Tuesday, November 30, 2010

Let's write a story: Storybird

Children all love a good story. They like to discover, to listen, to read. And in the course of their classroom lives, they might also be asked to produce stories of their own, either on an individual, group or classroom basis. Teachers use stories as lesson starters, to enhance listening and reading skills and to engage their students. And if the students get to use their imagination a bit and create stories of their own, so much the better.

Storybird is a service that uses collaborative storytelling to connect students and teachers around the world. Two (or more) people create a Storybird in a round robin fashion by writing their own text and inserting pictures. They then have the option of sharing their Storybird privately or publicly on the network. The final product can be printed, watched on screen, played with like a toy, or shared through a worldwide library.

First Steps

To start your first story, go to http://storybird.com, and click on Sing Up to create your accounts. Students can click on the Kids Click Here sticker, and they will be asked to register using their parent's email. After registering and subsequent log in, you will be taken to your Storybird Dashboard, where you will be able to take a look at both your published and unfinished stories, and also at your Reading List. This is because the application will let you browse through other people's stories and select any number to add them to your list.

You, Create, Read

Your Storybird dashboard is divided into three broad areas, accessible through the top left :
  1. You: This is where you can find your work: what you started, published or were invited to. Your reading list is also accessed from here;
  2. Create: This is where you let your creative streak loose, and get inspired by art and explore the available themes;
  3. Read: Finally, this is where you take a look at others' published Storybirds, and add them to your reading list.
Creating your Story

To start creating a new story, click on Create and you will have the option to start browsing through the Artists' Story Art, Take The Challenge or Explore Themes. You will be able to use the different artwork to create a Storybird of your own.

Artists' Story Art: Browse through the different pictures created by artists from all over the world. Your will be able to "like" - by clicking on the Heart icon, and share your favourite artists by email, Twitter or Facebook. Some artists may have created artwork about different themes, too. At the bottom of the screen, you will also be able to preview any Storybirds who have used the artwork you are viewing. When you an artwork that you can work with, click on Start a Storybird with this art at the top right hand side of the screen, and then on Jump In to start

Take The Challenge: Every month, Storybird launches a themed competition, which is usually sponsored by a third-party (for example, the December 2010 competition is sponsored by Cheerios, the popular children's breakfast cereal). Users have to create a Storybird according to a pre-set theme and thus enter a competion. Even if you are not interested in enrolling in these competitions, in this section you will be able to view other people's entries and perhaps get inspired about your own project.

Explore Themes: The artwork uploaded by others is naturally tagged for ease of reference. In this section you will be able to browse through all the tagged categories instead of by individual artists, and hence you will be more able to find what you are looking for if you have something specific in mind.

Working Together

After you have chosen your artwork, you will be able to start working on you own story by clicking on Start a Storybird with this art. You will be presented with a blank canvas, which you can fill up with the artwork scattered all around the page. To fill your page with an illustration, click on the picture you require and drag it onto the page. Note that the illustration will not fill up the whole of the page: a textbox will automatically be created so that you will be able to fill in some text too. Page navigation can be found at the bottom of the screen: click to Add or Delete a page, or Previous Page/Next Page to navigate from one page to the next.

You will be able save, share or publish your Storybird by clicking on the menu on the top right hand side of the screen. Click on Save to safeguard your work; on Menu>Invite Someone to invite collaborators; and on Menu>Publish This Storybird to make your creation available online to others. After you have published your story, you will also be able to share it online with others through blogs or websites by grabbing the Storybird's embed code and copy and paste it onto your platform. Currently, Storybird code is accepted by most popular platforms accepting standard HTML code, such as Blogger, Wordpress, Tumblr and Ning. Below is a Storybird created by my friend and collegue, Jeannette Cardona:

Whilst you can use Storybird with your own class, to create a classroom-based story, the straight of the application lies, of course, in the ability to share your creation with others and allow others to add to your own story, to create a collaborative project together. The only drawback I encountered in Storybird seems to be that you are unable to add your own drawings to a single story; however, if you are so inclined, you can apply to be a contributor here: http://storybird.com/artists/
Sites to Remember:

Wednesday, November 24, 2010

Prezi: An Innovative Presentation Application

When one thinks of presentation software generally, the thought tends to drift immediately to PowerPoint, within the MS Office Application Suite. While one agrees that PowerPoint has its merits, it is not the beginning and end of all presentations: there are various other applications available which can do an similar or an even better job of presenting your work. Mashable.com gives a whole list of alternatives that can be used and these include Google Docs, Ajax, Thinkfree and Zoho. (The full list can be accessed online at http://mashable.com/2008/02/16/forget-powerpoint-online-presentations/). One such free, web based presentation application is Prezi.

Prezi is a web-based presentation application and story-telling tool. Instead of using the traditional slides which come one after the other, Prezi gives the user a single canvas which can be filled with words, pictures and videos. The user can fill up the canvas as he or she desires; then, one has to create links from one "item" to the next, to create a free-flowing presentation. The result is a non-linear presentation, where users can zoom in or out of a visual map. The end result can be quite stunning visually. Prezi also allows multiple users to work on the same presentation (by email invitation), making it an excellent collaboration tool.

The video below explains in brief what Prezi is all about:

Getting Started

To start using Prezi, you need to first create an account. Prezi offers three types of accounts: Public, Enjoy and Pro. Public is the only free service available, and apart from allowing limited online space, all presentations created will be visible and searchable by other Prezi users. On the other hand, Prezi offers special student/teacher licenses, which give an immediate upgrade in storage of 500MB. This is possible by registering to Prezi with an email account which can be traced back to an educational institution, such as teacher's .educ and .gov accounts. After you register for the first time, you will be asked to log into the email account you have used when registering and click on the confirmation email which is automatically sent by Prezi.

Your First Prezi

To start your first Prezi, go to to http://www.prezi.com/, log in using the email you have registered with and your newly created password, and click on New Prezi on the top right hand side of the screen. You will be presented with a new window where you can input the title of your Prezi together with a short description. After this is done, you will be able to start working. Your screen should look something like this:

  1. A huge white canvas, with the words Click anywhere to add an idea in the middle of the screen;
  2. The transformation menu on the top left hand side of the screen;
  3. Save/Print/Exit menu on the top of the screen;
  4. Zoom in/out menu on the right hand side.

To start writing, click anywhere (litteraly) and start typing away. A text box will automatically open and your will be able to write your message. The text within each text box can be changed in an autonomous way. After you have entered your text and clicked on Ok to save it, you will be able to access it again either by double clicking and re-opening the text box, or else by clicking once and opening the Transformation Zebra.

The Transformation Zebra - Move-Scale-Rotate

The transformation Zebra is a dynamic menu system used by Prezi. By clicking once on the word or item of choice, it will open up and allow you to zoom in, out, delete, duplicate, bring an object to the front or relegate it to the back of the canvas. By moving the scroll button on the mouse, you will be able to zoom in or out of the text box; by clicking on the "X" you will be able to access all the other options. The Transformation Zebra is pivotal to the correct usage of Prezi.

Adding onto your Prezi

Of course, adding textboxes to Prezi is only the beginning of the journey. Click on the transformation menu on the top left hand side of the screen, and choose Insert. From here, you will be able to insert pictures, videos (from your disk or from an URL) or draw shapes with the freehand drawing tool.

To insert a picture or video from your disk, click on Insert > Load File. A standard file browsing window will open, from which you will be able to select the desired file. Alternatively, to add video content which is already online to your Prezi, click anywhere on the canvas to open a text box, and copy and paste the URL of the desired video from YouTube or any similar video repository.

You can also change the fonts and colours of your presentation. Click on the transformation menu and then on Colours and Fonts. You will be able to change the way your presentation looks; however for the moment this is limited only to about 10 templates.


Of course the most important feature of Prezi, which puts it ahead of its game, is the ability to create paths between your words, pictures and videos. The path will determine the order of the information being presented. One can also zoom in or out of specific words and pictures by using Frames.

To create paths, simply click on the transformation menu, and then on Paths. By clicking on each individual item - text, picture, video - you will be able to generate the order in which the items will appear on your screen one after the other. Numbers will appear on each newly created path so that you can tell at a glance which item will come after which. If you wish to delete a path, simply drag the path (where the number is written) out of the text box, video or picture.

If you wish to zoom onto a specific parts of the text, you may also create frames by clicking on the transformation menu and then on Frames. You will be able to select specific parts of a picture and zoom in directly onto it by creating a new path for the frame.

Saving and Downloading your Prezi

As soon as you have finished editing your Prezi, you can preview it by clicking on Show from the transformation menu. When you are happy with the results, click on Save on the top menu, and then on Exit. You will be taken to the Prezi dashboard.

From here, you have several options at your disposal, which are accessible from the menu on the left hand side of the screen:
  • Edit Prezi: to edit your existing presentation;
  • Save a copy: to create a backup of your prezi;
  • Download: to download a copy of your prezi for offline viewing - however, bear in mind that if your prezi contains online material, such as videos from YouTube, they will not work without an Internet connection;
  • Delete: to delete a prezi from the online repository (make sure that you have downloaded it for future use first).

Collaboration with others

Like other Web 2.0 tools, Prezi allows great collaboration between groups of people who will be able to work together on the same presentation. You will be able to get a link and share the Prezi by email, or embed it onto your website or blog. But best of all, Prezi allows you to invite editors to work together with you on your presentation. Click on Get Link to get your presentation's link, on Embed to grab the code and or on Invite Editors to invite your collaborators to work with you. You will be able to work hand-in hand with your colleagues or friends on this innovative presentation software.

Sites to remember:

Prezi: http://www.prezi.com

Examples of other free, online presentation software: http://mashable.com/2008/02/16/forget-powerpoint-online-presentations/

NB I would like to thank Franco for teaching me how to use Prezi, and Jeffrey for having the patience to repeat :)

Wednesday, November 10, 2010

Online Publishing: Issuu

Web 2.0 has changed the way that ordinary people look at the Internet. In the times of Web 1.0, the Internet was read-only, static, authoritarian: and most importantly, it was only the people who knew how to who could upload and share their information online with others. This has of course changed with the advent of Web 2.0 and a more collaborative, user-generated content web. Along the years, a number of online media repositories - some of course more popular then others - have sprouted on the Internet: for example, YouTube and Vimeo for online video sharing; SlideShare for presentations and documents; Picasa and Flickr for sharing photos, etc. The list is ever-growing, and the trick is to find something that not only works well for you, but, in the case of educators, works well in the classroom as well. Today I am going to take a look at Issuu, an online service that allows for realistic and customizable viewing of digitally uploaded material, such as portfolios, books, magazine issues, newspapers, and other print media.

Getting Started

The first step is, of course, registration: log onto http://issuu.com/ and click on Sign Up Now. It will allow for quick and easy registration, and then it will immediately allow you to find other users in your contact list who are using Issuu as well. This will allow even easier sharing of your documents with your friends. You will also be asked whether you want to view the introdoctory videos to get you started: here is the very first one which I have embedded here:

Uploading Your publications

Uploading a document on Issuu is relatively as easy as adding or sending an attachment by email: simply click on the Upload Document icon on the top right hand side of the screen, and then on Browse to choose your file. You will also be prompted to enter the title, description, keywords, and to choose a URL for your file. You can also select the document type, the recommended audience, language and target area. Other settings include whether or not the document will be public or private, and whether comments or ratings are allowed. Only after those details have been set will the system allow you to upload your document (which it does rather speedily). After uploading the document, you will be taken to My Library.

My Library

My Library is the place where all your uploaded documents will be featured. They will appear on
virtual Shelves and you will be able to organise and move your documents around on the different shelves.

The menu on the left hand side of the screen will help you to organise your work, and your friends' work, in a way that is easily recognisable for you. This is because Issuu, being a document repository and social networking site, allows you to add "friends", join groups and follow other people's updated publications. There is also a handy internal mail which you can use to communicate with your Issuu friends.

From your library, you can also grab the relevant links and embed codes in order to be able to embed the document into a website. In order to do this, follow these simple instructions:

  1. From your Home Page, click on My Library.
  2. Choose from your shelves the document you would like to work with.
  3. Click on Embed on the top right hand side of the screen. Choose the type of code you want to work with - HTML, Blogger, Wordpress etc.
  4. Scroll down and customise other settings, including layout, size, colour and theme, whether you want icons to appear on screen, whether your publication will be flicking automatically from one page to the next, etc. As soon as you are happy with your settings, click and copy the Embed Code itself from the top right hand side of the screen.
  5. Paste the Embed Code onto your blog or website.
Below is a simple tutorial about My Library, and how to organise your publications and embed them onto any website:

Visitors to your website will be able to either flick through your publication on your very website or blog; or else they can choose to be re-directed to your Issuu profile, and look at your other work, too.

Your Friends and Other Publications

The scope of Issuu is not only to upload your favourite publications for ease of sharing: you will also be able to browse through what other persons have uploaded. Publications are categorised and tagged for ease of reference. You will be able to browse through educational, inspirational, and many other types of publications by clicking on the Publications tab on the top left hand side of the screen. By adding your friends as contacts, you will be able to follow what they are uploading themselves and communicate with them through the internal emailing system.

To start using Issuu, go to http://www.issuu.com and create an account. Get publishing :)