Category Archives: Free Software Downloads for Teachers

Flipping Your Feedback!

memoThe Flipped Classroom is a model of classroom management which is gaining traction. Much of the focus has been on transforming instructional input – using “lecture” style videos, podcasts or documents which are posted online and viewed ahead of class so that classroom activities can be freed up to embrace more intensive and personalised interventions safe in the knowledge that the content has been explained.

A somewhat neglected aspect of any classroom routine has been the feedback part of the loop. Sometimes it is extremely useful to go over a test or assignment in class, unpacking the questions carefully. Sometimes, however, it is not necessary to do so. Where answers are either right or wrong, it is probably best to post a memo online rather than waste time in class poring over it.

I would argue, however, that online feedback can also be beneficial where more intensive analysis of an assignment is needed. Just as the ability to stop, rewind and replay a video “lecture” is valuable, so too with feedback. In my computer skills classes, for example I make a memo video using videopad and debut screencasting software to go over any test. I post this on my Moodle page and make access to it dependent upon completing the test. In other words it is available only after the student’s work has been assessed. This system seems to work well. As soon as a student’s test or assignment has been assessed on Moodle, the memo document or video for feedback discussion becomes visible to them. Feedback is thus as instantaneous as possible. It does not mean that student responses will not also be discussed in class, but it does mean I do not have to go over the assignment in detail, I can highlight key areas of concern, safe in the knowledge that students can access a complete break-down online.

In my English classes I usually hand out the printed memo when handing back assignments. This memo discusses not only model answers, but approaches to answering that type of question. For open-ended assignments I prefer to use student feedback in the form of questions and discussion after a presentation.

Flipping Feedback is not something I would do all the time, but it does add a useful string to my bow. It also adds variety, which as we know, is the spice of life!




Using VideoPad to Create Flipped Content

vpad2I like to get students to use VideoPad to create their own movies, but it is also a perfect tool for creating flipped content. One powerful way of presenting content is to use a slide of a diagram and to add your own talking head video in one corner. You can then create the whole package into a movie and post it on your Moodle, Edmodo or YouTube Channel page to help explain or revise a concept.

Here’s how.

Step One: You can create your slides in PowerPoint, but save them in a picture format such as jpeg or gif. They then save as separate image files.

vpad3Step Two: Use the Add Media button to add your slides to the media list, Click on the first slide and adjust the duration in seconds. You can always edit this later. Click on the green down arrow to add to your storyboard. Repeat this step for each slide, or video footage you will be using in your presentation.

Step Three: To record your own head talking you will need a web-camera set up. Take the slider to the position in your storyboard (video track) where you wish to start, and click the plus button on the little overlay track between the video and audio tracks. You will have the option of overlaying text or video. Click on video, and click on the record button. Your web camera will spring to life and you can record your spiel. Click OK when you have finished.

vpad4Step Four: A tiny little square will overlay on your slide. You will then need to adjust the size and position in the Selected Clip preview window. If you have made errors in your recording you can edit the footage at this stage before adding it. You can even use the opacity slider to turn yourself into a ghostly transparent image.

vpad5Step Five: Here comes the tricky bit. VieoPad does not enable the sound-track from your recording in overlay mode! Ouch, and what a pity. There is a workaround, though. What you recorded should be sitting in your videos folder, or in your media list inside VideoPad, of course. click it to get in the preview window and add to your video track. You should see the audio from the video in the audio track. Right click on it and select unlink sound clip. You can now move that sound clip and align it perfectly with your video overlay and you can delete the video part from the video track. Phew. Pretty hard that bit, but once you get the hang of it, annoying … but you can’t argue with free!

Step Six: Save your movie. It will then be available in a wmv or avi format (in the free version of the software) or in other formats if you pay for the software.

I would keep all movies very short. It is better to have a few short clips explaining one or two points that your students can use, than a long lecture that is of little use to anybody.





Making Class Videos

bvideopadOne of the best free video-editing tools available is VideoPad. In the version I have you can add video files in pretty much any format, add audio files and stills to your movie, choose from a range of effects such as rotate and speed, add voice-over tracks, transition effects such as cross-fade, text overlays which can be static or scrolling, and even add another video using chroma key (green screen) or as an inset in the screen. The free version only allows you to save footage in wmv or avi format, but packs an enormous amount of power – making it my favourite choice of software for student movies – and my own! The current free download does not look quite the same as the version I downloaded a few years ago now, but still looks good!

The VideoPad site has thorough tutorials on how to use the software, so teaching students how to use it should not be a big problem.

I believe that student videos have multiple uses from filming literary works to recreating history or making report-backs on research tasks. I like to post student videos on Moodle and get students to assess each other’s work using the Choice module. This ensures that students watch each other’s work and reflect in some way on it.

I find that the ability to edit footage leads students to be more adventurous and creative than is usual for report-back type activities. By adding music and images to footage they have filmed, students can express ideas that cannot be expressed in words alone, and the recognition they get from their peers for these surprising “ooo” moments is priceless. My own kids love making videos and spend hours longer on this type of homework than any other.


Creating Byte Sized Books For Your Flipped Classroom!

slidedocsAs more and more educational content goes online, and more and more classrooms flip, we need to re-think how we as teachers present information. I came across a site called Slidedocs the other day, which allows you to download PowerPoint templates for creating book-like slides. These save as PowerPoints and can easily be posted to your Moodle page, Edmodo site or your DropBox for students to access.

The idea behind it all is that these days people prefer to receive information in byte-sized chunks rather than continuous text. Many use PowerPoint to create presentations, but you can also use PowerPoint to create content not intended to be projected onto a screen, but read through like a book. According to the website Microsoft’s PowerPoint® has been installed on roughly
one billion computers and an average of 350 presentations are given every second of every day. This must make PowerPoint one of the most ubiquitous applications around. Students certainly enjoy using it.

The site offers templates for creating your own book-like content. It includes a front page, contents page and different layouts which can be used and duplicated to put together a book-like slide-show, intended to be downloaded and read on screen.

With increasing interest in flipping the classroom, comes the question of how best to present information to students. Many teachers use PowerPoint for this, or create their own podcasts, vodcasts or screencasts. But there is also a need for more conventional “read” texts, and it seems to me that the idea of using PowerPoint slides and treating them like the pages of a book is a very powerful one. I found the template easy to use, but you can easily add graphics, text boxes or videos to flesh out your book. I see them as something of an alternative to the traditional handout or notes, or even worksheet. They are easily updated from year to year, and because they are downloaded from your learning management system, they cannot be left lying on a desk when the class is dismissed! My pet bug-bear!

I usually don’t blog about any tool unless I can see uses for both teachers and students, and slidedocs are no exception. They are an excellent tool for students to create their own content, be it in the form of essays, reports or creative writing. With a bit of organization they could be used to mash together collaborative class books.

The templates are very elegant and make for easy viewing. You can, if you wish, though, apply your own designs too, making this a very versatile tool. You can even print your book out if required.

I sense that I may be preparing all my teaching content in this way from now on.


Creating eBooks for the Classroom using Calibre

calibreIf you have powerful applications such as Adobe InDesign at your disposal then that is perfect for creating electronic publications, but, as long as you know HTML, Calibre is an excellent, and free tool for doing the same thing! I was recently asked to re-design the printed Cognitive Education Booklets that are used by students and staff to help infuse Thinking Skills into our curriculum. I knew it would be a nightmare because the booklets had been composed by teachers in Word or Publisher with scant thought for formatting consistent with e-books! It would inevitably require a fair amount of slog to reformat the documents into HTML or inside InDesign.

The issue is that e-books need to be able to display on small screens or large screens and on multiple devices, PDFs are a form of e-book that look good on computer screens, but might be virtually unreadable on an iPhone! The whole point of translating the booklets into e-book format was to allow students and staff to have the booklets on their personal devices, probably a smart phone or tablet.

I had never created an e-book before, nor had I used InDesign. I had left it as a holiday project, only to find that InDesign was not activated on my laptop properly! The techies had updated my Office suite to 2010 while updating Adobe CS6 just before the holidays and suddenly I discovered that it had not been activated either! Technical support over Christmas was non-existent and I couldn’t use Word or InDesign properly!

In desperation I turned to Calibre, discovering that I could save the Word document to epub format and then edit the raw HTML to fix the numerous formatting errors using Calibre! If you know HTML it is a laborious but easy enough task to get the effect you want, and since you can re-size the preview window you get a sense of how it will display on various screens. I believe this was probably faster than fixing the formatting in InDesign in any case!

Publishing teaching content to epub form so that students can easily view it on their smart phones is something which will become increasingly necessary, and while it is not a pleasant task, I would certainly urge teachers to start learning the necessary skills.


Turning your students into movie directors with Plotagon


There can be very few things in life as satisfying as seeing your ideas come to fruition before your eyes, and what I like about Plotagon is that it produces an animated movie from text dialogues.

OK the actors don’t deliver Oscar-winning performances – they look as if they’ve just walked off the set of Second Life The Movie, and their voices are obviously computer generated. But they do respond to the actions you select for them, and they speak the lines you write.

The applications of this in the classroom, it strikes me, are practically endless. Students can use it to write short scripts which then get rendered as movies. It could be used for just about any report back situation, for creative writing, or for creative ways of adding to presentations. Teachers of course could also use it to add content to their presentations, or flipped-learning content.

The application requires a download to your computer, and for you to register a free account. You can then link this to a Youtube account, or share your movies to Facebook or Twitter.

The interface itself is fairly simple to master, so you would not have to “teach” students to use it. You simply choose a scene and add actors, actions, movement, sound tracks and dialogue in sequence. You can preview the movie as you create it, and add sequences in any order.

When you are ready, you render the movie by sharing it to your account.

A down-side is that you cannot download the movie directly to your computer, but you can still add it to presentations via Youtube, or even download it from Youtube using KeepVid.

What I think is quite valuable, pedagogically is that it produces a very graphic output from a text-based input, which is great for the second or foreign language classroom in particular. It also allows students to spend time reflecting on their work, which is not always the case when they are filming using a camera.

Here’s one I made in about ten minutes, which I hope demonstrates the possibilities, and whets your appetite to try it out for yourself!.



Trying Out MOOVLY

moovlyI am always on the lookout for easy ways students (and teachers) can create quick, graphically rich presentations, which aren’t just PowerPoints.

I have nothing against PowerPoint – far from it: but there are limitations. One of the things I try to do as a teacher of digital skills is to provide students with choices. When I give them a project to do, I want them to think about what the most appropriate tool for the job is, and to be able to harness the strengths and weaknesses of different applications to the given task. I don’t want to tell them, create a PowerPoint of … They need to decide whether to use PowerPoint, Flash, a Prezi, or VoiceThread.

Moovly looks like a powerful platform for creating animated presentations, which can be rendered as MP4s, downloaded to your computer or shared to Youtube or Facebook. You can add image files, videos, sound files, or clip art from the Moovly library. You can adjust the background, text and animation effects on a timeline which works fairly intuitively. there is an excellent walk through which shows you what to do.

Teachers can add Moovly to their elearning armament, for creating presentation fragments to pop into a PowerPoint, or to author content for their Moodle page, blog, etc. The picture above shows a screenshot of one I created earlier. It took about ten minutes to create a short 10 second clip. The man on the stage speaks, but i didn’t record a sound track with the presentation. It would have been very easy to do though! That’s serious engagement done effortlessly!

What I like about it is that it is web-based, so requires no download to work. Students can create accounts within minutes, and then use an interface which works in a pretty similar way to video-editing packages like VideoPad and animation packages such as Flash! It uses timelines with layers for each object. These layers are added automatically. You can also drag and drop objects onto the stage, and move them within the time-line with a minimum of fuss. Effects such as fade-in are applied using drop-down menus, so the learning curve is the equivalent of the bunny slope! It’s the kind of application you don’t have to actively teach in class – you can just let students loose on it and then hold their hands when they need it.

I have only just begun to dip into Moovly, but i am sure it will become part of my armoury!

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