There are growing numbers of Web-based tools for creating animated stories today. When combined with good writing instruction, these offer a motivating and engaging means for students to publish and share their work. One interesting tool I just discovered, thanks to a teacher at one of my campuses, is Xtranormal. Xtranormal allows users to create animated stories including a variety of settings and characters, computer generated voices, character animations, facial expressions, background music, and more. Stories can be private or public, and they can be published easily to YouTube accounts. The site also includes a rating system, including G, 13+, and 18+, and users can select account settings to allow or block content rated for older audiences.
The user interface is relatively easy to learn. To begin, creating a movie involves selecting a story’s characters and setting (such as animated animals, super heroes, etc.). Within a chosen scene, users are then able to choose various camera angles and specific characters. Once the scene is set, characters are put into action by clicking to select and then typing dialogue. Animated effects and facial expressions are added by inserting the cursor into the desired point in the dialogue box, then clicking on the effects icons and selecting the desired options.
I created the video below in just a few minutes. It is included as part one of a series (assuming I get around to creating more), another cool feature of the site.
Overall, I really like the possibilities of Xtranormal. There is one animation effect called “up yours”, and you can probably imagine the accompanying effect, so be forewarned. Other than that, however, it appears to be very kid friendly, and would seem to be particularly useful for upper elementary through high school students. If interested in exploring other animation sites, here are a few more you might want to check out:
Thanks to all who participated in my sessions/workshop today at the area TCEA conference. As promised, here are the links to the resources that were shared and a few more. Let me know if I can provide anything else! Also, if you attended either my own session on Voicethread or another on the tool, please add your implementation ideas to the Voicethread Wallwisher wall below. Thanks again!
Workshop: Collaborative Storytelling with Voicethread
One concern I have heard expressed by teachers with regard to the use of video sites such as YouTube, TeacherTube, etc. in the classroom is that students tend to waste a lot of time searching for relevant (or irrelevant) content. One solution is to create a personalized channel that contains the videos which the teacher wishes to focus upon as resources. The two resources described below allow teachers to create lists of favorite videos, customize the look of the channel, and more. When working on a project or conducting research, students need only to visit the teacher’s channel to find a previewed list of useful resources to get them started.
YouTube channels offer users a wide range of tools. Visitors can view videos uploaded by the channel owner, favorited videos, or channels being followed by the owner. They can also view the owner’s profile information, “friend” the channel (if they have a YouTube account), leave comments on the channel, view recent activity, and more. To create a personalized channel, a YouTube membership is required. New accounts automatically have their own channel. The following video provides a great explanation of the general tools for customizing a YouTube channel. More information may be found on the YouTube support site.
Below is an image of my own site. The large, featured video displays my most recent upload. to the right is a list of other uploads and favorites. By clicking on the Favorites link, students can view a complete list of all of my favorite videos, the ones I want them to focus on.
YouTube is a fantastic resource for teaching and learning. However, the obvious reality is that many schools’ filtering policies do not allow students to view YouTube videos while at school. Sites such as TeacherTube, SchoolTube, and Edublogs.tv offer alternatives that are usually unrestricted. A site I just discovered that offers the ability to create a video channel using mutliple sources is Vodpod. Vodpod allows users to create customized lists of favorite videos from a multitude of sites (I successfully tried YouTube, TeacherTube, and Edublogs.tv.) as well as uploading and sharing their own videos. The interface is extremely simple, using a toolbar button to add a video from the site where it is housed. Users can tag their videos, add descriptions, and choose from six templates to customize their display. The image below is from my own new channel.
Vodpod is a powerful tool on several levels. First of all, it is an extremely easy-to-use tool for creating a database of your favorite videos. Secondly, it creates a channel that is clean and easy to navigate. It also opens videos in a popup window, rather than simply linking to the host site, meaning students are less likely to be distracted and have their attention wander. The customized site comes complete with its own, custom URL, making navigating to the site easy for students. Finally, its compatibility with school-friendly video sites makes it much more practical to many educators.
Both of these resources offer valuable benefits for the classroom teacher. These include less time off-task, better reliability of resources, and less worry about inappropriate content.
Screencasting is the act of recording the actions that occur on your computer screen in video format. It allows users to create video files of presentations, tutorials, and demonstrations that can be viewed in many formats, such as in online, embedded videos, CD-R/W, DVDs, portable media players, etc. Screencasts are powerful instructional tools because they offer learners the opportunity to view materials as often as needed and whenever needed. They efficiently expand the instructional time of the teacher. As an example, my better half has been creating screencasts using free software and Microsoft Paint to produce simple, yet effective videos for her students to review math concepts in class or at home. The videos are available to her students via her class website. An example is seen below.
Numerous quality commercial products exist for creating screencasts, such as Adobe Captivate, iShowU (Mac only) and TechSmith’s Camtasia. Both are outstanding products that offer high-quality video and useful feature sets, such as the ability to add text, navigation tools, etc. For the budget conscious educator (all of us, these days), however, there are also some very useful free screencasting tools available that offer plenty of functionality to create useful, quality screencasts. All an educator needs to get started is a computer with an Internet connection and a microphone. For the really ambitious, a graphics tablet is a great addition, as it allows users to write text and make drawings using a stylus, which is much more natural than using a mouse for most users. Graphics tablets of suitable quality can be purchased in many instances for under $50.
Some examples of screencasting software:
Jing –Jing Project is a free product by the makers of Camtasia that uses a software download to capture video or still images and works with Macs or Windows PCs. Users set the dimensions they wish to record and the format, image or video. The free version of Jing allows videos of up to 5 minutes in length. Images can be annotated with text or drawings, but videos cannot. Jing Project users get a free account at Screencast.com, which offers online hosting of videos with a single click. Videos can also be saved offline and embedded in blogs, wikis, web pages, etc. Jing offers a paid version, as well, that offers increases functionality.
CamStudio –CamStudio is an open-source software tool that lets users create screencasts in either .avi or .swf format. CamStudio also offers some very useful features, such as adding text to videos and adding “picture-in-picture” videos through the use of a webcam. Users can determine the screen area and recording quality, as well, allowing for the creation of videos in large or small file sizes. The interface is very easy to learn, and CamStudio is a powerful and simple tool to get started. CamStudio is a Windows only tool at this time.
Screencast-O-Matic –Screencast-o-Matic is a cross-platform, browser-based tool for creating screencasts. Screencasts created with Screencast-o-Matic are stored online on their site, but can also be embedded in other sites or downloaded as .mov files. The video quality isn’t as high as some of the other tools, but, according to the site owners, this helps make the streaming run more smoothly. Users can create videos up to 15 minutes in length and can add notes in the user interface. A useful application of this feature is to create hyperlinked menus to various portions of the screencast. In the online form, viewers can also add comments. Videos can be either public or private. An example describing some of the features can be seen at http://www.screencast-o-matic.com/watch/ci1YYmqh.
In whatever format screencasts are created, conversion to formats compatible with iPods and other portable media devices can add to their functionality. Zamzar is a useful, free tool that allows most video formats to be converted to mpeg-4 for this purpose.
Animoto lets users create videos that incorporate images, music, and text into a very slick, professional-looking product. This would be a great tool to allow students to present information on just about any topic, and the product would be very engaging. Videos can be embedded in blogs or wikis or downloaded to view on your computer or portable media player, such as an iPod. You could even upload the presentations to a podcast hosting site. The video below (click if video is not displaying) is an example that I made in just a short time, using family pictures and music from the Animoto music library (no copyright issues–yea!). Imagine how much more engaging and relevant a presentation on a topic such as fossils or presidents might be when done using Animoto. Heck, even a vocabulary list could become exciting!
As always, be sure to share a link to your finished products, and be sure to share any thoughts you have for using this with your students!