Type: Internet tool (download version available)
Getting 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.
This is the home page, and access to the tool. Very simple.
Goal: quality screen recordings for longer than five minutes
- 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.)
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.
- 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.)
This is the Java screen you’ll need to accept (or use the download version of the tool)
Cost: $99 (approximately…there are deals you can search for)
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)
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.
- 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)
When in either Quick or Expert edit modes, you can access Guided, which gives you some tutorial options for common tasks.
Here is a view of the workspace with several options open.
- 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.
I have previously reviewed, Create A Graph, but I have created a very simple set of instructions for creating a Pie Chart using the tool. The instructions were originally designed as a sample assignment for my technical writing students, but I decided to re-purpose the text for my blog. It’s not as much of a tutorial than a set of instructions since there aren’t many insights included below. The tool is fairly easy to figure out, so I didn’t think a whole tutorial was needed.
Creating a Pie Chart with Create A Graph Tool
The online tool, Create a Graph, allows users to easily use numerical data to generate various types of graphs. This set of instructions will focus on creating a pie graph.
- Open an Internet browser window (e.g., Firefox, Chrome, Edge).
- Access the following URL: http://nces.ed.gov/nceskids/createagraph/
- Click Pie from the graph type box
- Click on the radio-button to choose the type of Shading you want: Solid, Pattern, or Gradient
- Choose the Background color by clicking on the white box and then clicking a color of your choice
- Click the Data tab on the right side of the screen
- Add a Graph Title in the first box
- Add a Source if you gathered the data from a source
- Click the dropdown box to choose the number of pie slices needed for your data
- Insert text for Item Label
- Insert numerical Value for that item
- Click the dropdown box to choose a different color for the pie slice
- Repeat steps 10 – 12 for all items/values
- Click the Labels tab on the right side of the screen.
- Change the settings if you do not just want the default settings.
- Click the Preview tab on the right side of the screen
- Review the Pie Chart to make sure the colors, layout, and content are what you want
- Click the Print/Save tab on the right side of the screen
- Click Download to save the completed chart to your computer
- From the pop-up window, choose the type of file you want to save by clicking on the dropdown menu and then clicking Download
Now, you have a Pie Chart that can be inserted into a Word document, PowerPoint, or website, if you saved the chart as PNG, JPG, EMF, or EPS.
Cost: Free (pay membership for more features)
Patience + 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)
This is the opening screen for the web app version of Pixlr
- 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.
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.
- 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.
Rating: 2/5 (Internet version) 5/5 (Download version)
I 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.)
This is what the desktop version of the workspace looks like. Can’t complain.
- 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.
This is the opening screen of options for the internet version of the tool.
- 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.
Type: Internet (plus app)
There 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)
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.
- 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.
- 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.)