Monday, February 28, 2011

Web 2.0 Tools: Fotopedia and SnagFilms

So as I continue to learn about Web 2.0 tools and how I can use them in education, I found three that I am really finding useful. The first is an educational social network site called Edmodo. Not only is it free, safe and secure, there is also an application for your smartphone.

Its layout and design in very reminiscent to facebook, and just as easy to sign up and start using. It has the ability to send reminders and messages via text message, which I find extremely helpful. Considering both of my kids have phones that can receive messages and an unlimited message plan, I am happy that it can be used for educational as well as social purposes. Plus if you have a smartphone it has a free app that can be installed on the phone. The sight has a very useful help guide and you can attend free webinars or view an archived webinars that not only introduces you to the site but also ways of making it work for you.

The other application that I am enamored with this week is Fotopedia. The site claims it is the first collaborative photo encyclopedia. It allows you to share photos you have taken and upload to the site. It does have a quality guideline and images must be at least a 1000 pixels wide with the preferred size 1920 x 1080. It also links to articles in wikipedia. They have an incredible series on National Parks that is at that was a free download for ipod or ipad but now cost $2.99, which is still a bargain when you see the quality of the pictures. Check out the YouTube video about the National Parks series.

The last site I want to share is SnagFilms. It is a website where you can watch full-length documentary films for free, but they also have a platform that lets you “snag” a film and put it anywhere on the web. With a library of over 1500 films, and rapidly growing, you’re bound to find films that resonate with your interests. Now you do have to be careful, some content is for mature audiences but one that I enjoyed was about the Southern Louisiana Waterways.

I hope you find these sites useful.

Watch more free documentaries

Monday, February 21, 2011

Voki -- Adding Sound and an Avatar to Your Webpage

One of the things that I have missed most about being online is having to read practically everything and not getting to listen anymore. But now, you can add sound and an avatar, to not only add audio, but animation to a webpage, wiki, blog or anything else that will accept html code.

So when I was deciding on which web 2.0 application to use, I definitely wanted to find something the included an audio component. While I decided on Voki I also looked at VoiceThread, Blabberize and BuzzVoice. While each had there good points, Voki was the easiest to use and set up.

I did have a hard time using Voki with Firefox, but once I switched to safari, it worked much better. For my example on this blog, I recorded my audio with audacity and exported it as an mp3 file, I found this easier than using the recorder on the server. I also like how audacity gives me a visual display on my sound. The upload was much faster than trying to record via the Voki website. This could have been related to my provider or their server, but no matter what, I had several options and that was nice. I could also type in text and have it converted to speech, and that also works, but it is sometimes to mechanical and doesn't add intonation and emphasis. I would probably use this again in the future, it would be a nice way to introduce yourself on a website, and if you purchase a more advanced option, you can even convert a picture of yourself into an avatar, that I find really cool. I think this would be a nice option for faculty in Blackboard, although there are few pages were you can embed code.

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What is Cloud Computing?

So I have been thinking a lot about this week's topic and what my definition of cloud computing would be. And I believe cloud computing is very ambiguous, like many new terms used in educational technology today. It seems just when I think I might understand a term, someone uses it differently and changes my view of the term.

But when asked, I believe cloud computing is the ability to store data and access the data from multiple devices; it is the ability to host information away from the physical original equipment and then share it with others by sharing using an internet address. The data is not limited by software or operating equipment, but by the ability to access the data. Now that I have read it 3 times, I don't know if I did a better job of explaining the concept than the people interviewed in the video.

I know when I first heard this term several years ago, it brought to my mind an image of infinite ways of exchanging data that didn't require a physical presence, it only requires a device and access to the internet. Now with mobile wireless devices, physicality is no longer an obstacle to exchange. I can remember a time when collaboration required meeting in a physical location and an exchange of tangible items. But with the advent of the internet and the ability to send signals via airwaves, the process has moved into the air with the clouds. Just the thought of clouds brings to my minds eye infinite shapes that are not tethered or attached, but matter that floats freely and independently.

At one time, I believe I read that all software would be hosted via a server and not on our computers, everyone then would always have the most up to date version and usage would be easier. This does have its appeal, but I don't feel comfortable depending on the airwaves for everything, what if something happens to the server? Would all work have to come to a halt? It is frightening to put too much dependence on servers for everything, and more reasonable to believe that it is better for hosting, than complete dependence.

Monday, February 14, 2011

Photostory and Animoto

So now we are experimenting with video storytelling and we needed to use two different applications. Photostory is free software that can be downloaded from Microsoft and only works on a windows operating system. Animoto is a web based application that is not dependent on a particular operating system.

Photostory was relatively easy to install and use. The best feature is the ability to record narration with each slide. If you are making an educational video and you want more explanation than just the pictures, this application would be an ideal choice. It also lets you use background music, however, I had a difficult time balancing the music with recorded narration. It was either too low or too loud and getting it balanced was difficult. It only saves in .wmv file format, which I found very limiting. Overall, I was able to produce a product I was proud to share.

Animoto is completely online. Everything is uploaded to the server, it renders the product and sends you an email when the project is completed. It does not have the option of allowing recording per slide, but I could have used Audacity to record my narration and background music, but since you cannot attach the narration to a particular slide or control the pace, I decided against this option. I uploaded my music and I used text slides to fill between the pictures. Not as informative as the presentation in Photostory. However, Animoto's video quality I believe is superior and is a better, easier choice for sharing slideshow images over the web.

So for my subject, I chose macro photography. A while back, a professor approached me and asked me to help him with a project. He needed to not only photograph a dog and deer skull found during field research, he also needed macro shots of the myxomycetes plasmodial tracks on the skulls. It then became my challenge to figure out a way to photograph an oddly shaped object and to position the object at the right angle so that I could do macro shots. I designed a set up that allowed me to do both. The professor was so impressed with the set up, he included a section that I wrote and photographed in a paper he published in Fungi. And while not everyone has the equipment to do macro photography, the technique is useful for lighting and photographing small objects. I am embedding both presentations for comparison. I hope you enjoy. :)

Sunday, February 6, 2011

Using Scene Modes on a Digital Camera Podcast

So instead of just reading, you get to listen to me, I bet you are jumping for joy ;).

In this podcast, which lasts about 5 minutes, I explain how using the scene modes on your camera can help you take better images. The background music is from Presenter's Toolkit that I purchased from Digital Juice. I don't believe they carry this product anymore, I purchased it several years ago, but they do offer a line of products including music and high resolution images for end users to create presentations and any graphic related product.

Oh No You Didn't!

Oh No You Didn't!

I know, I stole another headline, this time I stole from my daughter who is 13, she is constantly saying this to her brother, but as we begin to talk about copyright and what that means, we might have someone saying that to us.

As a photographer, I have known about how copyright effects me as an artist. I don't want clients making copies of my images without my permission, nor do I want someone using an image I upload without my permission. However, if someone wants to promote one of my images and give me credit it for it, I am all for that. But not everyone understands the issue and how or when to ask for permission.

Basically, anytime someone creates something it is copyrighted. Now I am not an expert on the subject, I am just explaining my understanding. If you need to take action because you believe your copyright has been violated, by all means seek professional legal advice, don't rely on someone's blog. The place I started to find information about copyright was the James Kirkpatrick Library at the University of Central Missouri and they have a link on their homepage that takes you to a page that is filled with a ton of valuable information. This is an excellent starting place to learn about copyright and fair use.

So when can you and when can't you use something that someone created? Well, that can't be answered in a blog, but I can tell you that common sense will take you a long way in determining when to use and not to use someone else's work. As a photographer, I can tell you not to scan pictures and make reprints, that is a huge violation and I am surprised by the number of people who think it is perfectly alright to do so, especially Wedding Photos. Before the digital age, photographers would create a proof book to give their wedding couples to preview to make their choices. They are to be viewed and returned, not copied, but there were many who tried to cheat their photographer by not paying for all the prints they really wanted. This was a huge problem, but retailers were sued by photographers for allowing customers to scan and print pictures in their store, so the practice does not happen as frequently as it used to. Now days, to avoid the issue all together, photographers charge mostly for their services, not by selling the product, especially when it comes to weddings. Now you are paying for their expertise, just like a plumber or an electrician and not for the actual images.

And even though I am not a full-time photographer, I have to base my pricing on a package of services and not individual pictures. What is also very popular is to take the images and make slideshows set to music. Nothing evokes an emotion like images and music, but you have to use music that is not copyrighted and that was difficult for me to understand at first. I mean I hear music for free on the radio all the time, so if radio stations could play music then why can't I use it for my slideshow? Then I thought, just like I don't want someone using my images for personal gain, I should not use someone's music without permission. But getting permission from popular artists is expensive and almost impossible for the small business owner. So, I use royalty free music that I purchase for my slideshow and it does a wonderful job of evoking an emotion.

And, if you look online, their are a lot of budding artist out there that make their music available for download and to use for projects. Animoto is a slideshow service that has music that is used for their slideshows and it gives you the artist name and website that you can check out and find more music, I have found some great music that way, but be sure to really read their site and make sure you are able to use their songs. Sometimes they charge a minimal fee. Another site for music is Triple Scoop Music, but their songs can cost a bit more. I don't mind paying the fee, as a fellow artist, you want to be compensated for your work.

Well that is my experience with copyright as a photographer and I hope it has made you understand so you won't have someone telling you "Oh no you didn't!"