If you’ve been following along, you’ve already read about the $100 studio we built in an old office to record better audio and video resources for our students. We’ve recently installed $50 worth of lights to get the studio ready for video production. Here’s what we used:
4′ two-light shop light
8 1/2″ clamp light
CFL bulbs – daylight (2 pack)
Again, we did come a few dollars over our target of $50, but we’re in the neighborhood. Our list does not include bulbs for the shop lights (I brought in four bulbs from a twelve-pack I had in my garage) or the power strips we plugged the lights into because we scrounged those from around the office.
The installation was relatively straightforward. We hung the shop lights as close to our green screen wall as possible in order to wash the wall with light evenly. An evenly lit green screen is easier to replace with another image or video in postproduction using iMovie or a similar application. We attached a paper baffle using magnets to try to keep the light from the shop lights from backlighting the subject. Green paper was not necessary, but it was readily available so we used it.
We hung the clamp lights from the ceiling at approximately a 45-degree angle from the subject. The goal is to light the subject from just above her eyes, which means these lights may be a little high, but the ceiling was an easy way to hang them and keep them out of the way. We used binder clips to attach parchment paper over the bulbs to diffuse the light, making it less harsh. In the photo, you can see that we have added a second light (for two on each side). We did this to make sure there was plenty of light on the subject. Although the CFL lightbulbs do warm up and become brighter after about five minutes, they still have to compete with all of the light reflecting off of the green screen. So, we added the second set of lights to be sure there was plenty of light, though these may not be absolutely necessary.
Each set of lights, left and right, are plugged into a power strip on the wall. None of the lights have switches, so the switch on the power strip becomes an easy way to turn them on and off without having to plug or unplug them. Finally, the last critical detail was to get “daylight” bulbs rated at 6500K. This is the best light temperature for most cameras. Fortunately, daylight bulbs were easy to acquire and not any more expensive than other temperatures (warm, cool, etc.)
So, for a few bucks at your local home improvement warehouse, you can find plenty of lights to outfit your studio on a budget. Our next step is to test a few camera / microphone combinations to see what will fit our budget and be quick and easy to use for anyone in our program who wants to make a video. Stay tuned.
Like many educators, we find ourselves producing more and more online content. Currently, to record audio, we try to find a quiet room and record directly onto our laptops, which makes for pretty lousy audio. For video, the process is the same, including stacking furniture and books to get the webcam in our laptops to the best possible position. Far from ideal. As we move to more and more audio and video production, the lack of a dedicated studio space is becoming and issue. So, we decided build a dedicated studio.
Like most educational organizations, cost is big a factor. We just don’t have thousands of dollars to throw at the latest 4K cameras. We also don’t need a full-blown Hollywood studio to make materials for our students to view on the web. We started by looking at acoustical foam as a way to insulate our space, but this quickly added up to hundreds of dollars for our 10′ x 12′ room. Our search for other options led us to Justin Troyer, OSU’s resident media services expert and author of Medialogue, who showed us a studio on campus that he had insulated with mover’s blankets. This looked to be a solution to some of our biggest audio issues because they would both help to block out external noise and reduce the echo within the room.
We had also been struggling with what sort of background to use for video production. We were leaning towards a velvet or velour curtain in a neutral color because it would help to further absorb the echo within the studio. But that fabric is expensive and it would lock us into a single background for every video, which is not ideal. Justin suggested a green screen, which can be removed digitally and replaced with almost anything. He has several different-sized pop-up green screens which are easy to put behind the video subjects. But in the end we decided to got with another option he suggested: paint a wall green. This saves both money and space because the wall does not have to be set up or stored when not in use.
We came in just over $100, which is pretty close to our target. Included in the costs are items that got used and disposed of while we were painting (roller covers and masking tape) but not items that I already had at home that I brought in to use (paint roller, roller tray, brushes). I also filled in a few holes in the wall with my own putty and putty knife. You may need to factor in additional costs if you don’t have access to these basic tools.
In the end, we incurred one final cost which was to purchase a short curtain rod and rings to which allow us to slide the mover’s blanket out from in front of the door, which makes getting in and out much, much easier. The rod and rings cost just under $22.
Now the real fun begins. You can see from the picture that we already have a small table, chair, microphone stand, and camera tripod. The table will be used for straight audio recording, which is why we wrapped the end of one mover’s blanked around it to enclose it on three sides. We still need to find a microphone or two, a video camera, and some lights. Stay tuned as we work on acquiring these items to complete our studio.
I had an interesting conversation with a teacher about alternatives to reading textbooks. I suggested considering using games and simulations as interactive texts, an idea I’ve blogged about before. To give her an idea about the possibilities out there, I shared the following resources.
How Earth Made Us is a documentary series produced by the BBC. Like many BBC programs, the cinematography is spectacular. But, perhaps more interesting, is the approach the program takes to history. Instead of only examining human interactions, the program focuses on how natural forces such as geology, geography, and climate have shaped history. And, the whole series is available on YouTube.
In the first episode, Water, host Iain Stewart explores the effects that extreme conditions have had on human development. He visits the Sahara Desert, which receives less than a centimeter of rainfall each year, and Tonlé Sap, which swells to become the largest freshwater lake in southeast Asia during monsoon season. The contrast is striking. One interesting factoid is that the world’s reservoirs now hold 10,000 cubic kilometers of water (2400 cubic miles). Because most of these reservoirs are in the northern hemisphere, they have actually affected the earth’s rotation very slightly.
The second episode, Deep Earth, begins in a stunning crystal cave in Mexico, in which crystals have grown to several meters long. The cave, which is five kilometers below the earth’s surface, was discovered by accident when miners broke into it. I can’t imagine what they thought when they first set foot inside.
The third episode, Wind, explores the tradewinds which spread trade and colonization, which lead to the beginning of globalization. This brought fortune to some who exploited resources and tragedy to others who were enslaved. The view from the doorway through which thousands of Africans passed on their way to the Americas is a chilling reminder of this period of history.
Fire, the fourth episode, moves from cultures that held the flame as sacred, to the role of carbon in everything from plants to diamonds to flames. And carbon is also the basis of petroleum, which has powered the growth of humankind. Several methods of extracting crude oil around the world are explored.
The final episode, Human Planet, turns the equation around tying the first four episodes together by looking at how humans have had an impact on the earth. One of the most compelling examples is the Great Pacific Garbage Patch which is the result of ocean currents bringing plastic and other debris from countries around the Pacific rim. This garbage collects, is broken down by the sun, and eventually settles to the bottom to become part of the earth’s crust. This is juxtaposed to rock strata in the Grand Canyon, pointing out that eventually, one layer of rock under the garbage patch in the Pacific will be made up of this debris.
In all, there is almost 5 hours of documentary video here. It is a compelling production with spectacular imagery. There are any number of ways to use these videos with an ESL class. And because they are available on YouTube, there are even more options available to an ESL instructor. Instead of everyone watching together in the classroom, the videos can be posted in an online content management system and students can watch them anywhere, anytime on their laptops and smartphones, if they have access to that kind of technology. And if the videos are being watched outside of the classroom, there are more options for assigning different groups of students to watch different videos and then have conversations with students who watched different episodes. The ubiquity of online video can bring learning to students outside of the classroom.
A long, long time ago (maybe 6 or 7 years now) I taught an elective ESL class centered around a student newspaper. We tried various formats including weekly, monthly, and quarterly editions, which ranged from 2 to 32 pages. We also experimented with various online editions, but at the time that mostly consisted of cutting and pasting the documents into HTML pages.
Fast-forward to 2011 and look how online publishing has changed. Blogs are ubiquitous, if not approaching passé. Everyone but my Mom has a Facebook page. (Don’t worry, my aunts fill her in). And many people get news, sports scores, Twitter posts, friends’ Facebook updates, and other information of interest pushed directly to their smartphones.
It’s no surprise, then, that a website like paper.li has found its niche. The slogan for paper.li is Create your newspaper. Today. Essentially, paper.li is an RSS aggregator in the form of a newspaper. RSS aggregators are nothing new (see iGoogle, My Yahoo!, etc.). As the name implies, the user selects a variety of different feeds from favorite blogs, people on Twitter, Facebook friends, etc. and aggregates the updates onto one page.
The twist with with paper.li is that the aggregated page looks very much like a newspaper — at least a newspaper’s website. For people not on Twitter, Facebook, and Tumblr, paper.li might feel much more comfortable. Also, publicizing one’s pages seems to be built right in to paper.li’s sourcecode. I say that because I first learned of paper.li when I read a tweet that said a new edition of that person’s paper was out featuring me. How flattering! Of course, I had to take a look.
Would paper.li be a good platform to relaunch a student newspaper? It might. If students have multiple blogs, paper.li could certainly aggregate the most recent posts into one convenient location. Other feeds could also be easily incorporated as well. (Think of this as akin to your local community newspaper printing stories from the Associated Press.) The most recent news stories about your city or region, updates from your institution’s website, and photos posted to Flickr tagged with your city or school name could each be a column in your paper.li paper right beside the articles crafted by the students themselves. You could even include updates from other paper.li papers.
To see examples of paper.li papers, visit the paper.li website. (And note that .li is the website suffix — no need to type .com no matter how automatically your fingers try to do so.) You can search paper.li for existing papers to see what is possible. A search for ESL, for example, brought up 5 pages of examples, some with hundreds of followers. Take a look. You might just get an idea for your own paper.li.
#edtech #esl YouTube annotations provide a discussion space layered onto each video.
In my previous post, Interactive Videos, I shared some examples of YouTube videos that incorporate some new interactive features of the site that overlay buttons and links that can take you to a different segment of the video or to a different video or website entirely.
These kinds of pop-up messages have been crowding onto YouTube videos since this feature became available. If used gratuitously, they are annoying, but when used to add supplemental information, they can be quite useful. As one example, take a look at the video tutorial for making the above image. It’s a straightforward and informative two-minute video. At about the 1:30 mark, some red text appears that seems to be essential information that was omitted in the original shooting of the video. Adding a quick note is a simple solution that does not require reshooting the video.
But there must be more we can do with these tools. I’d been thinking about some different ways to incorporate these techniques when I came across a presentation made by Craig Howard at the Indiana University Foreign / Second Language Share Fair. The page includes a recording of the presentation, a handout that summarizes how to annotate YouTube videos, and a link to an example video, which I’ve included below.
The nice thing about this approach is that a video, in this case a video for teachers-in-training to discuss, can include the online conversation layered right over top of the video. Comments by different speakers can be made in different colors and the length of time they are displayed can easily be adjusted as appropriate. Of course, everyone involved needs to have free Google or Gmail accounts to sign in, and the video must be configured to allow annotations by people other than the person who uploaded it.
The ability to integrate video materials and online discussion so seamlessly opens up some interesting potential for interacting with videos in new and interesting ways. I’ve recently looked at some options for online bulletin boards / sticky notes, including Google Docs, but incorporating this style of discussion directly onto the video is fantastic.
I’m still kicking around different options for making YouTube videos more interactive. If you have other examples or ideas, please share them in the comments below.
When I hear the phrase interactive videos, I think of people covered in florescent mocap pingpong balls or choppy, Choose Your Own Adventure-style stories like Dragon’s Lair. And there are those. But, it seems that some creative tinkerers have pushed the envelope with some of YouTube’s interactive features and come up with some interesting results.
How can they be used with ESL and EFL students? Well, in addition to viewing and interacting with the videos and then discussing or reporting on the experience, students could be challenged to determine how the videos were made. For the more ambitious, students could make their own videos using the same techniques. Some of them, like the Oscars find the difference photo challenge would be relatively easy to remake.
Most schools and classrooms have bulletin boards, but what is the online digital equivalent? If you are using a course management system, there are lots of tools built-in that approximate this experience. But if not, there are various options that offer lots of options for interaction between users.
They can be used asynchronously so that people can leave messages anytime and the conversation happens over a long period of time. They could also be used in real time so that users can interact in a very visual environment. Messages can be various sizes, color-coded, and dragged around so they can be grouped together in various ways.
One online bulletin board is Wallwisher.com, which allows a user to create a wall to which other users can add “sticky notes.” It’s quick and easy to use, but unfortunately it appears to be a victim of it’s own success — in my recent experience the site is not loading quickly, possibly due to being overwhelmed by a large volume of users. If these issues can be worked out, Wallwisher will be a very useful tool.
A very similar tool is Stixy, which allows sticky notes and other items (photos, documents, and dated to-do list items) to be posted on the wall. Clicking on an item opens a menu with lots of options for color, font, as well as placement (in the front or in the back, relative to the other notes). You can also lock certain notes so that instructions or introductions, for example, can’t be moved around like the rest of the notes. And the site doesn’t seem to have any problems loading due to demand. Yet.
This site also allows the creation of sticky notes, including very small word-sized stickies, which could work very well on an interactive whiteboard as a way to make fridge-magnet-poetry dragable words.
In addition to the sticky-specific applications above, it’s worth noting that documents created in Google Docs can be configured to be edited by a group of people. Create a new document and use different colored boxes in place of stickies and the same effect can be achieved.
In a recent meeting with the executive council of our student association, one of our class representatives suggested organizing a canoe trip. Judging by the puzzled looks around the boardroom table, many students did not recognize this word. So, I pulled up Google Images and did a search for canoe. The results were similar to what you see above. Instantly, students could understand the word and the discussion could continue.
I really enjoy the challenge of working with a group of students with a wide range of ability. Using Google Image search is a good way to help level the playing field so that students can communicate with each other more efficiently. If you have a projector and internet access in your classroom, images can be pulled up very quickly as a teaching aid.
A word of caution, though. Be sure to set the Safe Search setting to “Use strict filtering” if you are doing a search in front of a whole class in order to reduce the chance of objectionable images appearing. And be aware that even strict filtering is not 100% perfect. So, if you are working with a group that is young or particularly sensitive to certain images, be ready to hit the back button immediately or, better yet, mute the image on the projector until the search comes up, preview the images, and then make the projection available to the class.
Once you begin using it, Google Image search is the kind of simple tool that you will wonder how you lived without. While there are certainly benefits to having students define unknown terminology for each other, there are also times when you just want to provide a few words to define a term and move on. In these cases, an image search is worth a thousand words.
Ever since a $3000 bounty was placed on cracking open Microsoft’s fab new gaming hardware, the motion-sensing Kinect for Xbox, hackers and tinkerers have been putting the open-source drivers to lots of interesting uses on platforms that Microsoft never envisioned. I’ve written about interesting Kinect hacks before (and before that,) and I’ve written about my experience with the Wii-based $50 Interactive Whiteboard (IWB,) but I haven’t seen a fully-developed Kinect-based Interactive Whiteboard.
Perhaps an Interactive Whiteboard is too narrow a description. Many of the pieces are in place (see below) to interface with a computer using Kinect. So, as with the Wii-based IWB, any application you can use on your computer can be controlled by this hardware. If you connect your computer to a projector, you essentially have an Interactive Whiteboard.
Is the Kinect-based experience different from a Wii-based IWB or a Smartboard? Almost certainly. There would be no need to touch the screen at all, but rather to gesture in front of the Kinect to interact with the projection on the screen. Would this be an improvement? I’m not sure. A touch-based IWB is more analogous to traditional whiteboard that uses markers and an eraser. So, the touchless experience would be quite different. I need to try it myself to really wrap my head around the opportunities that this motion-sensing interface offers.
I’m not sure if anyone here at Ohio State is working with Kinect as an interface for non-Xbox applications. But I do know that the Digital Union has a Kinect which could probably be used to see if and how things work. If anyone else is interested in trying to pull this together, drop me a line or leave a comment.