Thursday, October 29, 2009

SuperLame


Ever seen a rather serious looking photo of someone you know, or indeed yourself, and wish you could lighten it up a little with speech bubbles? Or indeed, create a comic strip with your favourite pictures? Now there is a Web 2.0 application that is easy to use and can do just that: BeOriginal's SuperLame.

SuperLame is a simple tool which allows the user to quickly add speech balloons to their favourite pictures. It was created using Adobe's Flash CS3 and makes use of ActionScript 3.0. SuperLame can be accessed on http://superlame.com and requires no registration or sign-up. Upon loading, click on the large blue icon on top, Start Here, and let your project begin.


Step-by-Step to Comic Creation
  1. First, you need to upload your first photo. Do so by clicking on the Upload Image tab on top, and choose your photo for editing. (NB: Remember to use re-sized versions of photos, and that your photos must be smaller than 2MB).
  2. Now that your photo has been uploaded, you can start adding speech bubbles by clicking on the Add a Balloon tab. Click in the center of the balloon and start typing your blurb. The balloon can be moved around the screen and positioned exactly where you want it. You may also change the style of your balloon (for example, you may opt for 'cloudy thoughts' balloons, or a more pointy variety to express astonishment, etc.). This is done by clicking on the icons surrounding your new word balloon.
  3. You can also opt to add a 'sound' effects by clicking on the Add Sound FX tab. This does not actually add a music file to your picture, but rather, it creates comic-book type words such as POWW and KABOOM !! to add more characther to your photos.
  4. Your photo can have a frame around it, and you can also choose to have a black, white or grey background for it as well. Both can be modified by clicking on their respective icons on the right hand side of the photo.
  5. Ready from your editing? Click on the Save Image icon on the top left hand menu bar. The image will be stored as a JPEG, ready to be saved or e-mailed to a friend. Or, if you feel so inclined, you may also opt to visit the Comic Shop, where you can order prints of your Comic Photos, stickers or even T-Shirts (all this obviously at a price).

Some Ideas for the Classroom

SuperLame requires no sign-up or registration, and is relatively easy to use, even for younger pupils. Photos can be downloaded directly from the camera to the website, and sets of photos can be manipulated in order to create a storyboard. SuperLame is not a photo-sharing website; users will not be invited to browse through other people's photo collections, thus making it safe for children as well.

SuperLame accessed at http://www.superlame.com

Friday, September 25, 2009

Imagination Cubed


Imagine two classrooms set in different countries - say one in Malta, one in the UK. Both sets of students are collaborating together on a project. They would like to create a drawing or a picture together, and have thought of using a regular drawing program, such as the ones already pre-installed on their desktops. However, conventional paint programs only allow people to work at a drawing asynchronously; for them to collaborate on the same picture it would require them to save a copy of the drawing and e-mail it back and forth to each other, until everyone has added their piece. This is often time-consuming and may not reach the desired effect in the end.

Enter the world of Imagination Cubed...one of the simplest, most user friendly collaborative Paint/Doodle Maker available online. Imagination Cubed allows multiple users to interact with the same drawing simultaneously. It is a simple flash engine which delivers fast performance and the ability for multiple users to collaborate together in real time. To start using Imagination Cubed, simply go to http://www.imaginationcubed.com/

Introducing Imagination Cubed


As soon as the initial animation has loaded, you will be presented with a plain Whiteboard Space and a list of options to choose from. By default, the Pen Tool will be activated and you may start doodling straight away. There is a set of tools which you can access from the Tools menu, which include:

  • Pen: To change the style, thickness and colour of your Pen;
  • Shapes: To insert shapers into your drawing. You may change the colour and the size of the shape by dragging one of its corners;
  • Stamper: A set of stamps which you can use - once again, you may change colour and size according to your doodle;
  • Line: Creates straight lines of different colours and thicknesses;
  • Type: Text Tool;
  • Background Colour: Change your doodle's background colour and/or texture.

Each drawing or doodle can be saved, printed and sent to other persons for review. These options are accessed from the File menu. Another handy option is the Replay button - which allows the animation to be replayed from the beginning. To the naked eye, your doodle may appear to be just that, a little drawing or doodle; but it reality what you are creating is a simple flash animation which can be replayed over and over again. This unfortunately leads to one of the downsides of the application: it doesn't allow you to import your own pictures into the doodle. You start with a clean slate and have to fill it up on your own.

Collaborative Tools

Up to this point, the drawing or doodle is technically still yours; meaning that it is still private and only you and your students have access to it. It is only when you are ready to share it with the rest of the world that your doodle becomes public: by inviting people to collaborate on it. This can be done by clicking on the Invite a Friend tab at the top right hand side of the screen.

A dialog box will pop up requesting your name and e-mail address, and also the name and e-mail address of the person/s with whom you wish to share your doodle. After you hit send, your 'friend' will receive an invitation to view and join your drawing. The person must open the e-mail, click on the link, and be transported into your doodle, where he or she can just watch you work on your project or work together with you, in real time. Your name and the name of your friend will appear on top of the Pen, so that everyone can see what the other is doing.


When collaborating on a doodle, the Chat option will automatically activate, enabling users to chat while working together.

Using Imagination Cubed

One can think of several uses for using Imagination Cubed in the classroom...Some ideas are:

  • For collaborative projects, such as eTwinning, Eko Skola, Connectando Mundos, etc;
  • For collaboration between classrooms in the same school, especially in the early years;
  • For communication purposes between classrooms, to augment a regular chatting session;
  • For helping young students with their hand-mouse co-ordination skills;
  • For training on Interactive White boards;
  • For creating simple animations which can be shared and replayed over and over again...


This list, obviously goes on and on...only your imagination is the limit!

Imagination Cubed can be accessed on: http://www.imaginationcubed.com/

Monday, September 21, 2009

Using Technology With Your Students: AUP Forms


I think that to say that we live in the digital era would be the under-statement of the century. We are surrounded by technology all the time – wherever and whatever we clasp our eyes upon, in fact. Laptops have become as small as the palm of one’s hand. GPS’s have become widespread and most people wouldn’t dream of going abroad without one. Mobile phones, which, a couple of years ago served the sole purpose of placing a call from A to B, are now capable of shooting photos and videos on par with the most advanced digital cameras.

And, probably, that is where the problem lies. We are so used to all this technology and information pouring at us from all directions – be it from e-mail, websites, blogs or social networking sites – that we sometimes forget one of the basic rules of digital publishing: that is, never, ever, publish online photos, videos or details of persons without their previous knowledge or consent.

Digital publishing and social networking sites such as Wordpress and Facebook has made photo and video upload very easy – in fact, as easy as sending an SMS from our mobile. The mere fact that this task has become so increasingly simplified it does not automatically incur that the previous rules of Netiquette do not apply or have ceased to exist. On the contrary, since sharing and uploading of information has become so easy and widespread, I feel that we have been bestowed with an even greater responsibility. It is so easy to take a picture and upload it from our mobiles – a mere minute or two of ‘work’. But do we ever stop and think about whose photos we are putting online, and if that person would like to appear online after all?

The argument becomes even trickier when dealing with our classroom students. Our students are below the age of consent; it is their parents who make the decisions for them. And parents have every right in the world to refuse not only that their children appear online, but also that photos or videos are taken of their children, even if they are not intended for publication, digital or otherwise. Some parents are understandably afraid of ‘sharing’ their children with the outside world; others are surprisingly laissez-fair (but probably because they are not aware of the risks involved; an equally dangerous state of mind). But surely, we, as teachers, cannot keep track of all the photos taken by us – or indeed our students – and uploaded online, can we? Or should we?

The answer lies in a simple phrase, or form, as it were: The Acceptable Use Policy (AUP) form, which can be downloaded from http://skola.gov.mt/SKOLA/home/aup-qsc/AcceptableUsePolicy.aspx#AUPForm. It is our duty as teachers to ensure that each and every student in our classroom has had his AUP form signed and delivered. Never, ever take anything for granted. The most outgoing and cheery student in your class might not like being photographed, or his parents may object to the practice. It is not something worth taking the risk for.

If there is a good number of parents in a particular school which object to their children using the Internet or being photographed, it is also worth asking WHY this has happened. A great deal of misinformation that goes around is surely to blame; but mostly, it may be fear of the unknown…Parents may have a lot of questions going around their heads, such as…"Where will my child’s photos be published?”…and…"Is my child going to be supervised while surfing the Net?” These are all justifiable and acceptable excuses, but what can be done in order to counter-act them? Surely one cannot have a classroom website with half of the students absent, or their faces blotched out? What kind of classroom website would that be ??

I think I can safely say that, in this occasion, honesty is certainly the best policy. If there is a problem in your school or classroom – talk to the parents. Some of them are plain afraid of the unknown; others might have been drawn into the fear by other, more paranoid or misinformed individuals. Explain to the parents what are you going to do; where and why the photos will be used, the websites they will be uploaded on, etc. Re-assure the parents about Internet use in the classroom, too.

It is also worth directing the parents to one or two useful websites, such as CBBC’s Internet Saftey News on: http://news.bbc.co.uk/cbbcnews/hi/find_out/guides/tech/safe_surfing/newsid_1607000/1607213.stm, BBC’s Staying Safe online: http://www.bbc.co.uk/cbbc/help/web/staysafe and Kidsmart: http://www.kidsmart.org.uk/. Assure the parents you will be helping their children learn how to use the Internet safely and wisely.

There is a lot of good stuff going on the Internet, and a myriad of learning experiences still unexplored; but unfortunately, there is a lot of the bad stuff, too. The important thing is to know the difference. In the digital era, the uninformed human being is a very dangerous person to be around. Make sure that you – as a teacher – plus your students and their parents are well aware of the correct Netiquette to follow.



Some important websites to remember:

AUP Forms (Download Form & Explanation for Parents): http://skola.gov.mt/SKOLA/home/aup-qsc/AcceptableUsePolicy.aspx#AUPForm

CBBC Internet Safety News: http://news.bbc.co.uk/cbbcnews/hi/find_out/guides/tech/safe_surfing/newsid_1607000/1607213.stm,

BBC Staying Safe Online: http://www.bbc.co.uk/cbbc/help/web/staysafe

Kidsmart: http://www.kidsmart.org.uk/

Saturday, September 12, 2009

Mind Mapping: Using Bubbl Us


Every beginning has its end - the warm Summer days are giving way to shorter, cooler days, and a new scholastic year has just begun. After a relaxing break, it is now its time to head back to our respective classrooms, meet our new students and start the exciting journey of teaching and learning once again.

New year - new students - and probably, new projects as well. During the year, we are all bound to have some sort of project running in our classroom - be it something simple such as setting up a nature table, or something requiring a bit more thought, like an eTwinning project. At the start of such projects, it is customary for the teacher to engage the pupils in what is known as Mind Mapping. A Mind Map is a

"... diagram used to represent words, ideas, tasks, or other items linked to and arranged around a central key word or idea. Mind maps are used to generate,visualize, structure, and classify ideas, and as an aid in study, organization, problem solving, decision making, and writing"

Source: Wikipedia

Traditionally this excercise usually took place on the board or on a flip-chart; however now there are several web options which make this possible as well. After browsing to see what's available online, I decided to go for Bubbl Us , which can be found at http://bubbl.us


Introducing Bubbl Us


Bubbl Us (without the silent 'e' at the end) is an free web application used for brainstorming sessions online. It allows users to create colourful online mind-maps, which can be shared and embedded in blogs and websites. A distict advantage over written mind-maps is the ability to have multiple users working on the same Map. This is particularly useful if the teacher requires input not only from his/her classroom students, but also from other classes if its an inter-classroom project, or from other collegues as well.

To start mind-mapping, go to http://bubbl.us and click on Start Brainstorming to start a new session.


Basic Features

Each brainstorming session starts with a focal point - a rectangular grey bubble - in the middle, with the word 'Start Here' on it. Click on this' and write your chosen topic in the middle - for example, 'Helping our Environment'. When you go mouse over the central bubble, you will be able to see several icons which let you do different things with your mind map. Starting from the top left icon and moving clockwise, these are:

  • Move: Click and drag to move your bubble around;
  • Delete: Click to delete the bubble;
  • New Sibling: Create a new bubble under the same parent;
  • Connect: Click and drag to connect a new bubble with a directional line. Drop onto another bubble to connect;
  • New Child: Click to create a new child bubble;
  • Colour: Click to select bubble colour.
The controls are quite easy to get the hang of, even for young students. Bubbles can be individually edited using the above controls, there is also a handy undo button which can reverse any unwanted actions.


Printing, Saving and Sharing

Each Mind Map can be printed and saved online for future reference or editing - by clicking on the relevant icons (if you did not create an account at the beginning of the session, it will prompt you to create one as soon as you hit save - you only have to supply a username, e-mail account and password). But what really puts Bubbl Us above pen and paper mind-mapping is the fact that one can not only share the mind-map in a blog, wiki or website, but it also allows multiple users to interact with the map itself. This is called mind-map sharing and options can be accessed by clicking on My Sheets > Sharing (top right hand corner of the screen.) You will notice that a particular mind-map is being shared because it will have a tiny yellow star on it.



Alternatively, by clicking on Menu icon at the bottom right hand corner of the screen, you will be prompted to:
  • Send a read only link for your friends or collaborators to view;
  • Grab the html embed code for embedding your mind-map directly on your blog or website
  • Import or Export your sheet in XML format;
  • Change the editor's settings for your mind-map.


Some important tips for sharing your mind-map:

  • before you start sharing, make sure that you have a saved copy of your mind-map in its original state before you open it up to others;
  • mind-maps may only be shared with Bubbl Us 'friends': that is, the persons you want to share your mind-map with must also have a Bubbl Us account;
  • friends can have different permissions assigned to them: Read Only, which allows viewing but no editing, or Full Edit, which allows full editing control, including re-naming of your mind-map.

Further information about Bubbl Us and mind-mapping can be found at:



Happy Mind-Mapping!

Wednesday, June 24, 2009

Ning

Ning is an online platform, used primarily for creating private or closed social networks. Unlike other popular social networking applications such as Facebook or MySpace, which are open for all to join, Ning allows users to create private networks for a particular group of online users. The network can be kept as private or as public as the creator desires, and each member can be granted different permissions and given different roles in the general running of the network. Ning is being increasingly used in the educational field as both a tool and platform for collaboration. Users can opt to either take part in other members' social networks or create a network from scratch of their own.

Getting Started


To start exploring Ning, log onto http://ning.com. You will be immediately prompted to Sign In and to Create a new social network. You can choose a name for your network, and also the network's URL (they don't necessarily have to be the same). The URL is subject to availability.

Once you click on Create, you will be prompted either to log in with your existing Ning account or else sign in for a new membership.

Now you can really start customising your Ning Network. First, describe what your Network is going to be about, and choose a language and country.


Next, you can start adding, removing or simply moving your network's features. Decide on what shortcuts you need to have upon loading, and what comes before and after. Usually, it is advisable that the members' blog posts are visible immediately when one logs onto the network. The Network's latest activity should also be allowed a prominent space on the network. Another important consideration is whether or not you want to allow synchronous chat on the network.


The final stage is to customise your Network's appearance: choose a theme and customise the colours according to your taste. Click on Launch, and your new Social Network is ready to roll!

Getting Around

At first glance, a Ning network may seem less straight forward than say, Facebook, however if you are used to Facebook's interface you will soon get the hang of Ning. On the top there are a series of Tabs which open onto other pages: My Page, Blogs, Events, etc. Take some time to explore each page. But first, make sure to customise your personal page on Ning, by adding details, photos, etc. On My Page, you can also access your Network's Private Messaging (e-mail) and add other network members as friends. To view the other members of the network, click on the Members Tab.

The network's discussions can be found in the Forum page, and the Network's upcoming activities can be accessed from Events. In the case of Events, one can opt to have events which are open only to specific members of the network, that is, by invitation only.

Ning Networks allow easy uploading of both photos, videos and blog posts. Depending on how you arranged your page features during setup, the relevant pages can be found on the top tabs and also on the Main Page. Photos can be added by uploading the actual picture files; in the case of videos, you must copy and paste the video's embed code (such as a video from YouTube, TeacherTube or Vimeo). Each person can have his/her own blog on the network, and blog posts will appear both on the Main Page and on the personal page (My Page) of the person uploading the blog.

How safe is Ning?

You can have two roles on a Ning Network: the role of Administrator if you are logged into a network you have created yourself, or the role of Member if you can have been invited to join a network created by somebody else. Another important thing to take note of is that if you are the Network's Administrator, your interface will look slightly different that if you are merely a Member. If you are the network's administrator, you will of course have extra privileges and be able to re-arrange the network's elements. You will also be able to determine who does the edits, and, in extreme cases, ban persons from your network. Ning can allow you to have a 100% private network - that is, private except for the users who have been specifically invited and approved by the network's administrator. These security settings are of utmost importance if you are planning to use Ning with young learners.

Network permissions can be determined by clicking on the Manage tab, and then on to Members to define members' roles, and on Network Privacy to determine who can view and join your network.

The Administrator can also opt to change the tabs at the top of the page: thus re-arranging page elements and accessibility.

Ning Networks in Education


Ning has been used extensively in education, for collaboration purposes and for creating safe, private networks for students to work in. There are a number of good networks which illustrate how Ning can be used within the educational setting, both locally and abroad. Take a look at these two excellent networks, created by educators for educators...



For more information about Ning Networks, go to:

Monday, June 8, 2009

Sharing Resources - Online Slide-Shows


In previous posts, I have talked about various applications and widgets: Photo-editing software, audio manipulation software, animated avatars, etc. These applications or resources may or may not have been specifically created for educational purposes. There is a myriad of applications out there, and a multitude of skills to learn - this sometimes can be a bit overwhelming. There is always a constant pressure on us teachers to perform and to create new and interesting resources, and especially, resources which can be shared online.

Sometimes we, as teachers, underestimate how much work we manage to cram in during the year - and the re-usability of our resources. For example, this year, for the Creativity & Innovation Projects, teachers were asked to look at any ongoing projects or activities going on in their classrooms - such as e-Twinning, Eko Skola or simply classroom based projects - and adapt their work for sharing or online publishing (I am referring mostly to the Year 5 Blogs Project on Skola Portal). Everyday resources, such as photos, videos or slide-shows can be adapted for online viewing with minimal changes required.

One of the most common types of resources which you might be in possession of are Slide Shows - Picture Slide shows or more traditional presentations or Power Point Shows. Both can be adapted to online uploading and viewing - on a website, wiki or blog - and we will now take a look at two popular services which make this possible.

Power Point Slide-Shows

Power Point Slide-Shows can be surprisingly easy to adapt to online viewing -I am talking, of course, of MS Power Points: the ones you might have already prepared for your daily lessons, or a simple PPT created by your children. Of course, MS Powerpoint Shows need a slight adjustment before they can go online: they need to be converted in a way that your blog or website will recognise them. Then - like with any other widget - its simply a case of grabbing the correct Embed code and paste it in place. To make MS PPTs available online, we can use a variety of web applications. I am going to talk about just one of these popular services; however, there are others to choose from. The services offered are free (upgrades are available at a cost - but usually the basic service will cover your needs). The most important thing to remember is that in order for them to work, registration is required the first time round, and signing-in on the subsequent times.

SlideShare

One of the most popular PPT sharing resource is SlideShare.net. It lets you upload your presentations and share them in online a couple of simple clicks. To try out the service and register, go to http://slideshare.net/ . You can opt to browse existing presentations, try out some widgets or simply upload your presentation. To upload your presentation, click on the Upload button on the top of the page. You will be asked to choose a PPT from a location on your computer, and, depending on the speed of your connection, your PPT will soon be ready for viewing or embedding! (Each PPT must not exceed 100 MB and you may upload up to 10 files at a time). You can choose a title, tags and category for your PPT.

One thing to remember when using such services is that the uploading part is only one half of the story (the same applies when uploading, for example, a video on You Tube). After uploading your file(s) on the server, the application needs to convert the file to a format that is globally recognisable and embeddable. After the file has uploaded, remember to click on Publish so that your presentation will be converted into online format.

After the Presentation has been uploaded, you may wish to alter Permissions surrounding it. You can also opt to have a private, restricted view or public Presentation. You may also opt to let people download the presentation onto their PCs or not. It all depends on what you intend to do with your Presentation. All these settings can be changed and accessed any time after uploading, by clicking on My Slidespace - where all your uploaded PPTs reside - click on the PPT whose settings you wish to change, and then on Edit. You will be shown up the options page once more, and will be given the chance to do the required edits. Remember to click on Update to change your settings.



NB. Different platforms require different Embed Codes. The Embed Code is basically a piece of script which will allow your newly uploaded presentation to be visible on your Website/Wiki/Blog or Social Networking Site. Depending on where you want your presentation to appear, select the appropriate embed code - usually you will see a little icon symbolising the type of embed - the orange letter B for Blogger Code, the blue F for Facebook, the black W for Wordpress, etc. You may also share your presentation by e-mail by copying and pasting the URL where your presentation has been uploaded onto an e-mail message.


Photo-Slide Shows

Instead of simply sharing photos online, why not put them together and create a movie-like slide show? There are various applications which allow this - the two most popular ones are Slide.Com and Animoto. Both have very similar interfaces and rely on the principal of uploading photos, adding effects and transitions, and finally publishing and sharing your work. Here, we are going to take a quick look at Slide.com; if you are interested in Animoto you may log onto a previous post I created on my blog, http://teachersandcomputers.blogspot.com/2009/03/animoto.html.

Slide.com


Slide.com is a photo-sharing application - similar to MS Photostory - and allows you to create interesting photo-slide shows. It is available on http://slide.com and like other online applications it requires registration the first time round.

To start your first slide-show, sign in with the username and password you have created upon registration, and click on Make a Slide Show. You will be prompted to start adding your photos - either from your PC or else grab photos from other online albums that you might already have, such as Flickr or Facebook (Remember - Re-Usabilty!). Each photo may also be individually named.

While you are waiting for photos to load (in order to shorten uploading times, remember to resize them for the Web!), you might wish to change your slide-show's settings:
  • Style: Change the way your photos will appear on the screen - i.e. the transition from one photo to the next;
  • Skin: Change slide-show's player as it will be displayed on your website;
  • Themes: Add a theme animation to your slide-show, such as sparkles or hearts;
  • Music/Video: Add some music from a good choice of tracks, to suit all moods and occasions;
  • Background: Change your slide-show's background colour;
  • Effects: Add effects to your photos, such as b/w and sepia tints;
  • Size: Change the size (in pixels) of your slide-show;
  • Privacy: Determine the privacy settings of your slide-show - who will be able to view or download your creation


As soon as all your photos are uploaded, you can change their order on the story-board at the bottom of the screen, or change any effects or styles as desired. When that is done, you may Save and Get Code. As in the case for other widgets, remember to grab the correct code according to where you are uploading your work. For example, Wetpaint Wikis do not support script tags. Usually all popular services are supported. If you are unsure of what you need, or your favourite blog or wiki isn't listed in the code list, try grabbing a copy of another application's embed code and see if that works - sometimes its just a simple case of trial and error!




NB There are several applications which will allow sharing of resources online; unfortunately I cannot go through them all here. However here are some additional sites which you might want to try out:

For sharing Power Point Presentations:
http://authorstream.com/
http://docs.google.com/

For creating photo slide-shows:
http://animoto.com/
http://onetruemedia.com/


Author's Note: This post is dedicated to my father, Alfred, who spent the last two weeks in hospital but is now on the road to recovery.
He was always a great supporter of my work and is always encouraging me to try and do my best.

Saturday, May 2, 2009

Google Maps

Google Maps (formerly known as Google Local) is a freeware web mapping service application provided by Google. It powers many map-based services, including the Google Maps website, Google Ride Finder, Google Transit, and maps embedded on third-party websites via the Google Maps API. It encompasses street maps, a route planner for traveling by foot, bicycle, car, or public transport and an urban business locator for numerous countries around the world. It also can help find the location of specific buildings. (Source:  Wikipedia.com) Google Maps is also pre-installed on newly purchased iPhones and iPod Touch.

Google Maps forms part of the 40+ freeware applications available from Google Inc.

To get started on Google Maps, watch this two-minute tutorial, produced by Google Support:




This video (which can be found on the Google Maps Support) illustrates very clearly the many features of Google Maps. However, I will now go through its basics, one by one.


Google Maps Basics

Map Navigation: You can navigate through a map by simply clicking and dragging your cursor (which will be in the shape of a palm of a hand) around. The + and - signs will help you zoom in and out of the map, and you can also choose what type of map you want to view: map view, terrain view or satellite view.

Get Directions: Want to go from A to B, and get all the different options available? You will be asked to enter location A and location B, (for example, from London, UK to Sussex, UK). You can choose which mode of transport you are going to use, if you are going to use the car or walk, and in the case of cars, whether or not you wish to take the highway or just normal streets.

While you are getting directions, you can also search for specific businesses in the vicinity, such as restaurants or hotels, or even public places such as schools or bus stations. On the more practical side, you can also search for speed cameras and I was pleased to note that all the latest speed camera locations have already been loaded into Google Maps, and you can even download the POI's into your own GPS.

My Maps: Instead of searching for directions or maps every time, you can save and re-load maps that you have been working on, and in true Google Apps fashion, you will be able to share them with other users. To create a new map, simply click on Create a new Map. Or, if you want to edit an existing map, click on Edit. There is a variety of tools which which will help you to customise your map. An important point to remember is that by default, maps appear to be Public, so if you don't want it so, click on Unlisted. Once again, I have included a short video from the Google Maps team, to illustrate how My Maps work...





Google Maps Tips and Tricks
  • By default, when you log onto Google Maps, you will probably be shown a map or the world or of the US. Your Default Location is basically your Google Maps start-up page, and you can change it according to what you are going to do with your Maps. For example, if you are using Google Maps with your classroom children, it would be wise to set your School or Locality as your default location. Or, if you are doing a project about another country abroad, try setting that as your default location.

  • When asking for directions, remember you can opt for different kinds of directions: walking directions or by car. You can also set your findings to either KM or miles.

  • Google Maps works rather like a GPS (in fact, Google Maps can be downloaded into your GPS, and iPhones come with Google Maps pre-installed). One important feature of GPS devices and Google Maps is that they work best if you input the correct postcode. Actually, a postcode is the only vital information you will need when searching for a particular location, so make sure you get them right.

  • There might be more than one location with the same name. If you haven't got the correct postcode for searching, try to be at least more specific in your search. For example, do not just key in Malta, but Malta, Europe, for more accurate results.

  • When you find places of interest on Google Maps, (for example, you might be looking for restaurants near your holiday location) by clicking on the Placemark you will be able to access other options for your location, such as the ability to save it on My Maps or copy and share the map URL with your friends.

This is of course just a very basic overview of Google Maps. Like all other web applications, the more you practice, the better and easier it will get. Linked to Google Maps is another (desktop) application called Google Earth, which offers more features and is available for free download at http://earth.google.com/download-earth.html

Other links mentioned in this post are:

40+ freeware apps from Google:  http://www.google.co.uk/options/





Sunday, April 19, 2009

Using YouTube Videos (Part 2) : Extracting Audio Files


One of the very first posts of this Blog described how we could download YouTube Videos from the Internet and embed them in our everyday lessons in the classroom. I explained in detail how this could be done by using the popular video-downloading site, Keepvid.com (Using YouTube Videos as a Resource in the Classroom). Sometimes though, we might come across a video with a really good soundtrack or commentary, and we would like to use just that, the audio; perhaps to add special effects to an Audacity Project or for quizzing our students in class. Today I am going to focus on how we can extract Audio Files from these downloaded videos (and from other AVI - MP4 files in general).


Extracting Audio Files from Downloaded Videos

To extract audio from a video which is already on your PC, all you require is a simple audio extraction program. There are various freeware and shareware audio extraction applications available for downloading off the Internet, and they are relatively simple to use (just open the video file and the program does the rest). One of my favourites is AoA Audio Extractor, which is available for free download from AoA Media. This little application will effectively convert popular video formats - such as MP4s, AVIs, FLVs, WMVs and MOVs into MP3s, WAVs or AC3s. To start extracting audio files, simply click on Add Files on the top right hand corner of the screen. You will be prompted to choose the video file to convert. Click on Open and then choose the file format for conversion (MP3, WAV or AC3). Finally, click on the large round Start button on the bottom right hand corner of the screen, and the application will do the rest. You can download AoA Audio Extractor from the AoA Media site, which can be found at http://www.aoamedia.com/audioextractor.htm.




Extracting Audio Files from Online Videos

If you wish to use a YouTube Video primarily for its audio component, there is no need to download the video using KeepVid. Instead of using KeepVid, use another site called (wait for it...) ListenToYouTube. What this site does (in a similar way to KeepVid actually) is download the video for you, but instead of giving you the video file (FLV or MP4 format), it just presents you with the extracted audio file in MP3 format.


First, log onto YouTube and locate the video you wish to use, and start playing it. On the right hand side of the screen, you will see the video's URL. Copy the URL (by right clicking and selecting copy). Then, open a new window and type in http://listentoyoutube.com/. In the centre of the screen, you will see an empty address bar in which you can enter your video's URL directly from YouTube. Simply paste the URL you had previously copied (right click > Paste) and click on Go. You will see some basic information about the video you are trying to convert - such as Title, File Size, etc - and in a minute or two, the application will start processing the video for you. Depending on the speed of your connection, the online video will be processed and converted into an MP3 file.

Up to this stage, your MP3 is still not down laded, but is it simply residing on ListenToYouTube's servers. To actually save a copy of this file, click on Download MP3 and you will be taken to another page where once again you will be prompted to download your file. Click once again on Download MP3 and a dialog box will open, prompting you to insert a username and select a save location for your file. Click on Save and your MP3 will be saved onto your PC.


Which is the best system to extract audio from video files? The answer is up to you. It rather depends on your preferences and what you wish to use your newly-extracted audio file for. If for example, you wish to use the file as a lesson starter, you might want the audio clip plus the original video file to show to the students later on. Or you might just need some special sound effects to embed into an Audacity Project. Whatever system you use, please remember the usual pros and cons of using material straight off the Internet, especially with regards to copyrighted materials and suitability of content - refer to my previous entry about YouTube videos at:


Sites to remember:


Note: A special thanks goes to my colleague Kevin Grima for pointing out ListenToYouTube.com to me. Thanks Kevin :)

Friday, March 27, 2009

Vimeo


When talking about uploading and sharing of videos online, the vast majority of people automatically think of YouTube. However, YouTube is definitely not the only site which offers these online services. Another popular site (especially in the US) is Vimeo.

Vimeo is a video-centric social networking site, launched by InterActiveCorp in 2004. Its name, "Vimeo", is, in fact, an anagram of the word "movie". The site hosts around 13,000 video uploads daily, 10% of which in HD. Most notably, the White House regularly uploads HD versions of Barac Obama's broadcasts on Vimeo.

Although Vimeo is primarily used to upload videos, its core purpose is very different from that of YouTube. It is not commonly used to download music videos or cartoons or excerpts from movies. Vimeo is essentially a social networking site, where people of similar interests can create groups and upload instructional, demonstrative or simply entertaining videos. It offers a somewhat safer, cleaner environment in which to work with our students.

Getting Started

Although anyone can access Vimeo, it is always best to create an account first (otherwise you will find yourself locked out of many features). When signing in for the first time, it will ask you if you want to link you Vimeo account with your own Facebook account for convenience - I did, of course :) When you first log in, your display should look something like this...


On the top right hand side of the screen one can find the Menu Bar with a series of drop-down menus. Clicking on Me will allow the user to edit the Home Page, Profile, Settings and Contacts. The Me menu will also allow the user to engage in private messages and conversations with their contacts on Vimeo. From the Video menu one can, apart from uploading Videos, manage Albums, Groups, Channels and Subscriptions. Alternatively, to upload a video, simply click on the Upload menu.

Uploading Videos

To upload a video, simply click on the Upload Video button. Vimeo offers the user the possibility to upload up to 500MB of videos every week (including HD). Videos can be tagged so that they are labelled and more easily found. Altough it allows users to share videos and to download each other's videos, its rigid privacy settings mean that the users can decide if they want their video to be available for others to watch or download from the site, or not. In other words, uploaded videos can be kept totally secret from the general viewing public. Users may opt to use Vimeo purely to keep a backup of their videos.

This short screen cast was developed by the Vimeo team, and shows how one may upload a video and keep it private...


Additional Features

Below is a list of some additional stuff that can be done with Vimeo. To learn more about these features, click on the Explore menu on the top right hand side of the screen.

Groups: Creating a Group in Vimeo is like creating a mini community within Vimeo of people with common interests like yourself. Within a group users are able to share and discuss videos, music, photos, events, etc. (When searching Groups, I managed to find a good number of teachers' groups).

Channels: A simple way to showcase videos is to create a Channel where your viewers can watch your creations.

Projects:  Users here can discuss ongoing or future audio-visual projects they wish to embark upon.  It is also a sort of forum, where the users may engage in discussions about technical issues, requested features, general discussions about videos, etc.

Toys: Vimeo Toys are discovery applications that enable users to check out the latest videos and activity on the Vimeo service. Vimeo Land is a cartoon-style 2D world, while Pulse is one huge collage of all the videos being uploaded in real time. Users can actually engage in and create their own "Vimeo Toys".


As one can see, there is more to Vimeo than just uploading and sharing of videos. It is more of a specialised community of people who share videos and ideas with each other. It is very, very different from YouTube, and do take my word for it. It can be safely used to upload children's content videos online and embed them into a Blog or even on Skola portal. Try it out at http://www.vimeo.com/