Monday, March 5, 2012

Goodbye, Powerpoint: Sharing Multimedia Analysis & Presentations Online

Recently I consulted with a professor who wanted her students to do some visual analysis. In essence, her students will:
  • find five to ten images, 
  • develop a commentary or analysis, 
  • combine text and images to present the analysis, 
  • publish to the web using any platform, and 
  • share the link with peers and the instructor.
Students are connected in online software (the campus LMS) so they can view and vote on the work of a limited peer group. (It's a large course--150 students.)

To help support the course, I visited the classroom and  showed four different sample presentations using four different tools. Students have a clear goal, but then they have a choice of pathways and tools. This seems to be the New Classroom: in the era of free web-based tools, software-agnosticism is the new normal. 
  • Why tell students which software to use, when it's not licensed by the university nor even the best option? 
Let the students find their own pathways--with guidance--and then decide if some tools truly yield better results.

So here are some main options--and some steps or details about each. (I'll publish the actual examples separately.)

1. Publish annotated images to the web as a photo album by re-purposing consumer photo-sharing software.
  • Download Picasa. (It's free Google software.)
  • Search for and save images to a local folder that Picasa is "watching." 
  • Create an "album" in Picasa and drag relevant photos there.
  • Generate explanatory slides in Keynote or Powerpoint &  export them as jpegs.
  • Sort your images and slides as you like. Delete those you don't need. (The original file is not deleted.)
  • In Picasa, choose 'sync to web' and your album will be duplicated online. Be sure to make it 'public.'
In theory, if you allow web syncing, when you modify the local album, the web version stays in sync. This would be nice, because sometimes you want to rewrite and replace a slide, and this would make the process automatic--though I haven't tried it myself and so can't swear to it.

One wrinkle is: the folders go to Picasaweb, but also to Google Plus Photos. 
  • They're really just two entrances to the same building--so two distinct url's--but each has different features. 
  • Picasaweb lets you sequence the images; G+ Photos doesn't. 
  • But G+ Photos has a nicer interface for presenting--should you be doing that.
Other tools don't have the same kind of desktop tool, but they can be just as easy. Flickr is very easy to use, and it's built-in slideshow mode with a black background is attractive.

You can:
  • add commentary in the form of captions;
  • use the web discussion tools to have a conversation about your work.
Within this pathway, you can also annotate your images directly.  That is: 
  • don't separate the verbal comments and the visual images;
  • lay the verbal analysis on top of the images; or
  • use visual means to do your analysis right in the image itself.
Think of this as homeopathic analysis or fighting fire with fire.
  • Use Photoshop or other tools to highlight, circle, draw on, type on, etc.
  • Skitch is an Evernote app that runs in the browser and lets you annotate any web page. So web pages (made into still images) are fair game for online presentations too.
You can also pull your online photo album into an interactive presentation tool like Cooliris Express
  • This browser-based app pulls photos from Flickr, Picasa or the like.
  • The wizard in the browser then spits out a url which makes the browser into an interactive gallery wall--according to your parameters (how many rows high, the color of the wall, etc.).
2. Make or annotate a movie using consumer-level editing software.
  • You can pull your images and slides into iPhoto and make a slideshow movie that shows each image for a set number of seconds.
  • In iMovie, you can do more--such as mixing video and still images, adding a new audio track, layering on titles, etc.
In my case, I wanted to comment on a video which was itself on youtube.
  • I downloaded the Youtube video using keepvid.com. Copying the url into a window in the keepvid web site allows the user to download the video in a format such as mp4.
  • I then edited using iMovie. I selected a small clip, and I added titles over the image to highlight some running motifs.
Youtube actually lets users annotate videos. It's therefore possible to upload a video--even one you have not edited or modified in any way--then use Youtube to do your annotation and commentary People use this for casual purposes, but there's no reason it should not also be a scholarly tool.

3. Publish your presentation using online tools that mimic the features of desktop tools like Powerpoint and Keynote.
  • Google Docs allows users to create presentations which play out of the browser. You just need to make sure your presentation is set to "Public."
  • Sliderocket also allows users to upload presentations and then add music or an audio voiceover.
Students seem very attracted by the idea of uploading images which they discuss orally--like a recorded version of a live presentation--rather than writing on, beside or beneath the images.

In addition, there are yet other approaches which I didn't create for this occasion but which are nevertheless easy-to-use and good candidates for this type of assignment.


4. Storify existing web content.
Storify lets users pull in media for other places, such as Youtube and Twitter.
  • The user than adds commentary between the media being pulled in.
  • The media is pulled in live from other sites: there's nothing to download, save or sort.


5. Use tools for saving entire web pages or just links to them, comment on them and share them--with everyone or just a few.
  • Evernote allows you to save pages, comment on them, and share the results. Teachers use it, but students can too.
  • Delicious.com lets users save url's and add tags and comments.

With Delicious, the tags become search terms so www.delicious.com/username/tag1+tag2 becomes the address for username's public saved links that are tagged in that particular way.
  • Thus johnsmith/manet+analysis might be the end of a url where John Smith saves the url's just for jpeg's of Manet's images, and Delicious keeps the comments, including additional tags: brushtrokes, pastels, whatnot.

General Workflow Tips.
  • Search in a branching pattern: follow what’s interesting in one search to a new search, and so on.
  • If you're publishing to a web album, grab as you go and save material locally.
  • Sort & arrange.
  • Pre-write as you go: draft ideas and refine them as you sort through your images.
  • Pick the platform, and find a sequence.
  • Write the verbal commentary where you want it: on the images, as captions, as tags, as titles in a video, etc. In essence: combine your selected and sorted visual material with the verbal material you've generated and refined.
  • Share the link: consider publishing as abbreviated url using bit.ly, tinyurl.com, etc.
Students should also consider their "shooting ratio." When making a movie, it's usually necessary to shoot more footage than you will use. I often tell students: Good work demands omission. 
  • If you only write five pages for a five-page paper, it may not be your best material.
  • Whereas if you write eight pages and then throw out the weak stuff, you will likely get a better result. 
Along these lines, students should consider the amount of draft content they need to find in proportion to the "target size"--the scope of the assignment. To get five interesting images worth discussing in a meaningful way, would you rather sort through 10 images? 25 images? 50 images?

Most people find a 'sweet spot' where they have enough choices without being swamped by choices and overwhelmed by the chore of sorting and sifting.

--Edward R. O'Neill


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