Enhancing Online Classes with Video

One of the elements I include in my online classes is a short (8 to 10 minutes) introductory video to each Lesson. These are not professionally done (unless you consider me a professional) and seem to be something the online students like. I film them in my garage, so I refer to them as my Garage Lectures. I explain that since I’m retired I don’t have a classroom and my wife won’t let me convert our family room into a studio. I hang an easel pad on the wall and use a couple studio lights, along with the garage lights, to make it bright enough to film with my Canon ZR960 MiniDV.

When I first started filing I just opened the garage doors and filmed in the morning when the sun shone into the garage but there were some incidental sounds like the neighbors cutting grass or cars going down the street. I found in the winter that opening the garage doors was not practical since it was cold. That’s when I started using some inexpensive lighting.

Feedback from students has been very positive. I’ve had comments like, “The intro videos on You Tube were a nice feature because it gave a more depth to the “cold” online class. Plus, it gave the opportunity to meet the instructor.” And “The garage lectures were great.  Short and sweet, yet thorough. (I loved the costumes).” And “the lecture videos were excellent and I looked forward to them each week.” Students respond positively to seeing, and having some personalized connection, to their instructor. These short videos allow me to introduce material and give some personality to the class.

Over the next few Blogs I’ll give more details on just how simple it is to create short videos that can be used in online classes. In the meantime, you can view my videos on YouTube. One of my new videos is at http://youtu.be/uEdeZEHw-NE and one of my original videos (you can hear cars going by) at http://youtu.be/7elkR2CDqRs.

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Alternatives to Adobe Suite CS5

Adobe has announced a new CS5 version of their Creative Suite. Even though educators can get a hefty discount for these applications, there is still a cost. Not only is there a cost, but like so many software programs, the Adobe suite products have become more sophisticated, which is good for professionals, but not helpful for individuals just wanting to complete a simple task. Some of the alternatives suggested below may be more complex (GIMP and Synfig as examples), but the rest offer a much easier path to accomplishing your goals in developing a website or publishing a newsletter than the Adobe CS5 programs. And, more importantly, they are FREE!

The idea behind Photoshop is to manipulate images and improvephotographs, a free alternative is GIMP. This application is about as difficult to master as Photoshop, but it has many of the Photoshop features. If you are simply looking to make some small improvements to a photo, you may want to consider picnik or splashup (bothfree), but if you want some of the power found in Photoshop, you should look at GIMP.

A graphics editor that’s free and similar to Illustrator and CorelDraw is Inkscape. This application comes with several tutorials to help you learn how to use it, and a wiki where you can share ideas and learn from others. This program is Open Source and provides a well defined menu where you can easily find information about using Inkscape and locate free clip art.

Synfig is,” in their words, “a powerful, industrial-strength vector-based open-source 2D animation software package, designed from the ground-up for producing feature-film quality animation with fewer people and resources. While there are many other programs currently on the market to aid with the efficient production of 2D animation, we are currently unaware of any other software that can do what our software can.” It offers a free alternative to Adobe Flash but does not have all the features of Flash, especially the ability to move objects from Illustrator or Photoshop into Flash. It does do a very nice job with animation, and of course, the price is right—it’s free.

>A free, Open Source alternative to Dreamweaver is Nvu web authoring software. They also offer hosting for a reasonable amount ($4.99/month). This program is a WYSIWYG that complies with W3C’s web standards so you know that your site will comply with their guidelines. This program is easy to use and will help you quickly develop a webpage.

For users of InDesign, or QuarkXpress, there is Scribus. This is a free, Open Source application available for both Mac and PCplatforms. Even though there appears to be no toolbars or palettes they are switched on from the Windows menu. TrustedReviews gives this application high marks (http://bit.ly/9Dnv4r).

Even though I prefer using the Adobe Suite, and now face learning the new elements in CS5, I share these applications that are free and somewhat easier to learn and use. I’m sure that there may be other equally useful programs in the Web 2.0 cloud. Please share them if you like.

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A new blog on instructional technology

This is the beginning of a new blog on the use of instructional technology to help students learn. It will share ideas and suggestions for the efficient use of technology in the classroom. It will also review new Web 2.0 applications that are available and suggest how they might be used in helping teacher teach and students learn.

Your feedback and suggestions will be appreciated as we try to develop a site where ideas can be exchanged and dialogue can happen.

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