31 May, 2007

Screencasting Using Screencast-O-Matic.com

We use Camtasia Studio to create screencast videos, and I'm quite pleased with it. However at £80 for an educational licence it's not realistic to get licences for everyone who might just want to use it occasionaly.

CamStudio and ZDSoft's Screen Recorder have both been looked at here on Cakes as free alternatives, but the new free online service Screencast-O-Matic looks like it would be a better option for staff here to use.

Firstly it is online, meaning there are no issues getting it installed on people's computers.

Secondly it is even simpler to set up and use. You just need Java installed (the site will test this for you) and then to choose the basic settings.

I've created a quick training video if you'd like help using it - but you probably won't need help, because it is so simple. Go and have a play!


Wikis: The Development of a Wikipedia Page

I've heard people criticise Wikipedia a lot, mainly in academic circles because staff don't like the fact Wikipedia pages get referenced by students in essays.

That's fair enough, but I find it incredibly useful as a starting point for looking into topics. Yet I've heard people sitting near me in academic conferences, go into quiet rants when it's been mentioned at the front.

John Udell has created a very interesting screencast about the development of a particular Wikipedia page. I love the way that showing the development of the page puts it in context, and I think that it would help anyone appreciate better how Wikipedia and wikis in general work and should be used.

Before you watch the screencast be aware that 'naughty words' appear on the page from time-to-time :) Wikipedia Screencast (Via: Weblogged)

30 May, 2007

Wikis in Plain English: The Common Craft Show

The Common Craft Show have released another video in their technologies in plain english series. This time they cover Wikis in their inimitable low-tech style, but you might also want to see their 'RSS in Plain English' video.

This demonstrates a visual engaging way of explaining why people might want to use different technologies. I think that if I was explaining to academic staff how these technologies work and might help their teaching and learning, these videos would be a good place to start.

25 May, 2007

Creating Screencasting Videos Using Camtasia Studio

I did the 'Creating Re-usable Learning Objects using Camtasia Studio' session today as part of the Learning Services Technology Month. A few people couldn't make it and I said I'd do a screencast version of the training.

Here is the screencast version (16 minutes) - hope it's OK! Let us know if you need any advice or have any comments about anything that's been missed.

Note that there is the free CamStudio software available for those who cannot afford Camtasia Studio, but it requires a bit more technical knowledge to use.

These videos are all in Windows Media Video (WMV) streamed format.

01. Introduction (2:14)
02. Installing the 30-Day Trial Copy (2:15)
03. Choosing a Microphone (1:00)
04. Starting a Recording (2:13)
05. After Recording (1:00)
06. Producing a Sharable File (3:11)
07. Hints and Tips (2:37)
08. Accessibility (1:16)

Organise and Protect Your Bookmarks with Zinkmo

A couple of weeks ago my PC crashed and all Firefox profiles were deleted, including bookmarks. This wasn't a massive problem in this case as I'd backed up the most important ones, but I've heard of other people who have had similar problems when using Firefox.

So I was interested when I saw Jane Hart mention Zinkmo on her blog. This is a piece of software that you install on your PC (not Mac) and it allows you to syncronise your bookmarks across multiple browsers and to access them online if you aren't on your own computer.

Now my bookmarks are the same in Internet Explorer, Firefox and accessible online - so I can't loose them again! However I noticed that the software at times runs quite slow - and other people have noted this too, so you might want to wait for the software to develop before you install it?

23 May, 2007

Free Sound Effects for your Videos: The Freesound Project

When creating video and audio, you often need access to sound effects - but a complete library can work out as very expensive if you aren't earning money from your videos.

The Freesound Project aims to create a huge library of sound effects available under a Creative Commons Sampling Plus licence. This means that you just have to recognise the author or owner of the work in your work, and the Freesound site makes it easy to put this information on a page that can be linked to.

You can search for effects that you need, browse the top 150 tags, browse by location and add your own.

15 May, 2007

FormLogix - Online form maker


Whilst helping my son who was frantically trying to get all his ICT coursework finished over the weekend, I came across this online form maker.
FormLogix is an online form builder tool for creating web databases and web forms. It allows forms to be built easily using a drag and drop interface and the data collected can be managed using a simple database management tool.

But the best thing about it is that it is completely free!

The forms can be embedded into a website, blog or even be emailed. It enables a user to easily create web forms and web databases such as: Contact us forms, Feedback forms, Events registration forms, Surveys, online Polls, Invitations...

We have looked at a number of survey and poll tools but I think this is by far the most sophisticated and easy to use.

14 May, 2007

Podcasts: Choosing Podcast Aggregator Software

I'm trying to write a document to introduce staff to Podcasting and it's possibilities for use in education. Over the next few weeks I'm going to write some posts covering various topics relating to podcasting - before developing them further and putting them together in an easy to distribute document.

If you want to subscribe to a podcast you need software that automatically downloads new episodes of podcasts that you have subscribed to. This is often called podcast 'aggregator' software, but you might hear 'podcatcher' software too. There are dozens to choose from, but for this post I've looked at 3 popular ones:

If you cannot install software on your work computer, or if you use many different computers at your library - you can use a web based service like Bloglines to subscribe, just as you would if you subscribe to blogs. This allows you to access your subscriptions from anywhere. It doesn't download the files in the background like aggregator software, but it will help you keep track of when new episodes are released.

All the pieces of software have different functions, so you need to choose one that fits in with the way you want to use the podcast files that are downloaded. I have a Samsung MP3 player (512MB) that I listen to audio on and I watch the videos at my PC, so I need a piece of software that organises the files and that makes it easy to copy files into my MP3 player.

While many features are standard between all the choices, the list below details the important functionality that varies:
  • Lets me copy and paste files from it's interface, directly into my MP3 player: iTunes
  • Allows organisation of podcasts into folders (useful if you are subscribed to many): Democracy, Bloglines
  • Keeps track of the number of unwatched files from each podcast (again useful if you are subscribed to many: Democracy, Bloglines
  • Allows import and export of OPML files for transfer or backup: iTunes, Juice, Bloglines
  • Web Based: Bloglines
While iTunes doesn't offer the functionality to organise large number of podcasts, it does everything else well, and I'd recomend this to someone getting started subscribing to podcasts, especially if they own an iPod. Democracy Player is still very new, but looks like it could offer iTunes some competition in the future.

10 May, 2007

dotSUB: Add Subtitles to Your Videos

dotSUB is an online service that allows you to upload videos, and makes it very easy to add subtitles (closed captions). You can add them in more than one language if required - in fact you can allow anyone from around the world to translate the video.

I've added our most downloaded Web Cats episode, and added subtitles just in English for now. It's embedded below. Click on the up and down arrows on the bar at the bottom of the video to move to the subtitled version.

Is was quite a quick process to add the transcription that I'd already created, as dotSUB allows you to use some helpful shortcuts.

The 'RSS in Plain English Video', embedded below, has been translated into several languages. Again click on the buttons on the bar under the video to flick through the languages.

More information about subtitles and other ways of making online videos accessible are available at webaim.org.

04 May, 2007

Using Edublogs.org: Questions

As well as my Blogger blogs, I’ve been using an Edublogs (which used Wordpress software) blog to record how a project was progressing . I’ve also had questions about using Edublogs from staff at Edge Hill, and this post aims to answer all the issues and questions that I've come across.

01: How can I filter spam comments?

I’ve had trouble with the amount of spam I get, and it has made it impossible to check through all my comments to moderate them and allow the real comments to be shown. Also the comment notification emails from this blog have filled up my inbox.

However, now the Edublogs Tutorials blog has brought the Akismet spam filter plugin to my attention. It seems to be working well for me.

02: How do I create Tabs at the Top of the Page?

Basically the tabs are links to information pages rather than blog posts. You can choose which you are creating when in your Edublogs admin area by selecting the ‘Write Page’ option under ‘Write’.

Whether the information page that you have created appears as a tab (as with the blog shown below)...

...or just a link (in the blog shown below they are links under the ‘Pages’ title)...

...depends on the theme you choose for your blog. You can choose themes by going to ‘Presentation’ and selecting ‘Themes’.

03: How do I make the blog (or sections of it) private?

All I’ve been able to find regarding this is a plugin called ‘Edublogs only’ that makes your blog only available to people logged into Edublogs.org. Find it in your Edublogs admin area under ‘Plugins’. This obviously doesn’t give you complete privacy, and after trying a few things including setting the Post Status (below)...

...to private I don’t think Edublogs is the way to go if you want complete privacy. Blogger seems to do this well though.

03 May, 2007

Experiences of Recording Lectures: Part Two – LNG2104

This Semester (Spring 2007) I’ve been working with Deborah Chirrey in the English and History department to record her LNG2104: Analysing Discourse lectures. We recorded them because there was a student in the group who was hard of hearing, and it was thought that she would benefit from being able to listen again to anything that she missed in class.

The lectures were recorded using one of our Olympus DS-2 voice recorders and an attached clip mic. Deborah would return the recorder after each lecture, and I would edit it and save it as an MP3 using the free WavePad software. I’d then upload it to a new ClickCaster podcast that I’d created. The process of editing and uploading took about 10 minutes per lecture.

ClickCaster is an online service that hosts your files, automatically creates feeds for you and keeps tracks of how many subscriptions and views each episode has had. These are publicly available but I decided that no-one who wasn’t on the course would search for LNG2104, and therefore the benefits outweighed the potential issues.

This week I interviewed the student for whom the recordings had been made, to get an understanding of how she used the recordings:
  • She said that the recordings had been useful for her and she used them every week unless she was too busy with assignments. She had a facilitator taking notes in the lecture, but the recordings still helped.
  • She listened at her computer (and didn’t have and MP3 player anyway), and was happy listening this way.
  • I asked her if she would have subscribed to the podcast if she’d known how, and she said that would have made things easier for her, but it wasn’t a problem going looking for new episodes.
  • Transcripts would have been very useful for her.

So in conclusion:

Helped student when she missed something in the lecture.
Quick to set up.
RSS feed available.

Recordings and feeds potentially publicly available – might this be an issue for some staff?

To do in the future:
Create training for students on how to subscribe to podcasts.
Look at transcribing recordings with Dragon NS Pro.

Experiences of Recording Lectures: Part One – LIT1000

I’ve been involved with a couple of projects recording lectures to make them available online for students. I’ll make some posts as overviews of what we’ve done in the projects, what I feel we learned and how this might feed into future research.

The first project in the 2005/06 year was for Rob Spence’s LIT1000 class. He wanted to see if recording the lectures and making them available online was useful for the students. We made then available in WebCT as files to download or to stream online, as shown in the screenshot below.

I like that the students had a choice about how they could access the materials, but it did take me perhaps 40-50 minutes a week once I’d received the files to get them all online. This wouldn’t be scalable if more than a couple of people were recording lectures each week, so I talked with Rob about him putting the files online himself. We came across issues that prevented this. These included Rob’s PC not really being powerful enough to be converting and editing large audio files and time issues for him.

We didn’t do any organised research on the students’ use of those lectures, and because we housed them in WebCT there were no stats of their use. Robs conversations with individual students suggested to him that they were used, but not that much. He is talking about recording audio materials to support lectures in the future, rather than recording the lectures themselves.

So in conclusion:

Easy access to resources.

Time consuming to prepare.
Not widely used.
Unsure of educational benefit.

To do in the future:
Explore how audio might be used to support learning in other ways than just recording lectures.

[part 2 to follow...]