into it, though, that can also be said for my first experience with Evernote. One of my main issues with OneNote was that I wanted to color coordinate EVERYTHING, and play with all the features. I had nicely organized and colored notebooks, but no notes because I used up my writing time with customization. That’s a “me” issue, not a software issue. So, this time, I did my best to work and not customize.

Inevitably, this will be an Evernote vs. OneNote review. But, I also want to emphasize that since they are similar, it may really come down to personal preferences. You may need to further consider personal preferences if working in a group. Personally, I’d go with Evernote for group work due to its simplicity (lack of distractions).

Goal: See if there is an alternative for Evernote.

Benefits:

  • Auto-correct while typing. I’m the worst speller…just ask my mom who agonized over spelling and vocabulary lists every Thursday night in order to prepare me for Friday’s tests while I was in 2nd through 8th grade. I’m also a bad/lazy typist (e.g., I know that auto-correct with capitalize the first letter after a period, so I don’t take the extra key stroke of hitting Shift).
  • There is a Quick Start Guide, which provides a decent overview if you’re patient enough to go through it. I, on the other hand, am a just jump in and figure it out (i.e., break it) and then go find YouTube videos for answers.
  • It works much like MS Word. I’ve worked with Word for so long that I feel like I have muscle memory for common actions and don’t think about what to do to get the expected result. Although the actions are similar to Evernote, the layout and functionality mimic Word for the most part.
  • App is available for my fruit (i.e., iPhone, iPad) for free.

    App view of a note

    This is a view of the blog post I’m working on in the app version on my iPhone. Yep. It’s small. I’m pretty sure I’d only use this app if I had to do a quick edit or create a new note.

  • You can start audio recordings and embed them into a note. The suggestion is to use it to record a meeting, and then correlate the note with the time in the meeting that’s relevant.
  • Pretty extensive help, though you can also probably find lots of help with a Google search. The Support page is about as helpful as the rest of the support offered by Microsoft…sometimes it’s short and clear, and other times you really have to hunt around for answers. Sometimes, it’s a bug and only a miracle with get it fixed.
  • One of the reasons I wanted to try OneNote is because Evernote limited access for the software version to two devices. Granted, I can still use the web version on multiple devices, but if I have it open on my laptop and PC, then I’ll be logged out of the app version. There doesn’t seem to be any restrictions with how many devices I can have my software account on.
  • It plays well with Outlook. I haven’t tried out this feature, but I like the idea of being able to move between email and OneNote easily.
  • There are group-work features similar to Google docs, where as you type, it is updated in the version anyone synced with your notebook. It’s kind of annoying to see my additions since I’m the only person in my group, but it’d be helpful if I figure out how to clone myself.
    OneNote Workspace

    Here is the view of a note I’m working on (this blog post). You can see the notebook tabs at the top, and the notes off to the right. The green bars with “CH” indicate the text I’ve added, which would be useful if working with a group of people or clones. Unlike Evernote, there isn’t a “tree” navigation field in the desktop version so that I can bounce between notebooks, notes, favorites, etc. [The <..> are mine since I write my posts with HTML tags for posting to my blog. I just don’t want anyone to think that OneNote automatically tags in HTML.]

  • I really like that I can plop a graphic in at any place in my note. Evernote puts it as an attachment at the bottom of the note; this may be due to user error, but then it’s a matter of not being as intuitive as OneNote.
  • You can click anywhere in the note to add start typing in a new text box. In other words, you can have “modules” of text all floating around the page.
  • It saves automatically, which makes me a bit leery since I want the ability to save just after writing the most enlightening paragraph. But, I can sync, which will force a save on to the rest of my devices (thus making me feel like the enlightenment won’t be lost).
  • You can add subnotes to notes. For example, I might have a main note, but then need to collect random/related ideas in a separate note.

Drawbacks:

  • This is a totally personal issue. I’m easily distracted. I will spend an hour color coordinating the tabs and browsing through all the other features.
  • When you start OneNote for the first time, it populates example notebooks/notes with suggested content and tips. I really dislike this. My brain wants everything in the notebooks to be my content and set up for me to create without distraction, but I also don’t want to lose the examples and tips. It makes me a bit crazy to have the “help” mixed in with my stuff.
  • You need a Microsoft account (e.g., Hotmail, Outlook, 365) and access to OneDrive (cloud storage) to get everything to sync. You’ll need to specifically save the notebook you want to see across devices to OneDrive, otherwise, it’s only available on your hard drive. I realize not everyone is on board with Microsoft or PC. If you’re hardcore Google, Apple, or whatever, then even dipping a toe into the Microsoft world by creating an account and storing stuff on OneDrive might be too much to handle.

    OneNote OneDrive workspace

    If you prefer the online version, here’s what it looks like. It’s subject to the quirks of using a browser (i.e., crashing), but works mostly the same as the software version.

  • No “favorites” option. In Evernote, there are a few notes and notebooks that I need all the time; in order to not have to hunt them down, I can mark them as a favorite so they appear at the top of my notebook list view. I can be in a note, click over to a favorite, which may be in a different notebook. This is a big loss for me since it’s part of my workflow (for work).
  • Ctrl+a doesn’t select everything. I know. It’s not a big deal since there are other options, but I’d like to quickly select everything in the note’s textbox so it can be copied or formatted. You need to scroll to the top of the textbox and click on the gray bar for options.
  • You can add “ruled lines” (like loose leaf paper) to a note, but the textbox doesn’t line up with the lines. Unless you just like the nostalgic look of ruled lines, and either want to figure out the spacing so that the lines line up or you’re handwriting with a tablet, then the lines are useless.

    OneNote note with ruled lines

    As you can see, there are ruled lines on this page (which can be added/removed in View). My text doesn’t automatically line up with the lines, so I suspect this is a feature for mobile devices using the handwriting feature.

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TinyTake…unless you have a big screen

Name: TinyTake
Cost: Free (pay versions available)
Type: Software download
Rating: 2/5

TinyTake_logo

Although I’m a technical writer, and able to explain steps in a process through text, I value the “let me show you” ability that screen capture software provides, either with still-shots or video capture. This type of software helps the audience compare their actions and outcomes to those described in the tutorial or instructions. I can only imagine how this software would have changed my approach to training when I first started out as a technical writer. Instead of long training sessions, brief videos could capture what the documentation reinforced. For anyone who has sat through a three-hour PowerPoint training class, you’ll understand the value of videos you can watch at your leisure. As for screen shots in documentation created 15 years ago, I used the Prt Scr keyboard button of Windows, and then edited it in Paint. Actually, TinyTake is not too far off from the options in Paint, though it includes the screen capture feature that Paint does not. If TinyTake was the only screen capture software I was given when abandoned on a desert island, I would probably last about a week before pitching my laptop into the ocean. It isn’t bad software, but it’s just not very dynamic. That said it would work well for anyone who likes to use a simplified version of Paint (if you can get more simple than Paint).

I would like to thank one of my technical writing students (Britt Wells) for bringing this tool to my attention!

TinyTake workspace

This is the whole tool. You can select an image capture, video capture, upload documents to share, or access your YouTube account to share videos you’ve uploaded.

Goal: create video or static photo of my computer screen through screen capture software

Benefits:

  • There is a blog associated with the tool, but at the time I wrote this post, there were only seven articles and none were dated, so they could be a few years old. (I’m becoming such a blog-snob, as I want companies to continually update their blogs with fresh ideas and insights.)
  • There are undo and redo buttons. As someone who is prone to playing around with software until it breaks, I like the option to go back to a pre-broken state.
  • There is an effect to “pixelate,” which threw me off at first because I’m always trying to make graphics clearer rather than more obscure. But, then it dawned on me that sometimes you need to obscure personal information and the like.
  • You can add arrows to point out areas in the graphic. There are options to change the color of the arrow, though that’s about it. It’s also easy to add an arrow and textbox.
  • There are a few different options to save/share: save to computer or to TinyTake cloud; copy to clipboard; email; or print.
  • When uploading videos to YouTube, you can preset all the videos to use the same privacy setting (e.g., Unlisted).
  • MangoApps, the company that created TinyTake, claims their cloud storage is very secure. This is helpful when storing screen shots of proprietary software or personal information.
  • If you like the ability to add text, arrows, and other simple graphics (e.g., circle, square, etc.) to your own photos, you can open graphic files with TinyTake. I’d probably stick with one of the more “fun” photo/graphic editing options, such as PicMonkey, BeFunky, or Canva. You can also import a video you’ve recorded with other software.
  • You can record the audio from your speakers, which is convenient if you’re recording a Google Hangout session. But, you only have five minutes of recording time on the free version, so it needs to be a very short meeting.
  • You can share more than the TinyTake screens/videos on their cloud; in other words, you can share documents and your other YouTube videos you’ve created and want to show others in your group/class.

    TinyTake workspace 2

    After capturing an image, this is what you’ll see as far as the workspace. The “annotating” tools are at the top of the screen.

Drawbacks:

  • Requires software download. This isn’t a big deal, but some people can’t make changes to the PC/laptop they’re using (e.g., school lab, work laptop).
  • Required login to use the software. It’s best to set up the account prior to download because you have to receive and respond to the confirmation email.
  • No click and drag resizing before opening the editing window. Jing, for example, selects the area and allows me to drag the borders to capture more/less in situations where I missed the mark I was aiming for.
  • There’s a “drag me” indicator at the bottom of the screen that makes it seem like more features are available, yet it actually implies you can click and drag your graphic right into another application (e.g., email). I was hoping for something more fun (like Alice in Wonderland‘s “drink me” bottle to change sizes).
  • The pixalation squares for the pixelate effect are really big, so they seem more decorative and the audience may not realize that you intentionally obscured information. I think I would prefer a blurring effect that can be gained in a photo editing tool.
  • There are few formatting options for the textbox text. The border color is the same as the text color; so, you can’t have a green border and black text, for example.
  • The free-draw option (as compared to drawing a box, circle, or line) is pretty basic. I tried to draw a star and I think that I was able to draw better looking stars when I was in kindergarten.
  • The free version does not allow for annotating the video.
  • If you click the main Save and Share button, it goes right to the TinyTake cloud; you have to click the little arrow on the right side of the button to open the other save options.

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Screencast-o-Matic…automatically a success

Type: Internet tool (download version available)
Rating: 5/5

 

Screencast-o-matic logoGetting an audience to see what you’re seeing is ideal for photographers, videographers, trainers/instructors, and technical communicators. This is especially true for a society that has a “just show me” response to learning new things, as compared to “just explain it to me.” Screen capture software can take different forms, whether it’s capturing a static screen shot or recording movements (e.g., clicking, typing) and audio being performed on a computer. Jing has been my go-to screen capture software for many years, and for static screen captures, it’s still my favorite. But, Screencast-o-Matic is my new love for video recordings of my screen. Jing, Camtasia, and Snag-It all have quality issues with recordings; the text is sometime blurry or pixelated, which is frustrating for an audience who isn’t sure what they’re supposed to be seeing. For the record, this post is not my first encounter with Screencast-o-matic. I had looked at it several years ago and found it lacking, though functional, but dismissed it for Jing/Camtasia. Screencast-o-matic’s “new” look and functionality is a great improvement.

Screecast-o-matic start screen

This is the home page, and access to the tool. Very simple.

Goal: quality screen recordings for longer than five minutes

Benefits:

  • No need to sign up or login to start recording your screen. At this point, I haven’t see the value of signing up since I won’t store my videos to their site.
  • Records the computer screen or webcam view and microphone recording; for the pay version, you can record audio from the computer speakers, which makes it a good option for recording Google Hangout sessions or other video conferencing that doesn’t include a recording option.
  • 15-minute recording length, as compared the the five-minute limit for Jing. You can record longer versions with the Pro Recorder (pay), but you’re limited to 15-minutes if you’re uploading it to their cloud.
  • Recording can be downloaded to PC, or uploaded to YouTube of Sceencast-o-Matic cloud (i.e., hosting).
  • Clear (video) screen captures, even when the screen is moving.
  • Tutorials are available, though I didn’t review any of them since you can pretty much figure out what to do for simple screen captures
  • Unless you download the software, it runs from your Internet browser, yet records to your computer. There are two benefits here. 1) You have access to the most recent version of the software without further downloads/updates. 2) Your video is not saved to a cloud unless you want to; so, there isn’t public access to the recording unless you upload it yourself to a public area.
  • A yellow circle rings the mouse pointer so that it’s easier to follow when watching the recording. (See first sample below.)
Screecast-o-matic video options

This is the pop-up screen you’ll see after finishing the recording. You can make changes to the file type, filename, where it’s stored, whether the cursor is highlighted in your final version, and whether captions should be included.

Drawbacks:

  • If you don’t catch the enable/allow Java screen quick enough, the recorder won’t launch and you’ll see the link to download the software instead. If you catch the Java accept screen, though, you can click the box to not ask for permission in the future. I think that if you have a Mac, you’ll need to download the software as the Internet version wont’ work.
  • “Screencast-o-matic” sounds like something Calvin and Hobbes would think up. Okay, not really a bad thing, but it’s difficult to sell the concept to peers and managers with a straight face.
  • When making several recordings, and exiting the recorder each time, you have to click back the the website’s Home page to find the Record Screen button again. Again, not a big deal.
  • There is a watermark on all the recordings done with the free recorder. That said, it’s not obnoxious, as I’ve seen with other free software.
  • If you upload the video to their cloud, then there will be ads on the screen. Since I can save the file and upload it to YouTube, then I don’t have an issue with this. The free hosting plan is limited to a 15-minute upload, so even if you have the Pro Recorder (pay) version of the software, you’d need to invest in their Basic hosting plan for $96/year to get 2-hour recordings uploaded to their cloud.
  • No screenshot option for the free version.
  • No video editing abilities for the free version; you would need to save the video file and use a different tool to edit the video (e.g., Camtasia, Adobe Premiere, iMovie, Movie Maker, etc.)
Java screen

This is the Java screen you’ll need to accept (or use the download version of the tool)

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Adobe Premiere Elements…not quite iMovie

Name: Adobe Premiere Elements (version 13)
Cost: $99 (approximately…there are deals you can search for)
Type: Software
Rating: 3/5

Premiere Logo

I’m not here to argue Mac vs. PC. I have a PC. I’ve always had a PC, but I’ve worked on a Mac from time to time. I suspect that if Macs were more affordable and I had the time to learn a new environment, I’d be cool and make the change. But, I have a PC. This means I don’t have access to iMovie. The only reason I know how cool iMovie can be is because I took a 90-minute course at my local library to learn the basics. I loved this software in that 90-minutes, but not enough to make the switch to Mac. Adobe Premiere Pro is the comparable software that will work on a PC. As noted in previous posts, I’m not one of those college professors who makes enough money to afford leasing Adobe products through the Creative Cloud option. Don’t cry for me yet. Being a student and professor allows me to take advantage of software discounts, so I purchased Adobe Photoshop and Premiere Elements (combo pack) for Students/Teachers.

Goal: find a video creation tool with more features than Camtasia (i.e., iMovie for a PC)

Premiere eLive view

You can easily access recent tutorial videos on common video editing tasks. The eLive list of videos is not exhaustive, and I still end up searching the Internet for other options. But, I do find the videos inspirational in that I don’t consider the options until seen in the tutorial.

Benefits:

  • It has professional editing features such as 3D transitions, pan/zoom (so I can show a photo, and zoom), or graphics that can be added to the video (e.g., a heart that moves across the screen).
  • The Project Assets list has all the clips, graphics, and audio that you identified to add to your video. I like that there is a “used” notation in the list so that I know I’ve already added certain media clips to my video.
  • Like Photoshop Elements, access to training videos is provided in the software under the eLive tab. If you don’t have time for training videos, try the Quick or Guided tabs for help doing common tasks in the software.
  • You can fast-forward when previewing the video. I like to check my transitions and other features in my video, but I dislike having to watch the video (over and over), so I can watch a sped up version (where I sound like a chipmunk).
  • The are “snap lines” when inserting media. So, when I want to match up the start of narration with the end of the previous transition, there is a line that appears to emphasize the beginning/end in the timeline.
  • .AVI is an accepted video file format to insert into my video. This is the file format used when doing screen captures through Camtasia or SnagIt. (See related Drawback below)
    Premiere Guided viiew

    When in either Quick or Expert edit modes, you can access Guided, which gives you some tutorial options for common tasks.

    Premiere workspace view 1

    Here is a view of the workspace with several options open.

Drawbacks:

  • This is not the software’s fault, but within weeks of my purchase, Premiere 14 was released. Argh! This is what happens when you don’t lease your software through CC. (There is a list of the differences between 13 and 14.)
  • The workspace can get cluttered, even on my not-so-small monitor. With experience, I figured out how to open/close what I needed to reduce clutter, but a large monitor is certainly helpful. I can’t imagine do this on a laptop.
  • I’m a little bit old school in that I like printed books to help me with software that has many features. There are few book choices for this software, and of that few, none seem to be outstanding in what is offered in way of explanations and insights.
  • While .AVI files can be used, they render quite awful, as you’ll see in my sample. To fix this, I had to convert the AVI files to Mp4 files and use those versions during the editing process. (Camtasia doesn’t require this extra step and the AVI files will render fine.)
  • The zoom/pan feature is tedious (not my first word for describing, but appropriate). I ran out of patience when trying to zoom out of a graphic to add visual interest to the graphic as it appeared on the screen. I didn’t like the way it was showing up with the zoom/pan, but I couldn’t get it out of the video without just clicking “undo” until it was (hopefully) gone. Adding text to overlay the video was just as tedious. For those with more patience, there is a tutorial video from Lynda.com that might provide insights: Pan/Zoom tutorial.
  • Initial start up takes a while. I suspect it’s checking for updates, but I just want to get to work when I click the Premiere icon.
  • While in use, the software froze for no apparent reason. (I was almost done with the video, and it stopped working. I had to shut it down and lost everything since the previous save, which wasn’t recent. It could be a Windows 10 issue or something not related to Premiere.)
  • The “freeze frame” option only exports as .bmp file type, which YouTube doesn’t accept when trying to upload it as the Video Thumbnail. I had to convert the file to .jpg.

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Pixlr…another tool to mess with photo pixels [review]

Name: Pixlr
Cost: Free (pay membership for more features)
Type: Download (desktop) or Internet (web app) or app (iOS or Android)
Rating: 2/5

 

Pixlr logoPatience + Patience = Edited Photo. I don’t generally have the patience to do much editing with my photos. As a novice photographer, I know that all my photos can use some editing to “fix” the errors in lighting that I don’t address when taking the photo. I have a DSLR camera, so the camera can do all the work if I knew how to use it properly. (Learning to use my camera is on my to-do list since I have two books, two DVDs, and hundreds of Pinterest pins on the topic.) Since I lack patience, I have to be fair in saying that my review of photo editing tools is abbreviated in that I don’t put much time into the features that would fix a photo (e.g., contrast, brightness, spot fixing, etc.). Rather, I play around with the other cool features that can make the photos very artistic and well beyond what could have been captured in with my camera (e.g., double exposure, overlays, color palates, borders, text, etc.).

As with most of my reviews, I stick with the free version of the tools. Pixlr, like most free tools, provides a subscription version that gives you access to more features. Since I already own Photoshop Elements, I’m not inclined to subscribe to a photo editing tool.

Terminology: This tool has two versions, so I wanted to clarify the terminology used in my review. One version you download to your computer to use as you would other software on you computer. This version is referred to as desktop, which is in accordance with the terms used by Pixlr. The second version requires Internet access and a web browser. This is referred to as web app, which is also in accordance with Pixlr.

Goal: test out a photo editing tool that allows me to make “fun” changes to my photos, or get serious with editing (i.e., fixing my errors)

Pixlr internet workspace

This is the opening screen for the web app version of Pixlr

Benefits:

  • No login is needed to start editing photos (either for desktop or Internet versions)
  • There are user guides (desktop and webapp). They are available in multiple languages. There is also a design blog with further insights beyond just using the tool; I like the blog because it provides inspiration (…there are just things I don’t imagine doing with my photos, but the blog has interesting examples with information on recreating the designs).
  • There are many “free” features to use when editing a photo.
  • Although the web app version has the small, obscure icons similar to GIMP, clicking on the icon will reveal it’s function at the top of the screen.
  • The web app version shows the layers and history in side panels.
  • Saving to your computer with either the web app or desktop version is fairly quick.
  • Photos saved to the “Pixlr Library” (after login) are not displayed publicly.
Pixlr Web app workspace 2

This is the web app workspace once you start working on a photo. You can see the ad to to the far right of the screen.

Drawbacks:

  • Web app version has flashing/animated ads in right margin, which are distracting. The membership version removes the ads.
  • In the desktop version, once you click “apply” to a change, you can’t undo it. If you should cancel before applying, then it flips you back out to the main menu so you have to click back through the submenus to keep testing out other changes.
  • Similar to the point above, once you add text to the desktop version and click apply, it’s done. You can’t select and edit the text. This drawback contributed to my 2 out of 5 rating since I like editing without redoing.
  • It takes a few moments for the Filter and Adjustment changes to preview in the web app. It isn’t unreasonable, but you have to wait for the preview to catch up before sliding the adjustments further or you’ll overdo it.
  • There seems to be different login requirements for the desktop version and the web app. I was able to sign in to the desktop version after creating a login/password, but using the same combination for the web app didn’t work.
  • Does not support RAW files (e.g., from DSLR cameras); you’d have to rely on GIMP or Fotor for free RAW file editing. Also, Pixlr doesn’t edit TIFF files.

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Fotor…more fun with photos

Name: Fotor
Cost: Free (upgrade for no ads)
Type: Internet tool (app available for iOS and Android); software download for Windows and Mac
Rating: 2/5 (Internet version) 5/5 (Download version)

 

Fotor logoI recently presented my blog to coworkers in order to not only bring attention to a resource that I think they’d find helpful, but I also wanted a sense of how my peers would respond to my blog’s content. I’m very fortunate to work in a very supportive environment. Through my presentation, I realized there are many options available for those looking to use free Internet tools to jazz up their classrooms (or whatever). Fotor was brought to my attention as a photo editor similar to PicMonkey. There are a few differences between Fotor and other photo editors, though they all offer the same types of options overall. At this point, I don’t have much of a preference for Internet photo editors, especially for my purposes. If I need to do any “professional” photo editing, I’m still likely to turn to Photoshop Elements or Lightroom. But, it’s good to have these options for times when I don’t have access to a computer with my purchased software. I have found that the free versions are likely to also be suitable for student use (as long as they aren’t in a graphic design course or the like).

Goal: create graphics to include in my online classroom, combining text and graphics; I’m also looking for an easy to use tool for enhancing the graphics I use in my blog

Defining terminology: The “Internet version” is the tool that you access through an Internet browser; you obviously need an Internet connection to use the tool. The “desktop version” or “download version” refers to the tool that you need to download from one of the links above to use the software on your computer rather than through an Internet browser. (I did not test the app versions.)

Fotor desktop workspace

This is what the desktop version of the workspace looks like. Can’t complain.

Benefits:

  • No log in required to get started with either the Internet or desktop version.
  • Font colors can be changed within the same textbox. (If I want to highlight a specific word, I can change the color without changing the color of every word or needing to create a separate textbox for the highlighted word.)
  • Able to save finished graphics as .jpg or .png. (No upgrade needed in order to download the graphic to your PC.) With the desktop version, you can also save it as .bmp and .tiff.
  • The graphics you create and download show up under the Import Photos section of the workspace. You can then add the edited graphics to the next graphic you create (e.g., for when you need to edit some photos before adding them to a collage).
  • Several share options: Fotor Forum, Facebook, Twitter, Tumblr, Pinterest, Google+, or print or URL.
  • There is a preview feature that shows the graphic in the style’s intended environment. I created a YouTube cover, so the preview shows me the graphic as it might appear on a YouTube channels screen on a laptop, computer monitor, and smart phone. This way, you can see where the graphic might be cropped when put in that environment.
  • There is a download version of the software so you don’t need an Internet connection to use it.
  • Help is available, though it isn’t extensive. There are tutorials and a blog, with further insights.
  • The desktop version supports RAW image format. For those who shoot photos with a DSLR, this is a big deal since many photo editors only support JPG photo formats. (That said, most folks who take the time to shoot in RAW format have invested in Photoshop or Lightroom already.)
  • You can “batch” changes in the desktop version, so if you want to add the same border to a bunch of photos, you can do it at once.
  • The desktop version doesn’t seem to have ads beyond one in the right hand corner.
Fotor internet version workspace 1

This is the opening screen of options for the internet version of the tool.

Drawbacks:

  • Like most photo editing tools, some options are reserved for the upgraded version.
  • There are ads at the bottom of the screen for the Internet version, which can be distracting with they’re flashing, but I found it easier to ignore them as compared to tools with the ads in the right margin (e.g., Pic Monkey).
  • Some font colors don’t appear correctly (e.g., white font on black background). I had to change it to more of a gray-white in order for it to appear; for the yellow, I needed to slide the color picker to a brighter version of yellow. I identified this issue with the Internet version.
  • The screen freezes sometimes when it’s changing to a new banner ad on the Internet version.
  • Pictures over 8 megapixels cannot be uploaded to the Internet version of Fotor.
  • When creating a collage, I can’t seem to add text in the desktop version.
  • The Internet version sometimes doesn’t load, but reloading the page worked.
  • Some of the borders in the Internet collage tool will cut into your graphic. I think this is just a result of using a template that wants the graphics to be a certain size.
  • Undo in the Internet version seems to undo all the changes I made to a photo when editing it.

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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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