Blackboard now offers easy ways to integrate YouTube videos into course sites, and that’s a good thing. Lots of valuable academic information is posted to YouTube, and YouTube is a good place for teachers to upload their own class lectures and materials, or for students to upload their class projects.
It’s not the only place to find useful videos for the classroom, though. Try a few of these sites as well.
Great talk on “how photography connects us” from David Griffin and TED. I watched it for the first time a few days ago, and I’ve been thinking about what this all means for the teaching of visual literacy in classes like college writing where the focus isn’t necessarily in the visual arts.
One thing Griffin says that stands out to me is that great photojournalists know how to create a narrative.
That’s true of great communicators in any medium. We want students to synthesize information and make meaning out of it.
I’ve heard a lot of good arguments for having writing students do photo projects, but the idea that photography is narrative is among the best.
We talk about visual rhetoric so often in the negative. We talk about how we’re bombarded with visual stimuli in our digital lives, about how visuals so often are attempting to manipulate us. That they are. But this isn’t always bad. Visuals help us to understand so much of the world around us.
The point I think is that our lives are saturated with images and that those images are shaping meaning as we know it. If we want to be part of that conversation, if we want to contribute our own way of seeing and thinking, we have to respond in kind–with images. We have to know how to make narratives out of images.
And so, while I do appreciate visual analysis assignments in which students find images created by other people and write about how those images convey meaning, how they manipulate emotions and opinions, I’m even more interested right now in visual creations, in the writer as the image maker.
Writers have always been concerned with how to create pictures with words. It’s another kind of communication to create meaning with a combination of words of pictures. This is the kind of communication that influences us in the most profound ways, yet we have to think up ways to justify teaching it in writing classes.
Photography helps us to freeze the moments of our own understand of the world around us for further study. It gives us time to reflect on a scene without losing that scene in our minds. Time spent reflecting is one of the primary ways that we retain information and deepen understanding.
Put a camera in the writer’s hands. Through it and the close observations it affords, powerful narratives are born.
The traditional definition of podcasting, in so much as something that has existed for less than a decade can have traditions, is that is a “broadcast for the iPod.” As such, it is an audio show with recurring episodes that people can subscribe to in iTunes.
I don’t care about how recurring your episodes are. If you want to make a handful of class lecture recordings, post them into Blackboard, and not worry about how they are broadcast as long as your students can listen to them, that’s okay. I won’t be the one to report you to the geek police for calling something a podcast that doesn’t have subscription feeds.
I will, however, tell you easy ways to set up those feeds, but first we have to talk about how to make the recording.
To start, you need one of two things–a recording device or a computer with recording software.
You could purchase a voice recorder. They range from cheap to ridiculous in price, and you do get what you pay for. The cheapest ones yield the poorest sound quality. If you want something portable that you can carry into the classroom with you or allow students to use for projects, and if you don’t mind spending a little bit, try the Zoom H2. This is a mid-level device. Not the best, not the worst. Not the most expensive, not the least. You will get recordings from it that are every bit as good as you need to share online, though.
As an alternative, you could use the voice recorder on a gadget already in hand. The iPhone and the iPod Nano both come with a voice memo feature that can be used to make audio recordings. Those recordings can be copied into iTunes and from there converted to mp3s and uploaded to the podcasting site of your choice.
If portability isn’t a concern, you’ll be better off to record your podcasts on your computer. Assuming you already own a computer, this is the cheap and easy way. PC users can download the free program Audacity to use as a voice recorder and editor.
Download and install the software from the Sourceforge site, and then watch this tutorial:
An essential ingredient in the making of a podcast is the microphone. If you are on a Mac, you very likely have a built in microphone. Check that first, and use it if you have it. Some versions of PCs also come with built in mics now, but they aren’t standard in PCs like they are in Macs. You’ll need an external mic if you don’t have an internal.
The best kind for podcasting (unless you want to spend a lot more money) is a simple headset mic, the kind people use for Internet gaming and chatting. They start at around $30 or so, and the $30 versions will do just fine.
Exporting to MP3
MP3is the file format of choice for sharing audio online. It represents a compromise between the highest quality audio and easiest file size for sharing. Other file formats might retain more sound quality, but they would take too long to upload and download online. Thus, whatever format you’ve recorded in, you should always convert to mp3 before uploading.
If you’ve used Audacity or GarageBand, this is a simple matter of finding the export feature and selecting mp3 as your file format (look under Share in GarageBand and under File in Audacity).
If you’ve used a voice recording device, you may need to pull your file into a program to convert it. Audacity will work for that. So will iTunes. iTunes will also help you organize your library of audio files.
If you are in iTunes and logged into your account, you should be able to click on an audio file, go to Advanced and Create MP3 version in order to convert it. That will give you a file that is ready to publish online.
Storing Files Online
The biggest challenge to setting up a new podcast is probably finding a viable place to store your audio files online. You can set up a podcast feed on Blogger, but you can’t store your audio files in Blogger. They have to be hosted somewhere else. Blogger does not currently accept uploaded audio files.
If you plan to start a regular podcast with lots of episodes, you’re probably going to end up paying for file hosting. Though there are some free podcasting sites, they tend to come and go. We just don’t have the audio equivalent of YouTube or Flickr at this time.
If you just want to post a few recordings here and there, however, you do have some free options.
This “Sample Poetry Podcast” is an mp3 recording of one of my poems. It was recorded in GarageBand and converted to MP3. From there, it was uploaded to www.dropbox.com. At DropBox, I moved the file into my public folder, which gave me a link to share with others. I embedded that link here, and this is the result:
This is what happens when I use the embed code from DivShare to post the same file:
These are just a couple of options. You may need to do further research on your own to find what works for you. But this will get you started.
If that sounds too complicated, set up a Posterous blog. Posterous allows you to email audio files as attachments to be posted on your blog. It doesn’t require that they are hosted elsewhere. It will also format them for you into a Flash-based audio player. You don’t have unlimited space available for free on Posterous, but you have enough to keep you going for some time as long as your recordings are not too lengthy or too frequent.
Thedefinition of broadcasting in the social media age is loose at best. If you upload a single file to a site like DivShare and then post the link to that file on Facebook, you have broadcasted it to your friends. Let’s assume, though, that in this case we mean making your audio files available by subscription in iTunes.
The simple solution to that is to blog your podcasts. Most blogging platforms are set up with automatic feeds that can be opened and subscribed to in iTunes.
Here’s a video to help you understand how to use a blog to podcast:
On most blogs, if you find your rss feed, and type in “itpc” in place of the “http” that will give you an audio feed that will open in iTunes where you can then subscribe to it.
Again, if any of this sounds complicated in the least, start with Posterous.com. There’s nothing complicated about podcasting with Posterous. You record your mp3s and email them to your blog. To subscribe in iTunes, you use the “itpc” address for the rss feed.
For example, I have a Posterous blog at http://sharongerald.posterous.com. If I wanted to download the audio files from that blog in iTunes and then sync them to my iPod, I’d go to itpc://sharongerald.posterous.com/rss.
That’s all it takes. Really. Anyone can do this. All you need is something to say.
Scribd is a social sharing tool that allows you to upload documents to share. It’s a great way to push assignments out to students because they can download documents from Scribd in a variety of formats, including those used by mobile devices.
If you use Blackboard, and you want to upload your class notes to Scribd and then share them in Blackboard, all you need to do is to copy the embed code from Scribd and paste it into your Blackboard course. Don’t forget to toggle your editor over to html mode first, or you’ll just get a bunch of jibberish.
Otherwise, your embedded content from Scribd something like this:
Britney Spears has always been heard on classic rock stations.
There has always been a computer in the Oval Office.
Everyone has always known what the evening news was before the Evening News came on.
There has always been a Planet Hollywood.
Salsa has always outsold ketchup.
These lists are always funny and disconcerting. Sometimes they are downright shocking. It’s important to stop and think where our students are coming from, though, especially when designing course materials.
Three-quarters have created a profile on a social networking site. One-in-five have posted a video of themselves online.
They are more ethnically and racially diverse than older adults. They’re less religious, less likely to have served in the military, and are on track to become the most educated generation in American history.
Be sure to take the quiz, “How Millennial Are You?” This places me, amazingly enough, right where I actually fall age-wise on their scale, as a Gen Xer.
Plenty has been said and plenty has been studied about working with the Milliennial generation, but for a quick intro, consider this clip from 60 Minutes.
And so it boils down to “lifestyle matters more than anything else.” What does that mean for the classroom?
Slideshare is one of the social sharing sites included in the auto-embed menu in Blackboard 9.1. This is a good way to share slide presentations with your students. PowerPoints will load faster and easier from SlideShare than they will if they are uploaded into Blackboard as attachements. This also gives you a place to store and organize your presentations outside of Blackboard so that you don’t have to worry about whether they transfer over properly from one semester to another or from one version of Blackboard to another.
Plus, on SlideShare you have the opportunity to find presentations by other people to share with your students. Public SlideShares can be embedded into Blackboard with no worries about copyright violations. The links back to the presentation creator are included in the embed code.
Take a look at some sample SlideShares, and then go to www.slideshare.net to create a free account and start uploading your own presentations.
It’s so easy to start a blog that it almost seems unnecessary to even explain how. If you can sign up for and start using an email account, you can do the same with a blog. They are designed to be user-friendly to beginners.
First you need to pick your platform. We’ll assume you want something free if you haven’t been blogging before. Lucky for you, there are lots of options for that. We’ll just discuss four of the most popular, though.
Blogger: Owned by Google, Blogger is part of the suite of tools that come with a free gmail account. It’s been considered one of the easiest ways to blog since the ancient days of about 2003 or even earlier. It’s a good choice and still a very popular platform. With it, you can create as many blogs as you want and add as many users to your blog as you want. You can set it to private or public. You can customize your blogs by changing templates, adding widgets, or copying in html from other sources. All of this makes it a good choice for class blogging. An entire class could be set up as contributors to a single blog, or the students could all have their own free blogs with links to the class blog.
WordPress.com: We have to mention the .com on the end of this one because there is a WordPress.org. The .org version is for self-hosted sites, and though it is wonderful software, it probably isn’t where you would start. WordPress.com offers a version of the same software and free hosting. WordPress is probably slightly more complicated to figure out than Blogger, but it also offers slightly more complex options for organizing your blog site. If you need your blog to be more than a blog and also serve as a project site, classroom information site, or portfolio site, WordPress is your better option. With it, you can add pages as well as posts (you aren’t limited to a set number of pages like on Blogger), and you can organize your pages into parent and child schemes. In other words, you can have pages that fall under other pages in your site organization. On Teacherly Tech, for example, the pages for individual workshops are child pages listed under the parent page “Workshops.”
Posterous: Posterous represents a newer wave of blogging tools that makes blogging easier than ever. To post, you simply email. You can even email video, audio, or images, and Posterous will not only post it but format it for you. Photos sent either as attachments or as Flickr links will be embedded. Videos sent as YouTube links will be embedded. Audio files sent as attachments will be embedded. This is a very easy way to blog multimedia content. You do lose some control, though, since Posterous does all of the formatting for you. For a quick and easy way to keep a photo blog or an audio blog, though, Posterous is perfect.
Tumblr: Tumblr is a blogging tool that you are socially networked in multiple directions and that you want to connect in multiple ways. You can email in posts. You can send in posts as text messages. You can even phone in audio blog posts. You can also set up your Tumblr blogs to automatically push out to other services like Twitter and Facebook. It shares some of these characteristics with other blogging platforms, but Tumblr in particular has been used by people who are blogging to Tweet.
You can start blogging quickly and easily from any of these four platforms. Which one you should choose depends on what you want to do. WordPress is probably the higher achiever with the most formatting options for creating full web sites. Posterous is probably the easiest one of all to start up, especially if you want to do simple multimedia blogging. Blogger is a solid tool for writing that allows the user control over formatting of posts without making anything too complicated. Tumblr is a great choice if you want to collect links and photographs, comment on them, and then share them through social networking sites.
Any of these tools have great potential for the classroom, and all of them require nothing more than visiting their sites and signing up for a free account to get started.
Just in case you do need a little extra help, here are some tutorial links:
Notice that it is licensed by the Flickr user Esparta under Creative Commons terms that do allow for sharing. Starting out by searching for Creative Commons images can help you avoid sharing photos that are copyrighted in ways that ask you not to repost.
When I went back to the Creative Commons Flickr search and typed in “Freud,” I did find a picture of Sigmond Freud that was available to share. I also found a photostream called “Psychology Pictures.” That gave me access to a number of images that could be used in a unit on psychology, including this B.F. Skinner exhibit of pigeons play ping pong.
Anything you say is bound to be more interesting once you have the pigeons there to set it up.
You can find any number of images on any number of subjects in Flickr (and through Creative Commons) that, when integrated into your Blackboard course, can clarify or enhance information (or perhaps just make everything a little more entertaining.
You can also upload your own photographs into Flickr and embed them from there into Blackboard. This is often better than uploading pictures directly to Blackboard because Flickr is made for handling images. They load faster from Flickr and are easier for students with slower connections to view. Plus, Flickr allows for easy editing of images through another online tool called Picnik.
Just go to www.flickr.com and sign up for a free account to get started. Paid accounts are also available if you want to upload more images than the free version allows.
I’ll leave you with this image, which I found through Creative Commons on Flickr by search “anxiety.”
I hope this isn’t how you feel about redesigning your Blackboard course.
Blackboard 9.1 includes some quick-embed options for pulling content in from social sharing sites like YouTube, Flickr, and Slideshare. I laughed when I saw how they used the term mashup, though I refrained from actually saying the word “lol” out loud.
I’m willing to concede that they aren’t wrong to call this a mashup, but I still think it’s funny. I think they are trying to lend some geeky net cred to what amounts to taking a task that could always be done and making the fact that it can be done more obvious.
That’s okay. It’s absolutely okay, but I’m still going to talk about why it makes me giggle.
First, a mashup is a combination of information from two or more sources. In web development terms, that might mean taking data from two different applications to build a third. In creativity and communication terms, we hear “mashup” most often when applied to mixing video or sound or text or image from more than one location together in order to make something new.
Here’s a classic example in this Buffy meets Edward Cullen Twilight mashup.
This video makes me giggle too. It does, however, represent my basic understand of what a mashup is. A new creation made by combining elements from at least two separate sources. A creative act. An act of making new meaning simply from the way materials are combined.
What does that have to do with Blackboard mashups which are just a matter of pulling in embedded content from other places? Hmmm…well…you actually can call it a mashup simply because web content from Blackboard and web content from another site are combined on one page in a way that appears as though they were made together. I’ll buy that, but it’s a lame use of the word mashup because embedding in and of itself doesn’t necessarily create new meaning. I can embed YouTubes all day long on this blog, but if I haven’t made them part of something else, I haven’t created new meaning. I’ve just shared the same meaning in a new place.
I’m more comfortable thinking of YouTube embeds in Blackboard as mashups if I’ve actually integrated them into an assignment I have created, if I’ve combined them with other types of information, and if I’ve written my own materials to go with them.
Keep that in mind when develop materials for online classes. If you create your assignment and drag Flickr photos and/or YouTube videos into your assignment as integrated aspects of some larger creation of your own, then you have a mashup.
Otherwise, just enjoy the fact that it is so easy to pull external materials into Blackboard. You do this by going to “Build Content” and “Mashups.” From there you, select YouTube, Flickr, or Slideshare from a menu, and search for content on the selected site. Once you’ve found what you want, you hit “select” and follow the prompts to format your viewing options. Hit “submit,” and you’re done. Easy.
You can also embed content by copying and pasting the embed code from the social sharing site and pasting that code into your text editor while the editor is in html mode. You can do that in Blackboard 8. The different is just that Blackboard 9.1 prompts you to add content from social sharing sites by providing the mashup menu.
When I first started teaching, students wrote a lot of drafts out by hand before typing because access to typewriters and computers was much more scarce than it is now. The first year or two we switched over to writing first drafts on a computer, I noticed a huge upsurge in semi-colons. Students hardly ever used them before, and then suddenly they were everywhere. I attributed that to the fact that they were visually available as an option on the keyboard. Students felt prompted to use them.
Maybe the Blackboard mashup menu will work the same way. Maybe Flickr pics will suddenly be everywhere in online classes because teachers feel prompted to share them. Maybe so. It will be interesting to find out.