All a-Twitter II: the kids

My reservations notwithstanding, it appears irrefutable that Twitter offers powerful opportunities for learning, as well as applications in the classroom.

In his blog, The principle of change, George Couros recommends some ideas of how to use Twitter hashtags in the classroom, as well as some steps to doing it right. He also suggests some advantages of using the strategy with students.

Because I teach high school, my students comply with the minimum age restriction by Twitter (13 years). I love the idea of opening up to my students, via the Twitter universe. To me, this strategy of using Twitter in the classroom would combine the Web 2.0 social media aspect of Twitter with the basic need for access to information about high school courses. This provides a valuable framework for the tool.

I share my email address and cell phone number with my students, and have had many email or text me with questions about assignments or course content. With Twitter, students would have access to my tweets around the clock, and I would be alerted of their questions or concerns on a regular basis. Furthermore, this would reach beyond the student with the initial question. All students who signed up or used the hashtag would be privy to, and able to participate in, the discussions that ensued.

Couros makes some pertinent observations about the use of Twitter hashtags as a communication tool with students. He believes that the use of hashtags, “…helps to create community learning” (2011), and “…tap[s] into the wisdom of your entire class. Students will publish their questions and comments, and participate actively in the Twitter discussions.

Moreover, learning is shared beyond the classroom. Because Twitter is public forum, parents may see what their children are learning, and others may also chime in.

Couros also explains that by using Twitter, teachers are”…helping kids create a positive digital footprint”. In this digital age, it is encouraging for students to value the educational value of new technologies.

I am thinking of incorporating a hashtag in my creative writing class next semester. This should be a manageable way to try out this new learning, while still exploiting its power in a meaningful way that is conducive to learning.

Kate Messner is a teacher who brought Twitter into her classroom, and utilized it in many ways. In School Library Journal (2009), Messner speaks of her own use of Twitter in her professional life. This experience led her to ask, ” What if my students could draw on the expertise of authors and others as they’re learning the craft of writing? What if they could pose questions to a [Professional Learning Network]?” She set about bringing Twitter into her classroom. Messner describes one valuable Twitter experience, during which her students were following an author as she explained her writing routine. Messner writes, “‘Hey wait!’ says Kiah, one of my students. ‘Can we talk to them, too?’ I nod. ‘We’re logged in under our classroom Twitter account… What do you want to know?’ And just like that, my classroom has grown. No longer just 15 kids and a teacher. It’s all of us, plus a children’s author in Virginia, a book editor at her desk in SoHo, and another half dozen children’s writers from around the country…”

What a powerful way to use Web 2.0 to bring authentic learning to students. I am nervous. I am unsure. But I am inspired to try harder.

In case I needed more proof, the video below explains how Dr. Monica Rankin has used Twitter to enhance student learning at the University of Texas at Dallas. although this depicts Twitter’s success at the post-secondary level, much of the rationale has a place in a high school setting as well.

References

Couros, G. (2011). Twitter hashtags in the classroom. In The Principal of Change: Stories of learning and leading. Retrieved from http://georgecouros.ca/blog/archives/260

Ferenstein, G. (2010). The Twitter experiment: Twitter in the classroom. In How Twitter in the classroom is boosting student engagement. Retrieved from http://mashable.com/2010/03/01/twitter-classroom/

Messner, K. Pleased to tweet you: Making a case for Twitter in the classroom. School Library Journal. Retrieved from http://www.schoollibraryjournal.com/article/CA6708199.html

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All a-Twitter!

If there’s one Web 2.0 tool I feel I have not adequately exploited, it’s Twitter. I’m not sure why Twitter intimidates me as a tool, but it does.

As a tweet-ee:

I enjoy following Twitter feeds, but I do find daunting the number of tweets I miss if I fail to check in regularly enough. And I’m only following a handful of Tweeters so far! This overwhelmed feeling reminds me of how I felt about Facebook before I started using the app on my iPad. On my computer, I checked the site much less frequently. If I didn’t check in for a few days, I dreaded pouring through the off-putting number of updates, wall posts and messages I had missed. Similarly, with Twitter, I feel guilt for not taking the time to check in every day, and am discouraged by the time that it could take to go through what I have missed. I know that there will be meaningful content there, and do not want to miss out.

As a tweeter:

It might be that it is so public, so “out there” a broadcast method, that I am excruciatingly aware of how public everything is that I tweet. Instead of feeling happy to have new followers, I feel a feeling of onus, that now I must find fascinating and original things to post, in order to entertain and inform my audience. I realize that this is not the point of Twitter, nor is there the expectation from tweet-ees to be regaled with wondrous information every minute of the day. The public nature of this means of communication, however, has definitely kept me from sharing as much as I would like.

In a CCN Go interview regarding her film, Twittermentary, director Tan Siok Siok stated, “…Twitter can be a catalyst for reinventing one’s life. But it can just as easily lead to narcissism and delusion” (2011). Perhaps that egocentricity of tweeting is partly what holds me back. I don’t particularly want people hanging on my every word, or tuning in to hear every inane thing I have to say. I’d rather not have the attention!  When blogging, there is a specific purpose to each post. I write, edit and rewrite, and I know that if the reader doesn’t feel like tuning in to my post, he won’t. When I post a silly status update on Facebook, I know it will only be my “friends” who read it. There is a sense of privacy there. When tweeting, however, I am excruciatingly aware that my fleeting thoughts are being broadcast to all who have foolishly signed up to partake of my wisdom.

Another concern is the hidden intricacies associated with innocent-seeming tweets. There is much more involved in my simple little tweet about, say, a recipe for shortbread, than meets the eye.  Raffi Krikorian, technical leader with Twitter (2011), produced the following map of a Twitter status object, depicting the many fields associated with a simple tweet. Simon Fodden says that, even though there’s nothing too alarming in the metadata displayed, “…it’s sensible for those of us who are privacy conscious to be reminded from time to time that what seems to us to be a very minimal exposure to the unblinking glare of the internet carries with it a large amount of ‘body language,’ so to speak” (2011).

Not that Twitter lacks value – far from it! I have learned much from my subscriptions to various tweeters, such as Joanne DeGroot, Jenn Branch, Joyce Valenza and Dean Shareski, to name but a few. I do find, however, that much of the useful content I find in tweets is limited to links and quick blurbs. I find I often have to sift through personal conversations without context, for example, “I’m watching reruns of Barney Miller. I win”. (Shareski, 2011), and threads to which I don’t know the origin, like, “Only midnite @ Amsterdams in Whistler. To bed – 2am at home! RT when do you sleep? These are my hours not yours”. (John Gormley Live, 2011). Huh??

I’m sure that as I continue to familiarize myself with Twitter, it will seem less daunting. I suppose the key is to find the twits you find most effective, and check in with them most habitually. I consistently find valuable information on Joanne DeGroot’s and Buffy Hamilton’s tweets, and will check in with them more regularly.

As far as tweeting goes, I am a work in progress. I think I need to find a platform – a purpose – that works for me. I may just have been inspired… For more on this, read “All a-Twitter II: the kids”.

References:

Fang, C. (2011). Tan Siok Siok: ‘Twitter can lead to narcissism and delusion’. In Life. Retrieved from http://www.cnngo.com/singapore/life/tan-siok-siok-using-twitter-make-film-439021

Fodden, S. (2011). The anatomy of a tweet: metadata on Twitter. In Slaw.ca. Retrieved from http://www.slaw.ca/2011/11/17/the-anatomy-of-a-tweet-metadata-on-twitter/

For legal aid press 1. For tech support, press 2. [Cartoon image]. In Social Signal. Retrieved from http://www.socialsignal.com/image/for-legal-aid-press-1-for-tech-support-press-2

John Gormley Live. (2011, December 1, 2011). [Tweet]. Retrieved from https://twitter.com/#!/JohnGormleyLive

Krikorian, R. (2011). Map of a Twitter status object. In Mehack: raffi krikorian’s hacking, tinkering, and writing. Retrieved from http://mehack.com/map-of-a-twitter-status-object.

Shareski, Dean. (2011, December 2). [Tweet]. Retrieved from https://twitter.com/#!/shareski

Evernote? Note everything!

“Take note of anything” (2011), suggests Evernote’s Web site. “Evernote makes it easy to remember things big and small from your notable life using your computer, phone, and the web”.

How true! I started using Evernote a few months ago, because I needed a better way to take notes on my iPad than the built-in “notes” function.

At first, it seemed like a slightly more organized version of the basic note-taking program; a place to store meeting notes, ideas for future projects, and the beginning stages of word documents. ”… a handy digital note taking ‘software suite’ that makes it easier to collect and recall those numerous back of envelope and restaurant napkin jottings in our lives” (2011).  I was just happy to have a better tool for such tasks on my iPad.

Technology consultant, David Coursey wanted “…to be able to enter a note on [his] desktop, laptop, or phone, and keep it automatically synchronized with [his] other computers and portable devices” (2009). He claims that Evernote provides that, allowing the user to “…capture information by typing a note, grabbing e-mail text, saving a clipping from a Web page (in whole or part), or taking a picture with a camera phone”.

It wasn’t until I attended the National French Immersion Teachers’ conference in November that I discovered some of these more intricate and interesting features of Evernote.

I was in a session by Yves Nadon – French language teacher, writer and reader extraordinaire – armed with my iPad. I was taking notes on the workshop in Evernote, when it occurred to me how useful it would be to take some photos of the presentation. I was going to simply take some pictures with my camera feature, when I noticed the little icons atop my screen in Evernote. I started playing, and realized that I could take photos, video and audio within the program itself.  Cool. I was able to record Yves’ reading of C’est un livre, take some snapshots of his recommended books, and videotape some of his advice for teachers, and automatically include all that footage in my notes on the session.

Another convenient feature of Evernote is that once one has registered, one can access one’s synchronized content on various machines (e.g. laptop, desktop, iPhone, etc). One glitch I discovered, however, was that although I was able to save all of that on my iPad, for some reason the multimedia footage does not appear on my online Evernote account when I access it on my laptop or desktop computer.

 

The Evernote Corporation promises that a user of their product can, “Remember everything, capture anything, access anywhere, and find things fast” (2011). I continue to use the application for work, and have started using it personally, to keep recipes and Christmas lists. Although I have experimented with some of Evernote’s many options, I evidently still have much to learn about the tool. I am looking forward to learning more possible uses for Evernote.

Check out this video, that shows how one school is using Evernote to improve student learning!

References

Coursey, D.. (2009, May). Evernote Organizes Your Life Across All Your Devices. PC World, 27(5), 34.  Retrieved December 1, 2011, from ProQuest Education Journals.  Retrieved from: http://proquest.umi.com.login.ezproxy.library.ualberta.ca/pqdweb?index=9&did=1788783771&SrchMode=1&sid=10&Fmt=3&VInst=PROD&VType=PQD&RQT=309&VName=PQD&TS=1322793063&clientId=12301

Learn more. In Evernote. 2011. Retrieved from http://www.evernote.com/about/learn_more/

Jing: what the experts are saying

In her review of Jing, CNET Editor Jessica Dolcourt gives a brief overview of the screen capture application, and discusses some of its advantages and disadvantages.

Dolcourt calls Jing, “…a solid application and capture distribution system with a premium component”. (2011). She goes on to state that “Jing’s attractive application takes a sound, simple approach to capturing”. She explains the process of installing and using Jing, including the downloading of other components necessary to run the program.

Dolcourt discusses the advantages of Jing, such as sharing ease and user-friendly elements such as the yellow sun icon that indicates the starting point and the crosshairs that one moves to capture the screen image one wants to share.

She then mentions one disadvantage, which is the requirement of Microsoft.net, which one must take time to install if it does not exist on the computer of choice. Indeed, I had to first determine whether or not I need to take this step, then download and install the framework before being able to run Jing and Screencast. The process was quite user-friendly, however, and I was able to do it right the first time!

The following video is more of a how-to than a critique, but Dolcourt does give a partial review of Jing.

Jing review video 

 
Reference:
 
Dolcourt, J. (2009, June 8). Jing: CNET editors’ review. Retrieved from: http://download.cnet.com/Jing/3000-13633_4-10744274.html 

Xtranormal: what the experts are saying

In his review in the animation section of About.com, freelance writer, Web designer, computerized graphic designer and animator, Adrien-Luc Sanders gives a detailed depiction of YouTube’s Xtranormal animation program. He outlines the pros and cons of the tool, and clearly explains the creative process involved.

In his summary of the application, Sanders calls Xtranormal “…an easy, adorable shortcut for creating animations as a content delivery platform” (2011). He goes on to say, “I’m sure it won’t be long before someone finds an out-of-the-box way to use the medium to build their audience”. I believe this has already happened! As I posted in Xtranormal Activity II, Paul Nightingale suggests using Xtranormal to create video blogs, send invitations, design avatars, and make business presentations, among other ideas.

Sanders summarizes Xtranormal and its pros and cons in the following list:

Pros
  • Makes animation accessible to non-animators.
  • Easy point-and-click intuitive content creation that doesn’t require in-depth animation training.
  • Comes with a stock library of characters, sets, sounds, and voices.
  • Can easily publish content to YouTube.
  • Free.
Cons
  • Links to private Google account info.
  • Voices are about as distorted and glottal as you’d expect.
  • Generic stock characters.
Description
  • Web-based animation application that creates 3D content within minutes.
  • Lets you type in dialogue that can be converted to audio speech.
  • Allows you to apply animations to stock characters.

While I agree with Sanders’ overall impression of the tool and its advantages, I did not have the same experience with the downfalls of the program. When I registered for an account, Xtranormal linked my account directly with YouTube, so I did not experience the privacy issue Sanders noted. My students, however, were able to create accounts without the need for a YouTube or Google account. All that was required was an email address. Perhaps this has been updated since Sanders wrote his Blog.

Furthermore, I consider the “distorted and glottal” voices and stock characters to which Sanders refers, part of the charm of the tool! I love that the dialogue comes out in canned voices, from unnatural-looking avatar characters. It adds to the humourous aspect of Xtranormal.

Reference

Sanders, A-L. (2011). Guide Review – Animation Software Review: YouTube’s Xtranormal. Retrieved from http://animation.about.com/od/softwarereviews/gr/Animation-Software-Review-Youtubes-Xtranormal.htm 

Animoto: what the experts are saying

Trey Ratcliff writes the top travel photography Blog on the Internet. He is the first photographer to have an HDR (High dynamic range) image displayed in the Smithsonian, and has been featured on many television networks.

Ratcliff has worked with both the basic and Pro versions of Animoto and reviewed it on his Blog. He listed the following benefits and downfalls of the tool:

Benefits of Animoto

  • Easy to use and fairly idiot-proof
  • Make something that looks professional even if you are a rookie, hack, miscreant, or all three
  • The video is online immediately and very easy for you to embed into your website, blog, and the like
  • Looking to deliver an “added feature” to your clients, this is something that is easy and has an amazing “wow” factor

Reasons Not to Use Animoto

  • Do you already have a Mac and iPhoto + iMovie?  If so, you can create very similar effects with these programs…  However, these are a little harder to use and don’t have some of the “themes” that Animoto offers
  • You only have a few photos or very little “source” material.  Animoto can’t help you with that
  • Cost – if you are on a super-tight budget, then the “free” parts of Animoto might not have enough power for you

Ratcliff goes on to say that importing photos from online photo sharing sites like Flickr can be problematic, as it does not work well with too many photos in a library. He also refered to some confusion regarding resolution of photos to upload when using the pro version of Animoto.

Overall, Ratcliff seems to appreciate the tool, saying, “I’ll keep making more and more videos with this…because it is fun!” (2010), although he had some suggestions to make it even more user-friendly. It appears as though some of these improvements, such as more theme selections, and direct exporting to YouTube, may already have been made since Ratcliff’s assessment in 2010.

I tend to agree with Ratcliff’s observations that Anomoto is an easy, fun way to create a simple video using one’s photos. I found the basic, free version provided all that I needed, and all that my students will likely need to display their photos and short pieces of writing.

Read more on Radcliff’s Blog, and watch a video he made with his beautiful photos, using Animoto Pro.

Reference

Ratcliff, T. (2010, Jan. 3). Animoto review [Web log comment]. Retrieved from http://www.stuckincustoms.com/animoto-review/

Aside

Domo Animoto!!

I love Animoto!

The first time I tried the tool, I appreciated the ease with which one could select, upload and add photos to create a short video, complete with background music chosen from the site. I was using the free version of Animoto, which is fine for creating 30-second long videos such as I just described.

A colleague suggested I try out the educational version, so I signed up, and within minutes I was on my way to using a much more comprehensive version of the tool.

First, I was prompted to choose a style for my video. This determines the background and scenes that will accompany the video, and sets the tone for the piece. One can select from 28 styles such as “Cosmic tidings” and “Coming up roses”, which will play between footage, and behind the photos, videos and text that the user adds. Each theme lends a different feel to the video, and one can preview them before selecting. I chose “Watercolor seashore”, as it was fitting for the subject I wanted to share.

Unlike the free version I had previously tried, I was able to browse and upload short videos as well as photos. The program is very user-friendly, and selecting and uploading photos from computer folders is fast and simple. I was able to select multiple files for upload at once, and could easily delete selections or change the order once the footage was inserted into the project. I did discover, however, that video clips are time-restrained, so the program will cut each clip off after a certain lenth of time.

After my photos and videos were added, I was prompted to choose from hundreds of available songs, categorized thematically. I was pleasantly surprised by the quality and variety of music Animoto offered. The program provides a wide variety of styles and themes within 14 genres of music, such as “Romantic”, “Hip-hop” and “Halloween”, and the quality is very good! And on top of that, although there really is something for everyone, the site even provides the user with the option of importing his own mp3 music if I preferred.

Lastly, I could add text to the video, again moving it around to place it where I wanted it to appear. The font and colours are decided by the style chosen for the video. Headers and text are limited to 22 and 30 characters respectively. This is more than sufficient for a photo-story or video project, but might make some educational applications, such as a writing project, more challenging. That said, I don’t believe the number of text boxes is limited, so one could still add considerable text if desired.

I really appreciated that one is not tied to an order when creating videos. For example, one can select music first if preferred, even though it is technically the third step in the process. Furthermore, one is always able to go back and change any element at any point in the production. Even after the video has been rendered and published, the project is still available for editing and updating.

My video took a few minutes to produce, and I received an email with a link to the finished product. Animoto also provides for direct exportation and uploading to YouTube, which makes sharing even easier.

And, best of all, I was able to sign up 50 students and / or staff on my account, meaning that they will all be able to benefit from the added features of the educational version of Animoto.

I can’t wait to use this in class with my students. It might not be possible to exploit this as a project tool this term, but I will definitely share it with my technologie class, and am excited to use it with my creative writing students in term 2!

I leave you with this, my first real Animoto video, which touches on a subject very close to my heart!

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