ICT related news and ideas

Archive for October, 2008

Animoto

Animoto declares itself ‘the end of slideshows’. Well, I’m not quite sure what they mean by that, but this is a terrific application for creating ….. well, slideshows. What you do is upload a bunch of image files, select some music from their copyright-free library (you can upload your own tracks, but you would need to be careful about copyright issues) and press the button. After a few minutes you get an e-mail to say your slideshow is ready and you will find your pictures have been put together in a fast-moving show complete with lots of effects synchronised to the music. Very cool, and with no effort on your part.

The usefulness of all this for us as language teachers, I think, is that it offers a novel way not so much to present vocabulary, but rather to reinforce it or test it. Here are three examples I have used: one on places in town (this one is German-specific), one on sports and one on food and drink. The last one, which employs the same images as were on the PowerPoint which originally introduced the vocabulary, I used as a quick-response vocabulary test – you need to see it two or three times to be fair. Another way to use one like this is to have a list of items including more than what is seen, so pupils tick them off as they appear, or perhaps in the order they appear. Remember you need to play them in full screen mode for the full effect.

To be allowed more than the usual free limit of 3 full-length shows, you need to register for an educational account, which is still free. Try it. It’s easy, more fun than most other ways of revising or testing vocabulary, but just be careful not to disrupt the class next door by having the music up too loud!

RTC

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Voicethread

Now this is another of those clever websites that makes you wonder initially about its purpose – Voicethread has been set up to enable online conversations about an image or video that you upload along with a starter question or comment. I thought I’d try it out with my Third Year French class using food and drink as the topic, and I was quite pleased with the outcome and the pupil response.

That’s a screenshot above, the real thing is here. Having uploaded the pictures (there are three slides to this particular thread) I added the pupils as my ‘friends’ and shared it with them via e-mail. They then added their responses at home. As you can see, they were in most cases text responses; some recorded their contributions as audio clips. You can also make a video comment with a webcam – I’ve tried it out (not on this one, however) and it’s quite scary to see and hear yourself popping up in a speech bubble! The end result is a slide show that plays through automatically – or you can click on individual comments to see or hear them. Hovering over an avatar reveals the name of the contributor.

The teething problem we had was that initially I used school e-mail addresses, which was a mistake, as a lot of invitations obviously got sent to the spam folder, which pupils cannot access. Switching to personal e-mail addresses was better, though they did sometimes still have to retrieve the invitation from their junk mail. As a result, we didn’t hit 100% on this attempt. Next time I hope for a greater success rate.

Voicethread would work really well for those instances when real opinions are involved, eg views on school uniform. Some teachers in other schools are using it for inter-school dialogues, such as in the leadup to an exchange.

If you’re interested in the detail, the instructions I supplied to my class are on the Expo 2 Moodle site, or you can see them here.

RTC

Glogster Poster Creator

Glogster is a slightly odd concept – one of those things that you wonder ‘what is it actually for?’. Well, what it’s for is creating online posters using a very simple set of tools that allow you to create layouts including images, text, graphics, audio and video. Why?

Well, just think of all those times when you ask pupils to create poster-like documents to make use of their recently-acquired knowledge and ability to talk about their home, pets, school, whatever. The default medium is usually Word, which is fine in many ways, but the point about Glogster is that it reflects much more closely the way kids are used to being creative when they are playing about on their Facebooks or wherever they spend their evenings and weekends. Have a look at it and you’ll see what I mean. I tried one out fairly randomly, just to see how it operates. The rather tragic result is shown above as an image: the real thing may be seen here.

One limitation concerns (as so often) the acceptance of accented characters – you are restricted to one Arial-style font for this. One thing I didn’t get to work is the rather cool way images can be made to zoom out when selected. But it’s capable of really striking things when you put your mind to it. Just look at this extraordinary one about Hallowe’en!

Worth a try next time your pupils want to create a poster? I think so.

RTC

Cartoons (last word?)

Let’s put this topic to rest for the moment by highlighting two other useful sites that let you or your pupils create their own cartoon strips – Toondoo and GoAnimate!. There are lots of other such sites on the web, such as Toonlet and Bitstrips – the latter has the appealing trick of allowing you to create a  customised cartoon persona that you can make look quite like yourself, if you fancy that – but I’ve had a go at the aforementioned myself and had pupils try them out with a fair degree of success, so I think they are worth looking at.

Toondoo does what most such sites do, ie allows you to put together a cartoon made of a number of frames using backgrounds, characters and items chosen from pre-populated libraries. These are very rich, so you won’t quickly run out of possibilities! Perhaps because of this, the site can be a bit slow, which is the only real drawback. A big plus, however, is the fact that you can save your finished creations as image files and so use them other than as links to the Toondoo site. As in the (fairly mediocre) example above, which is also online at the site. I had some pupils use it last year as a homework, which they seemed to enjoy.

But the best and most fun site has to be GoAnimate! which lets you create not just cartoon strips, but animated cartoon strips! It basically has a library of little Flash animations that you apply to your characters to make them move, gesture and show emotions. There was originally a problem in that the site did not support accented characters: I contacted them, along with some other MFL teachers, and I have just discovered that they have happily done something about this. So frkeys and numeric keyboard shortcuts for accents now work in the text boxes. The picture above is a frame from my original trial effort which can be seen in its full glory (or otherwise) here. It really did take only a very short time to put together – it’s that simple, as they say. I have some music at the end of the clip, but haven’t otherwise used audio. You can, however, record on to the strip, so you could, for example, voice your characters. It would make a lovely project for an assistant to do with pupils! My only hassle with this site has been that when you opt to view in full screen mode, it seems to freeze. A pity, as it looks great full screen.

And, just for luck, one more site, that was flagged up to me by the creator via a comment when this post was first published, and that’s Pixton. The above cartoon is a quick trial run, which proved that the site does accept accented characters ok. The attractive feature of Pixton is that you can move characters’ limbs around by dragging them, so changing posture and gesture, as well as modifying their expression. It also boasts a translation feature, via a mouse-over, which – like most machine translations – can turn out a bit bizarre. Check it out here.

So that’s it for cartoons – for now, at any rate ….. I think they have much potential for presenting material, but probably more importantly for having pupils reinforce and display their learning in a creative way.

RTC