Free screencasting tools and resources

I found a great resource on PBWorks about screencasting (a digital recording of computer screen output often containing audio narration) in addition to some tips for creating the content.

Screencasting is great for short tutorials when it is easier to show than tell.

The page lists a number of free tools for capturing and annotating screen images and short screen recordings: Jing, Screen Toaster, and Screencasto-matic. These tools allow for embedding of your presentation on your blog or website.

If you need to create a screencast that is longer than 5 minutes you might still need a for-cost solution: SnagIt or Camtasia Studio have lots of features.

Can’t wait to try these out!

Have you used any of these tools? What did you think?

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Planning your digital project: Finding the right tool for the job

As educators, it’s tempting to see an unfamiliar, yet “sparkly” new technology and to want to use it for the sake of doing something “cutting edge.”

This is a normal reaction (much preferred over hiding from new technologies and hoping they’ll go away), and one that can be and should be harnessed to expand our educational toolboxes. Like with any tool, however, we must learn when to use it and how. Would you use a bulldozer for your garden when a shovel will do?

Here are some questions to think about when planning a digital project.

  1. As with any project, a digital project should have a defined goal. Is the goal to convey information? To engage? To inspire action?
  2. Decide how you will measure your success in reaching your goal. Size of audience? Recommendations and comments of audience? Improved test scores?
  3. Next, define your audience. What age group do you want to reach? What education level? How comfortable are they with new technology? Do they have the downloads and plugins necessary to view your material?
  4. Will the project need to be maintained after launch? If so, how will this happen?
  5. How will your project meet W3C accessibility guidelines? This is an especially important question to ask if your institution receives public funding (though really everyone benefits from accessibility principles). Public universities such as the University of Washington are required by law to make their information accessible. (Good accessibility improves the user experience for everyone – consider how some web sites are so much easier to navigate on an iPhone than others.) Examples of accessibility guidelines include:
  • Provide equivalent alternatives to auditory and visual content
  • Don’t rely on color alone
  • Design for device-independence (such as screen readers, non-mouse users, etc.)

With these things in mind, it’s possible to start sorting through that digital toolkit for the best tool for the job.

Is there a chronology that could be more easily depicted using a graphic or Flash? Are there images that could tell the story using a slideshow? Would a video collage give the best representation of your work?

If you are working on a web site and you want to reach a broad audience, you will want to limit the amount of high-bandwidth material, such as images and video, on the home page. Put users in control and only make them download information when they choose to.

Is there a way for blind or deaf users to get the content that is in your video? Or the person who isn’t allowed to watch video at work? Or the dial-up connection user who has disabled images and javascript?

What medium best illustrates your project? Photos, video, audio, the written word? Don’t force your project into a mold. Each project is different and should be treated as such.

When working on the web, don’t forget about the power of linking. Can you link to complementary resources? (Bonus: This also improves search engine optimization.)

Embed Soundslides into WordPress.com using VodPod

I took on the challenge of some of the COM students to figure out a way to embed Soundslides into their WordPress.com blogs. At first, I didn’t think it could be done. After all, Soundslides’ site says so. But then I noticed something new that WordPress was promoting called VodPod. It allows you to insert your own embed code so I thought I would give it a try. It works! The video I got didn’t have the play button included, but it plays when you click on it so it is functional.

Creating the code for your embed (create this in Notepad for copy/paste later):

  1. Go to http://students.washington.edu/username/publish_to_web/small.html. (This will go to the smaller version of your presentation, which will fit into WordPress.)
  2. Click View > Source.
  3. Copy everything between the <object> tags (including the object tags) and paste into Notepad.
  4. Copy the video url and end with the folder name (so without the small.html at the end). So http://students.washington.edu/username/publish_to_web/
  5. Paste into your Notepad code in the two places before “soundslider.swf”

Using Vodpod to post to WordPress:

  1. Drag the “Post to WordPress” button to your toolbar: http://vodpod.com/wordpress/
  2. Go to the url with your Soundslides presentation: http://students.washington.edu/username/publish_to_web/small.html
  3. Click “Post to WordPress” from your toolbar.
  4. Click “Click if you’re having trouble” below the preview screen. (This will allow you to paste the embed code manually.)
  5. Paste everything from your Notepad document into the box.
  6. Fill in the rest of the blanks (blog url, username, password) and click Publish.

That’s it!

Review of Kodak HD zi8

I got to play with the Kodak HD zi8 this weekend and was impressed with the quality of the video. The ZI8 is competing with the Flip HD in the pocket camcorder market. Pocket camcorders are useful for our students because they can focus on telling the story rather than trying to figure out the settings on the video camera.

There are several drawbacks that keep me from recommending this camera to everyone.

Pros:

  • HD video quality
  • external mic input
  • rechargeable batteries
  • records up to 1080p, but settings can be adjusted to capture greater quantity of video or increase battery life
  • connects to standard tripod
  • connects directly to computer via USB to upload to YouTube or Facebook
  • doesn’t require any special software to play video

Cons

  • Big one for me was this records to .mov so you can’t edit this file in Windows Movie Maker without converting to different format (though Kodak does have its own software you can download from the camera if you want to use that on a personal computer).
  • requires SDHC memory card – probably need at least an 8 GB card to get a decent amount of video before having to download it to the computer (allows up to 32 GB card).
  • not as intuitive as Flip camera. There are more buttons and more settings (though I wouldn’t say it’s difficult to figure out – it might take 3 minutes instead of 30 seconds with the flip).
  • round bottom means you can’t just place camera on table. You will need a tripod of some sort. (You might be able to get it to balance on a table if you take the wrist strap off.)
  • batteries seem to run down quickly, though I haven’t used it enough to say how long they will last. Other reviews suggest they will last 1 hour, 16 minutes at 720p with image stabilization on.

If you like Windows Movie Maker and Windows Media Player then definitely stick with the Flip.

If you will be uploading most of your videos to YouTube  and you don’t mind paying extra for the memory card this would probably be a great camera for you. If you want to use an external mic, this is also the camera for you.

Social Explorer maps U.S. Census data

If you’re looking for a visual representation of Census data, you should check out Social Explorer.  The site has maps you can filter to look at population, race, religion, commuting time, income, etc. If it was on the Census form you can filter for it. You can save maps, and even create slideshows like this one, showing the areas where Michael Jackson grew up.

Besides maps you can also create customized reports of the information you are looking for under the Reports tab.

The free edition is open to the general public. If you have a UWNetID or other access through an educational institution, you can access the Professional edition.

Recording podcasts with Skype

Trying to create a podcast with someone remotely? Here’s a video on how to use Skype and Audio Hijack Pro for Mac to record conversations you have on Skype. The drawbacks? Audio Hijack Pro costs $32 (though if your recording is less than 10 minutes long you don’t need to pay for it). This application seems to be the most highly regarded by podcast enthusiasts. Call  Recorder is another Mac application with a free trial period and you can buy it for $14.95.

And for Windows? CallBurner is free for 14 days, Pamela is free for 30 days and $29.95 for the pro version (or you can get the basic version, which will record calls up to 15 minutes for free), and Call Graph is a free, ad-supported platform, though I’ve seen a few comments that the quality of the recording was not ideal. Lifehacker featured a post on Call Graph.

Five free video converters

Lifehacker has a list of the five best media converters voted on by readers of the popular blog. The favorites?

1. Super (Windows)

2. Format Factory (Windows)

3. Media Coder (all platforms)

4. Handbrake (all platforms)

5. FFmpeg (all platforms)

Remember that the Media Lab in 302 has Premiere CS4, which will convert most formats as well.