Category Archives: Graphic Software

The Importance of Teaching Media Creation Skills

There is an abiding myth that kids today are born digital natives. Anyone who has ever taught ICTs in any form will know that this is simply not the case. Digital skills very much have to be taught! Kay and Goldberg have described computers as a metamedium, a medium, in other words used in the creation of other media. As such it would seem axiomatic that computing should be taught to everyone. And yet this is far from the case. All over the world computing has to fight for a space in the curriculum. No doubt much of this contention stems from the expense of acquiring computing resources, and from securing adequately trained teachers. The great onlining of education has shown us the importance of computers as a medium of communication, but as a medium of creativity it can scarcely be less important. I have taught PhotoShop, Flash and Dreamweaver for many years, often in the context of web design, or game creation. I find that it is an excellent way to segue into coding for middle school students. Computers can be used to create all manner of digital content, but games are particularly alluring for students.

In this blog post I would like to walk through my thoughts about how the nature of remote teaching will have to change my curriculum and instructional design. I would like to cover the same basic concepts: namely photo-editing and game design introducing elementary programming procedures.

Starting with image manipulation in PhotoShop one can teach not only photo-editing skills, but also copyright issues. I usually teach students to use the Creative Commons Search Engine to find suitable images to use that are copyright free. There are many plarforms available for games creation. Up until last year I used Flash, despite the increasing difficulties as the platform becomes less and less supported. I have been considering using Scratch instead, but the seamless integration inside websites and the ability to run in a browser still made Flash a viable choice. My school had an Adobe licence, so justifying that expense was also a concern. I usually teach students how to create buttons in flash and use interactive behaviours. This requires starting to use ActionScript. We use existing scripts and learn how to tweak them. After a few tutorials I get the students to design their own games and then help them get it to work. The graphic shows one of the games created by students which depended upon drag and drop behaviours to work.

So, here’s my problem. I am due to start teaching this unit in May with my grade 8 class, and yet we are likely to be on lockdown, and I am wondering if it is a unit of work I can teach remotely. Certainly not with PhotoShop and Flash, as students are unlikely to have the Adobe Suite. But apart from the problem around access to the software and the necessary data or devices – most of my students use iPads if they do not have a laptop. This presents a number of problems. Firstly, I will be really sad not to have the linkage between image editing and games creation. Realizing that everything about remote teaching and learning takes longer, I will have to concentrate on the game design alone. For remote teaching an online Photo editor such as Photopea appears to work well. The crucial skill is removing a background and saving as a gif with transparency. I am not sure that I will be able to adequately support students through photo-editing online, and the games design, however. So I will have to play this aspect by ear.

In my experience getting students to the point where they can design their own games requires a good few basic tutorials teaching base skills, and then a great deal of scaffolding the process of discovery, especially where it requires coding beyond my own capacity! Tackling this online presents problems. It is difficult to help students debug their code when you can’t see their screen, or where you have to reconstruct it to test it on your own screen! It also needs to be something that can be done on an iPad if a student does not have access to a laptop or pc. It should also not involve any downloading of software or purchase of an app.

So I have decided to use Scratch on the MIT platform which works inside a browser, and apparently works fairly well on an iPad and allows students to use a free account. Students can also share their projects with others. This is crucial because I would like students to work in small groups. I usually get students to do a few tutorials online and then set the project as a group project. Working with groups might prove tricky during remote teaching and learning, but might also help overcome some of the isolation of working from home.

To test the versatility of the platform I created a quick pong game and a tamigotchi game, and it seems to me that Scratch works very well at enabling game creation. The platform also has tutorials which allow for students to work on their own, and develop capacity beyond any tutorials and tasks I create for the class. It also has an extension for the BBC micro:bit controller, which I use for robotics. I have not been able to explore this, but it seems to me that it creates some potential tie-ins, which is important. I also use the MIT platform for mobile app design with my grade 9s, so using Scratch on the MIT platform to introduce coding seems a good fit all round.

To my mind the key to instructional design in a case like this is to have a programme in mind which can be cut short, or can be extended, depending upon the time available and the capacity of the students. In this case the vagaries of remote teaching becomes a particular concern. I will write a follow up post after completing the unit.


A. Kay and A. Goldberg, “Personal dynamic media,” Computer, 1977, pp. 31-41.


My Teacher is a Zombie – Marking by Rubric on Moodle

bczI have just finished marking a whole bunch of flash animations as part of a grade 8 computer skills examination, and the topic of the animation task just happened to involve a zombie. After assessing about a hundred of these things, I felt pretty zombie-like too! But the point I wanted to make is actually about rubrics. When I was a kid, teachers never used rubrics, or not that I was aware of anyway! The mark you got seemed fairly arbitrary for it appeared at the bottom of your essay with a circle around it and a disembodied comment such as “Good” or “Poor”. After a glass of wine, we speculated, the comment might have become more expansive, but also more illegible! Perhaps this is an unfair assessment of my teachers. There were, after all, helpful annotations in the form of underlined spelling mistakes, and red lines through phrases felt to be inappropriate or colloquial. I have to say though that I seldom understood why I had been given a particular mark, or how to go about improving my performance.

These days, the emphasis is on using rubrics to try to help students understand the criteria by which they have been assessed, and there is no doubt that a well-designed rubric can lay bare where marks were gained and lost. There is, though, still something awfully mechanical and routine about the whole assessment process. Anyone who has ever had a sizeable number of scripts to mark will know that catatonic, zombiesque state that marking induces. The petty nit-picking, or the cavalier acceptance of partially correct responses, the moments of self-doubt and angst over whether to deduct marks for spelling or not! Even intelligent human beings can be reduced to mind-numbing pedantry when faced with the challenge of assessing a pile of scripts that need to be finished before Monday 8am!

One hears stories about teachers who deliberately lose scripts rather than mark them, or the legendary stair method – throw the scripts down the stairs. the ones at the top get an A, the next step a B, and so on! Go into any staff-room during exam time and listen to the hysteria build after days of being forced to sit in front of piles of marking, armed only with a red pen and the promise of caffeine and nicotine at predetermined moments of the day, rewards for each batch of twenty, or every half-hour crossed off the boredom of the day! Some teachers mark a whole script at a time, while others tackle questions or batches of questions in sequence. If it gets too much you can count the scripts remaining. Some mark in solitary isolation, others in groups calling out particularly juicy answers to each other as they draw a red line through the page!

I’ve drawn a pretty gloomy picture about what is probably every teacher’s least favourite part of the job – the part that is least rewarding, and perhaps the least affirming both for student and teacher. Even loving, caring individuals become like zombies when marking!

rubricOne aspect of marking online is the magnificent affordance offered by rubrics. The screenshot shows my rubric for assessing the zombie flash animations which have haunted the last few hours of my life! The rubric module on Moodle allows you to set up a rubric, which you can then use for delivering feedback and assessment. After opening the file to be assessed, you simply click on the relevant box in the rubric, and attach relevant comments for each question, and a comment at the end. You can attach a feedback file if you wish. The one assessed here was perfect, except for one error, which has been noted. At the end I attached a positive comment and the software automatically adds up the marks and appends them to the grade-book which can be downloaded as a spreadsheet at the end!

Using a rubric in this way minimises a great deal of the pain, and possibility of error associated with adding up manually, or transferring to a grade-book, leaving more time for helpful comments! Rubrics can be saved as templates, and re-used, edited, or tweaked over the years. As soon as you have marked an assignment the feedback, rubric and mark becomes available to the student on their Moodle page together with any memo or exemplar you upload. I often make a screen-cast video of myself doing the exam, talking through sticking points and why something has been assessed in the way that it has. I post this on the Moodle page so that students can check their work against the exam questions. I find this works very well, and makes the task of handing back exam papers less fraught!

I do worry though that using the rubric module has made the process so slick, that I am running the risk of just going through the motions. Using an electronic rubric frees up the time to prepare a memo video, and to write out longer comments, but it is in many ways as zombiesque a process! Electronic or otherwise, … tick … tick … tick! Click … click … click!



Posted by on November 20, 2014 in Assessment, Graphic Software, MOOCs, Moodle


Excuse My Avatar!


Everybody needs an avatar these days, and in a school environment where one wants to use social media, but privacy is a key issue, students should be encouraged to use avatars rather than photographs on any accounts they create. There are many free web-based services out there which allow you to create avatars, but I will look at just three.

The first is Portrait Illustration Maker which allows you to create cartoon style avatars like the one on the right, from templates. It is a web-based service, there are no downloads or logins required and you can download the avatar to store on your computer when you are done.

illustration maker

It is easy to use, and relies on you making selections of face shape, hair-style, eyes, mouth, etc and then downloading the completed avatar to your computer. There is a helpful preview, and it is easy to change and experiment with. All good clean fun!

There is a definite place for this type of cartoon style avatar in the classroom because it preserves anonymity, and yet allows students to have a profile picture. The next web-based service I looked at uses a photograph to cartoonize, but the face remains clearly recognisable. This may or may not be considered a privacy concern, but I certainly do advise students to be very careful about images they upload.

cartoonizeCartoonize is a web-based application, also available as a free “trial” download, which uses a photo you select, to which you can add effects and then download the result to your computer. There are no logins required. the downloaded avatar does have an annoying water-mark attached, but you can purchase the software if you like it.

I have to say that I found the effects you could apply were rather limited and the result not exactly what I had in mind. Nevertheless, others may find it a fun tool, and it is certainly easy to use.

4f4dd996_oMy last web-based service is  which is free, requires no logins, and is easy to use. It produces an animated gif which is way cool! You upload a photo and then apply a range of face morphing effects. I chose a smile for the avatar which you see on the right. It is a smile, promise! I cannot believe there is a student alive who would not enjoy playing with this tool. Does the avatar protect privacy? Not really, but you do not need to choose a photo of yourself.

To my mind this is one of the most engaging activities I have come across all year. Then again I am in the middle of writing school reports, so dental surgery might well seem engaging! All I can suggest is set aside an hour, and play with it! My only regret is that Moodle could not display the image as an animated gif!


Dvolver Movie Maker


I have just come across Dvolver, which is a website where you, or your students can make free short movies using templates, and typing in text narratives for the actors to speak. I was able to make a short movie in under two minutes. The templates and character avatars are somewhat limited, but because you can type in your own dialogue, the tool is very powerful nonetheless.

Your movie renders and you are emailed a link to the completed movie, including code for embedding the movie on a Moodle page website or blog.

The website does not require passwords or logins, making it perfect for rapid deployment in the classroom. How many lessons have been derailed by forgotten passwords, I wonder? I am always on the lookout for new ways in which students can make report backs from group discussions, and it strikes me that this kind of short movie would be perfect. The embedded report backs can be posted on a Moodle page or blog and viewed out of class in preparation for follow-up classes. To my mind this kind of movie-making application makes perfect sense in your Flipped Classroom armoury!


To create a movie, you select a scene, then select a plot, characters and type in the dialogue you want to use. Finally you can add a background music track if you wish. The most restrictive aspect is the paucity of plot scenarios: there are only four – rendezvous, pick-up, chase and soliloquy. Happily the choice of avatars as actors is more extensive.

There is no learning curve at all and it can be used with even the most techno-phobic or youngest of students. The simplicity is a plus-point and restriction is good for creativity, and good for speed! Sadly you cannot produce a video format file to insert into larger projects, but as a quick to use tool, Dvolver it is great!


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!.



Wordle it!

It is often said that a picture is worth a thousand words, and Wordle is just the classroom tool you’ll need to convert words into graphics with the click of a mouse – or a few clicks anyway! The Wordle website allows you to type in, or copy and paste a bunch of words, from a poem or article, say, and click a button which generates a word cloud, like the one on the right. The word cloud displays frequently used keywords in a larger font. This creates a very graphic display of the words used in any piece of writing.

Language teachers will immediately see some applications for this, but all teachers can use it with profit. Display the keywords in a poem, and as a pre or post reading exercise discuss the themes using the wordle as a cue. Or get students to create wordles from their own pieces of writing to analyse over-used words. Get students to type in ideas that they have about a piece of writing or predict what words will be prominent in the Wordle for a text. Use it for vocabulary work, or for summing up a character from a novel.

To use the Wordle you will need to paste the text into the box, and click Go. The website generates a wordle. You will then need to take a screen capture by pressing the Print Screen button on your keyboard. Open up a graphics editor, such as MS-Paint, and paste the screen capture into the canvas. Crop as necessary, and save in a graphic format to insert into a PowerPoint, a worksheet or post on your Moodle.

If you haven’t used a Wordle yet, this is a great tool you will want to play with!


Creating in the Cloud

I have just come across a site, which gives you and your students access to a range of some pretty exciting creative tools: both for visual and sound editing and creation. The site also allows you to register a class account (absolutely free), with student accounts, and allows you to manage projects.

What appeals is both the ease of use – my eleven year old son was quickly creating sound and image files – and the power of the applications. Its price (ie. free) is pretty attractive too! I am lucky in that the school where I teach has an Adobe CS3 license for all its computers. When I arrived at the school, every computer had PhotoShop loaded, but the students were not really able to use it. I quickly added it to the Computer Skills syllabus, and now teach PhotoShop, Flash and Dreamweaver from Grade 8 to 10. I have not really tackled audio creation programmes like Audacity yet, but many of the students use Garage  Band, and it is hard to see how anyone can consider themselves computer literate, or indeed literate, these days without a passing knowledge of both graphics and audio programs. I would never want to replace the sheer power of a package such as PhotoShop. I have used The Gimp, which is a freely available open source alternative, and I don’t want to give the impression that I would want to detract from both these offerings in any way. However, I found the applications on Aviary quite powerful, and very easy to use.

Computing in the Cloud has its advantages and disadvantages, and personally I am old-fashioned enough to prefer software that I have purchased or downloaded, sitting on my machine, but then again I preferred DOS to Windows, and well, the list goes on! The advantages of The Cloud are not lost on me either, though, and especially when it comes to graphics and audio packages, which tend to be very pricey, the access it offers to students who would otherwise not have access to similar software is huge.

Why is graphics software, especially, so important? Traditionally Education has focused on text-based study. The image of a scholar is of one whose nose is buried in a book, and learning is measured by reading. Students have not been called upon to learn visually, or to express their ideas visually. Exams are taken in written form, and diagrams kept to a minimum. And yet, how does the expression go? A picture is worth a thousand words? Our culture is somewhat ambivalent about the importance of visual input, and it would be fair to say that graphic representation in newspapers, text-books, and so on has been on the rise throughout the twentieth century. Indeed it is hard to imagine any form of message going out without a visual component. This being the case, it is equally hard to imagine that anyone could be considered literate without an understanding, at the very least, of visual literacy, and at best, a mastery of visual editing and creation. The same can be said for musical and audio editing and creation.

A picture comes into my head of the accomplished nineteenth century lady, whose sketching and mastery of the piano-forte recommended her socially. But that is precisely it! If you can’t PhotoShop out the zits on your Facebook profile pic, or post a halfway decent YouTube video, do you belong in the 21st Century?


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