Reaction GIF Resources

As I’ve written before, animated GIFs have re-emerged on the World Wide Web as a visual shorthand to express complicated emotions, ideas, and reactions.  Their popularity has received a boost from the fact that they are relatively easy to create and small in file size, meaning they load quickly on almost any device.  And, as one of my students observed, they’re kind of like the pictures in Harry Potter.

You’ll find animated GIFs throughout online discussion forums where they are often used to sum up a response to a discussion thread more quickly than a written message.  They also are often deeply embedded in popular culture, which can also be a bonus.

One of the most popular online discussion forums is Reddit.  Animated reaction GIFs are so popular on Reddit that there is a subReddit devoted to retiring GIFs that have been used so effectively that they will never again be used as a response in a more satisfying way.

ESL students can benefit from animated GIFs in many ways.  One approach is for teachers to use them as conversation starters.  Find something complicated that is expressed in a single GIF like this one and ask students what emotion is being expressed, what just happened to him, what might happen next, and to tell you about a time that they felt a similar emotion.

Animated GIFs also reference pop culture.  And because of the are much shorter than a complete movie or TV show, they can be bite-sized points of entry into different touchstones of popular culture.  For example, I recently watched Forrest Gump in an ESL classroom.  Animated GIFs can serve as a potent reminder of the key scenes.

Animated GIFs are also a phenomenon of pop culture in their own right.  Would memes like Tom Hanks as an animal have gone viral if the images were still?  Perhaps.  But animating these images doesn’t make them less interesting.  Animated GIFs are a participatory form of pop culture – anyone can contribute to the virality of a meme by sharing it, retweeting it, or even creating their own take if they have simple Photoshop skills.

So, where to find them?  Here are some good resources:

Any good search engine will turn them up.  Including the words “animated” and “GIF” in your search terms will help.

Giphy.com is a search tool for animated GIFs.

ReactionGIFs.com is a website that collects and tags animated GIFs.

Reddit has an entire forum dedicated to animated reaction GIFs.

Tumblr is full of them.

My favorites are tagged “GIF” in Diigo.com, an online bookmarking service.

A final note: As you and your students venture out in search of animated GIFs, be aware that this corner of the World Wide Web, like so many others, can occasionally contain strong language and adult themes.  If you work with younger students, you may want to preview these links before sharing them with your students.  You are likely to encounter language that you may not want to share in your classroom.

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The Effect of Art

Blue Water Silver Moon (Mermaid) 1991 by Kerry James Marshall

Blue Water Silver Moon (Mermaid), 1991 by Kerry James Marshall.  Photo copyright Dispatch.com.

I’m currently teaching one of my favorite classes: the Field Experience elective.  In this class, I plan a series of field trips on and around campus so students can explore their community as well as English, the field they are studying.

One of our recent trips was to the Wexner Center for the Arts, the campus art gallery.  The current show is Blues for Smoke, which explores Blues music as a “catalyst of experimentation within contemporary cultural production.”  Works in the show span several decades and include a variety of media.

As part of our trip, I ask each student to identify a favorite piece, which we later discuss in class.  One student chose the painting above.  We had talked in front of the painting and I helped her understand some of the vocabulary in the information placard next to the work:

Marshall’s portrait of a  mythical female nude lounging under the moonlight in a shimmering pond was inspired by a pulp comic book he was reading in the early 1980s.  He notes, “Up until then, I had not considered that a black woman could be considered as a goddess of love and beauty.  Even I took the classic European ideal for granted …. I wanted to develop a stylized representation of beauty that would be unequivocally black.”

We discussed how the painting includes faces from pulp romance novels that typify this “classic European ideal” for beauty and how the mermaid figure is beautiful and unequivocally black.

But what I interpreted as an interesting insight into the experience of African Americans was something that my student took to heart.  The next day, she shared that this was her favorite piece because she, too, had felt the pressure to conform to this classic European ideal of beauty in her native China.  For example, she and many of her friends stayed out of the sun so that her skin could be lighter and whiter.  But, in this painting, she discovered that black is beautiful — an idea she could relate to and share.

I wouldn’t have guessed that this piece of art would strike this student in this way.  But by exposing students to a wide variety of art, the opportunity for this to happen was created.  Never underestimate the power of art.  Or a good field trip.

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CALICO 2013

In May, I attended the 2013 CALICO Conference.  CALICO stands for the Computer-Assisted Language Instruction Consortium.  According to the CALICO website, the organization “includes language educators, programmers, technicians, web page designers, CALL developers, CALL practitioners, and second language acquisition researchers–anyone interested in exploring the use of technology for language teaching and learning.”  The diversity of the conference attendees leads to a wide range of interesting sessions.  Here are a few of the highlights:

First, was a pre-conference workshop called “Place-Based Mobile Game Design for L2 Learning and Teaching” presented by J. Scott Payne and Julie Sykes.  Scott and Julie have been working in a mobile game design platform called ARIS, which can be downloaded for free to iOS devices.  Julie has developed a place-based augmented reality game called Mentira which requires students in Spanish classes at the University of New Mexico to venture into local Spanish-speaking neighborhoods to solve a fictional murder mystery.

Scott has worked on modifying the ARIS platform so that it can function offline and can work with historical maps for projects like Immigrant City.  It’s amazing to see the little blue circle that represents you on your phone’s map move around a hundred-year-old map while you walk through the real city.  Some roads and structures on the map are still there, while others are not.  Workshop participants signed up for free accounts and used the ARIS editor to begin building place-based games.  Although the editor is simple and easy to use, very complex games can be built with it.  (If you would like to build your own mobile game, visit http://arisgames.org/make/)

“Eye Tracking for Dummies: A Practical Overview of Options, Affordances, and Challenges in Conducting Eye Tracking CALL Research” was a panel that described several options for conducting eye-tracking research.  In language learning, eye-tracking can reveal how readers’ eyes move over words, where they pause, and where, when, and how long they go back over words they have read.  Although this kind of research typically requires sensitive equipment which costs thousands of dollars, one of the panelists, Jeff Kuhn, built his own eye-tracker for about $150.  (For more on Jeff’s DIY eye-tracker, see my earlier post.)

Another interesting session was “Semiotic Remediation and Language Learning through Place-based Plurilingual Gaming” with Steve Thorne and the 503 Design Collective.  Steve described a mobile game his group created called ChronoOps in which players must survive the future past by becoming agents sent back from 2070 to document the dawn and dusk of environmentally friendly technology.  This game, which was also developed on the ARIS platform, requires players to document green technology with pictures, text, and audio which are geotagged and saved within the game.  When other players play the game near the same locations, they can see what in-game artifacts other players have created and recorded within the game.  By playing the game, players are collaborating to collaboratively augment their reality.

A complete list of conference sessions can be found on the CALICO website.  But it’s not just the sessions that make for a good conference; it’s also the people you meet and the conversations you have outside of the scheduled sessions.  One of the conversations I had was with Mat Schulze, a German professor at the University of Waterloo.  We sat and talked for over an hour about building an English learner language corpus.  In linguistics, a corpus refers to a large body of or collection of language.  A wide range of applications have been developed to analyze these collections of language that can find almost any trend or pattern you would like to examine.

For example, if we examine every placement composition that English as a Second Language (ESL) students write, we could potentially investigate anything from differences between speakers of different first languages (Chinese vs. Arabic speakers, for example) or at what point in students’ learning specific grammatical errors no longer appear indicating that they have learned how to produce a specific structure.  Building and analyzing our own corpus could lead us to a big data-informed curriculum as well as to research opportunities for other language educators and linguists.  Attending this conference helped to connect me to people who can help us build this corpus.

I was able to attend the 2013 CALICO Conference through the generous support of ESL Programs and the Department of Teaching and Learning in the College of Education and Human Ecology at The Ohio State University.  I also received matching funds from an OSU eLearning Professional Development grant.  For move information on this grant, visit http://ocio.osu.edu/blog/grants/apply/pd-grant-application/.

This post was originally published on OSU’s Digital Union blog.

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Writing from Colville

If you’re not familiar with the work of contemporary Canadian artist Alex Colville, take a minute to search for his work on Google’s image search.  Colville died on July 16 but his 70-year career leaves us with lots to look at.

For more on his life and art, I’d recommend this article from the Toronto Star, but searching Wikipedia and other sources will provide more background if you’d like it.  The focus of this post will be on how Colville’s work can be incorporated into the ESL classroom.

Paintings by Alex Colville, like Truck Stop above, are typically spare in both the painting style and the story being told.  There is usually a bit of mystery — Why does the man have a cast on his arm?  Whose dog is that? — that remains unresolved, which is why so many of his paintings are so compelling.

These paintings make excellent jumping off points for storytelling.  Students can search for Alex Colville to see a number of his paintings (be warned that there is occasional nudity, but nothing too graphic) or provide access to an online gallery of images of his work to students.  From there, students can write or tell stories that answer some of the paintings’ inherent questions.  As a creative exercise, Alex Colville’s paintings provide plenty of inspiration.

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Open Music: Old Shanghai

In December 2012, Beck Hansen released an album called Song Reader in an extremely traditional way: on sheet music.  Best known for genre-bending songs such as Loser and Where It’s At, Beck is going blazing another new trail by reaching back to a format that predates recorded audio.  But, why?

Well, in an age of Instructables, MakerBots, and GarageBand, making things has never seemed less intimidating.  And with YouTube, you’ve got a way to share your creations whether you’ve played a song on your piano or mashed up a couple of hit songs into something new.

Beck talks about the audience involvement aspect of this album in an interview on the publisher’s website:

These songs are meant to be pulled apart and reshaped. The idea of them being played by choirs, brass bands, string ensembles, anything outside of traditional rock-band constructs—it’s interesting because it’s outside of where my songs normally exist. I thought a lot about making these songs playable and approachable, but still musically interesting. I think some of the best covers will reimagine the chord structure, take liberties with the melodies, the phrasing, even the lyrics themselves. There are no rules in interpretation.

In education, we talk about Massively Open Online Courses (MOOCs). Beck has released an album that is completely open to interpretation and assembly by the user. By trusting and empowering his listeners to participate in his music, Beck has created something much larger than just twenty songs.  He has created a community.

Anyone can post their version of one of these songs to Song Reader.net via YouTube or Soundcloud.  As more songs are performed and uploaded, each work will form a kind of dialog and interaction with each one influencing the next.

Why mention this on ESL Technology.com?  There are some parallels between this open approach to making an album and the open education movement.  Trusting your students and empowering them to make decisions can be very scary — for both teachers and students. Letting students choose their own projects and then working with them to make sure the projects fit the curriculum is more difficult and time consuming, but it’s a process that can really infuse students with a sense of ownership over their work. Being responsible for their own learning is an important lesson for all students.

Opening your classroom to the real world (by making student videos and blog posts public, for example) can also be a scary, but rewarding, opportunity. Teaching in an open environment also means preparing students for the challenges in that real world — teaching strategies for dealing with griefers and phishing attacks, for example — which is probably some of the most useful learning they can carry forward from your classroom.  They all have to join the real world eventually.

Is Song Reader a model that can guide your teaching? Not directly. But the novel way that this album has been conceptualized relates to some interesting ideas that relate to how many are re-thinking traditional approaches to teaching.

For more on Beck’s album, visit Song Reader.net.  Some of my favorite interpretations of “Old Shanghai”, the single that was released before the rest of the album was available, are below.  If you’ve played “Old Shanghai” or anything else from Song Reader, please post a link to your work in the comments.

Piano only, with a beautiful video:

Ukulele only:

The staff of the New Yorker:

A more fully-produced trio, Contramano:

Two guys named Dave and Ted:

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Making Engaging YouTube Videos: A Workshop

As part of Innovate at OSU, I present a hands-on workshop on Making Engaging YouTube Videos.  Although YouTube has been around since 2005, it remains the most popular place to watch videos on the internet. Not only can these YouTube videos be embedded almost everywhere, but annotations allow increasing levels of interactivity that can make videos more engaging by enabling viewers to navigate to different points within a video or to different videos entirely.

Getting Started

You will need a (free) Google, Google+ or YouTube account, and a laptop with some video files to upload.  It would be helpful to have some video editing software on the laptop, but it is not completely necessary.

Examples

Ronald has a spider on his head – more than two choices per fork

Haircut (a choose-your-own-adventure song) – note organization of nodes

The Time Machine: A Chad, Matt & Rob Interactive Adventure! – branching or non-branching choices?

Youtube Street Fighter – Lots of buttons to choose from

BooneOakley.com – Home Page – Annotations as website menu buttons

Annotations

There are 5 different types of Annotations:

Speech bubbles include a pointer that you can drag to point in any direction.

Notes are like speech bubbles without the pointer.

Titles are like notes but without the background color.  Available fonts are largest for Titles.

Spotlights are for highlighting an area to be clicked on.  Text is optional and appears transparent when the mouse is over the highlighted area.

Labels are like spotlights, but the border is bolder and text appears in a white box within the border when the mouse is over the highlighted area.

Annotations can be customized with different colors and font sizes. In addition to Annotations, users can also apply many Instagram-like filters with the Enhancements tab, add music with the Audio tab, and upload a caption file or transcript with the Captions tab.

Links within Annotations

Every kind of Annotation can be linked to a point within the same video, a point within another video, a YouTube channel or playlist, or a subscribe button.  (Note: Linking within a video used to be almost instantaneous, but has since become a bit clunky due to the video reloading.) Links can also be set to open in a new window when clicked, which is useful if you want to be able to come back to the original video.

To configure the link, set the start time and end time and check the link box.  Paste the link to the video to link to a different point within the same video, or a link to a different video to link to something else one.

Let’s Try It!

(This video was annotated during the workshop.)

Other Resources

KeepVid.com – One of many tools that allows you to download YouTube videos.  Be sure to respect all copyrights, etc. but know also that mashups that are “transformative” are generally considered protected under “fair use“.

Download YouTube Videos as MP4 (Firefox extension) – This extension puts a download button into the YouTube interface on any video you view on Firefox.

Where do we go from here?

There are lots of potential uses for Annotations in YouTube videos.  By giving viewers an opportunity to interact with a video, rather than just passively watching it, they become more engaged.  We will discuss some of these in the workshop, but feel free to list more in the comments below.

EDIT: Thanks to everyone who came to this presentation at Innovate. I really like taking existing, stable technologies with low barriers to entry like YouTube and pushing the limits of what can be done with them. I hope you found this session useful. If you have any comments, or questions, or want to share a video you’ve created and annotated, please leave a comment.  Thanks!

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Know Your Meme

Have you ever encountered an internet meme like Success Kid, above?  Memes like these are spreading across the interwebs, fueled by websites where you can make variations of them in seconds.

If you come across many variants of the same meme, you can start to tease out some of the social rules that have evolved to govern their creation.  Success Kid, for example, is usually used to celebrate the mudane successes in life.

You can view many, many more examples at quickmeme.com, memegenerator.net, any of the other ubiquitous meme generating websites, or on a Google image search.  Before you click on these links, you should know that some of the content way contain profanity or otherwise be NSFW (not safe for work.)

So, you can get a read on popular memes, and even contribute to them by creating your own.  But, do you know that Success Kid is based on a picture of a boy named Sammy that was uploaded to Flickr in 2007?  No?  Maybe you don’t really know your meme after all.  That’s where KnowYourMeme.com can help.

Taking Success Kid as an example again, Know Your Meme traces the origin of the meme through several twists and turns (as I Hate Sandcastles, for example) before arriving at what we now know as Success Kid.  This website is usually where I start when I first notice a new meme flashing across my screens.  (And, when you Google any meme, the link to KnowYourMeme is typically right near the top of the results.)

Another, more current example is the Harlem Shake, which is hard to avoid on Facebook and other social media as your alma mater, favorite sports teams, and other random groups of people each create their own version.

How can this website be useful to ESL students?  Given the pace at which these memes evolve, learning about their background and meaning could help non-native students better understand and interact with their peers who use memes and reaction GIFs as conversational shorthand in social media.

A teacher could also have her students put their anthropologist hats on and track the meaning and development of their own favorite memes.  They could then compare their conclusions to the “expert” information in KnowYourMeme to see how much they were able to deduce on their own.

Either way, this website is an excellent resource that provides students and teachers with well documented information on emerging trends in popular culture.

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