Monthly Archives: November 2009

Musical Inspiration

the sun

Sing, floss, stretch. But trust me on the sunscreen.

I wrote recently about the elective class that I am developing and teaching on popular music.  I’m covering a decade per week and a song per day.  Within each song, I highlight an interesting grammar, vocabulary, or pronunciation point.

Developing this class has meant combing through many online resources including lists of Billboard number one hit songs on Wikipedia and best-of-the-decade lists such as AOL’s radio blog, which is a good place to start because you can listen to most of the songs on the list.  I’ve also found that the website sing365.com tends to have the least errors of all of the lyrics websites that are returned in Google searches.

I intend to post the list of songs I’ve used at the end of the quarter (I might even link to the Google Docs spreadsheet that I used to record all of the songs I considered for each decade) but for now I thought I would post the following music video, which I plan to use tomorrow, the last day before Thanksgiving break.

The song is actually a spoken word piece which has an interesting story.  While not a traditional pop music video, I think the message is inspirational without being cheesy.  Plus, there are lots and lots of examples of advice using the imperative.  It might not get you through the last two weeks of the quarter, but it doesn’t hurt.

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Autocaptioned YouTube Videos

captioned video

An example of an autocaptioned YouTube video. It IS time.

I wrote about advances in captioning technology and how this could make online video exponentially more useful almost a year ago.  Captions are obvoiusly very important for people with hearing impairments but can also be useful for students studying a language.

At the time, work was being done on automating the process because it takes several hours to transcribe the text and then synchronize it to each hour of video.  Manually captioning all of the video that exists online or even that is currently being created is simply not possible.  What a difference a year makes.

YouTube recently announced the addition of an automatic captions feature.  This announcement picked up by Mashable and it echoed through the Twittersphere.  My first reaction was, “Finally!”  Followed by the question, “I wonder how accurate it is.”

Ken Petri, Program Director for the Ohio State Web Accessibility Center, addressed these concerns in an email to the OSU Exploring Learning Technologies community:

If you have ever seen the results from Google Voice’s automatic transcription you know they are usually not perfect. For an educational context, a perfect or close to perfect transcript is usually necessary. This and the fact that most of you will not have access to the automated transcription feature in YouTube means that, while it is an exciting announcement, it is not a panacea.

Fortunately, you can opt to upload your own transcript and have YouTube auto-align it to your video.  If the video is scripted (as opposed to improvised) it can be easy to obtain a trascript.  Transcribing a video can take a long, long time, but automating one step in the process is helpful.

In general, every step that is automated will increase speed and efficiency while lowering costs, but will also introduce inaccuracies.  As each step in improved, we will get closer and closer to the goal of captioning every online video.

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The Marshmallow Experiment

marshmallows

Want one? If you wait, you can have two.

I recently tweeted about the Marshmallow Experiment after reading about it in the Toronto Star. Yesterday, I listened to the Radio Lab podcast that discusses the same experiment.

The gist of it is that children are given the choice of taking one marshmallow or waiting a few minutes and taking two.  At around 4 years of age, many people develop the ability to delay their gratification.  Not all, but many.

More interestingly, when researchers followed up with the children who had been tested years later, those that were able to delay their gratification were more successful on a number of measures ranging from SAT scores and GPAs to whether they were overweight.  Fortunately, these skills can be developed, so even if a four-year-old swipes the marshmallow at the first opportunity, she is not predetermined to be an obese dropout.

As a teacher, I’m thinking about how this skill translates to my classes.  I suspect that I can identify a few students in my class who are instant-swipers and some who are probably still waiting to take the second marshmallow in case they will be rewarded with a third marshmallow.  Some students cram for tests, while others forgo fun in favor of studying and reviewing.

I find it encouraging to learn that these skills can be honed, but I wonder if this is true for the adult students that I work with.  How can we help this message reach them?  How can we help them to apply this information to their academic and, eventually, professional careers?

Maybe I need to bring a bag of marshmallows to class.

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Image Size and Resolution

over stretched image

Think this image looks good? Click on it to see it actual size. Yikes!

I made a presentation at Ohio TESOL last week about how to make better PowerPoint presentations.  I’m going to add the audio to my slides by the end of this week (currently, you can only view the original slides sans audio).

Overall, the presentation was very well received.  In fact, I even inspired some people to overcome their fear and give PowerPoint a try.  One such brave soul emailed me the following question about blurry images, which I think is worth sharing here.  It’s a problem that many beginners face when adding images to PowerPoint presentations as well as print documents.  You won’t be an expert until you can fix it.  My response follows.

I loved your presentation last week on PowerPoint.  Being technically challenged, pp has never been at the top of my list to try.  But, after listening to you last Friday, I have put together a small presentation for a listening and speaking one class.  My question is…After I paste and stretch photos from Flicker, they are blurry.  I realize it is probably a simple click, but I cannot find it.  Please help!

I’m glad you enjoyed my presentation and I’m glad you’re diving in  and trying things out in PowerPoint.  I think this is a really good way to learn this technology.

image stretched 900%

Stretching an image to 900% of its original size will result in a blurry or pixelated image.

The issue you’re dealing with is a common one.  It has to do with the size and resolution of the original image you’re trying to add to your presentation.  When you are in PowerPoint, double-click on the image you’re working with to pull up the “Format Picture” menu.  Choose the “Size” tab at the top to see if you’ve stretched your image past it’s original size.  If the height or width under “Scale” is more than 100%, you will probably experience some blurriness or you will start to see all of the pixels that make up the image.  (To really see this, try using a really small image from a website and stretching it to fill your entire slide.  It will get really, really blurry and pixely.)

flickr picture

Click on "all sizes" to find larger versions of images in Flickr.

So, that’s the problem, but what’s the solution?  Well, you need to start with larger original images.  Once you find an image in Flickr, you will see an “ALL SIZES” button right under the title of the picture.  This will take you to the original picture and often give you several different size options.  By choosing the original, you can usually find a version large enough that you will be able to stretch it to fill your slide.  I suggest you double-check after you stretch it though (double-click again to pull up the Format Picture menu) because if it’s more than about 110% of the original size, your picture may look stretched when projected onto a screen even if you don’t notice any problems on your computer.

Something else to consider is the file size of the picture you use.  If you just need a small picture, try to avoid using the largest size.  Using larger pictures increases the size of the file for your final presentation.  While finding room on a hard drive usually isn’t a problem for new computers, on some machines PowerPoint can get bogged down and run slowly if many large photos have to be loaded for every slide.  So, if you only need a little picture in the corner, try using a smaller size image.

I hope that’s pretty clear.  Give it a try and let me know if you’re still having trouble.  Incidentally, I hope to upload an updated version of my presentation complete with audio in the next couple of days.  Watch for it here: http://www.slideshare.net/eslchill

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