I continue to be a vocal advocate of web-based digital storytelling tools which primarily use still images and audio narration, like VoiceThread, but the growing availability of web-based video editing and animation creation environments may entice me to begin experimenting with web-based digital stories which go beyond narrated slideshows. One difficulty with all these websites is categorizing them to understand what functionalities they provide. Obviously a lot of these sites have been created primarily for entertainment, but there are lots of potential educational possibilities for some of these tools as well. In this post, I’ll attempt to categorize video websites which provide different types of remixing and editing in addition to “plain” hosting.

Before I examine different video editing and remixing website options, I’d like to reflect briefly on the importance of educational leaders modeling the use web video for their communities. YouTube may be blocked in your own local school district, but there are a few signs that user-created, web-based video is becoming more accepted in some educational environments. An example is the video page for the new president of Oklahoma State University, V. Burns Hargis, which he has used this past spring semester to directly communicate with students, parents, faculty, staff, and other college community constituents. This type of leadership and example from a university President is both refreshing and wonderful, since it provides tangible examples of the constructive ways web video can be used for learning, communication, and outreach. There may be a wealth of web video options available online, but if all of them are blocked from teacher and student access in our K-12 schools, their existence means very little during the school day. Hopefully we’ll see even more educational leaders here in Oklahoma and elsewhere follow the lead of President Hargis in demonstrating the positive ways these tools can be used for learning and constructive communication.

YouTube is currently the best-known video hosting website, but is just one of many. YouTube permits users to rate videos and comment on them, and contributors can add videos directly with their webcam or by uploading a previously created and edited video. To my knowledge, YouTube does not (yet anyway) permit online video editing. Users can reply or respond to videos submitted by others or videos they’ve previously submitted themselves, leading to hyperlinked, asynchronous, multi-node video conversations. Those are a lot of adjectives to get your head around when it comes to web videos! It’s amazing to realize these sorts of multimedia interactions have just become mainstream in the past couple of years. The wide adoption of the Flash plugin into web browsers has accelerated the dynamic growth of web video. Competing formats like QuickTime and Windows Media are still strong, but flash-based videos dominate the current marketplace for user-created and shared web videos.

Flickr has started to support video, but limits uploads to just 90 seconds and only Pro (paying) users can contribute videos. I love posting images to Flickr, and use it almost every day, but I have not yet added any videos to my account. VoiceThread has been supporting video comments for awhile now, but I haven’t tried using it yet either. YET. In our joint presentation Thursday in Richardson, Texas, titled “Web 2.0 Tools Which Can Be Used For Assessing Student Learning” (available as an archived video on Ustream) Vicki Allen shared the VoiceThread example “What Will Grow?” At the start of this VoiceThread, the teacher (Wm Chamberlain) created a video comment with his webcam to provide instructions for a student assignment. This is the first example of a webcam being used in this way for a classroom assignment that I’ve seen on VoiceThread.

A more limited number of websites currently permit actual video editing. The three of which I am aware that provide this functionality are JumpCut, EyeSpot, and Motionbox. I should probably volunteer to teach a workshop or offer a presentation on these tools in the fall so I’ll be forced by a deadline to play with and learn about these sites. To date, however, I haven’t attempted to edit video online.

In addition to permitting online video editing, a growing number of video sharing sites permit tagging and bookmarked commenting within videos. Viddler is one example of a site which permits this.

Jason Kincaid shared a post recently about some other web-based video sites which provide still another type of functionality. I’ve seen JibJab previously, which lets users insert a cropped image of their head or someone else to make amusing (potentially amusing, anyway) flash-based animations. (Remember the dancing elf card someone sent you last Christmas? They probably made it with JibJab.) Jason mentioned some other websites in his post, however, which go beyond the simple greeting card or online joke creativity threshold of JibJab. Fuzzwich’s animator looks like an intriguing environment to merge images and videos to create original web-based animations. This preview screeencast gives a good overview:

Shapeshifter by Aniboom permits users to create web-based animations using simple shapes– all in an online web environment. If you’ve ever tried to create even a simple animation with Adobe Flash you’ll likely be amazed (as I am) about how easy websites like Aniboom and Fuzzwich are making this process!

Animoto is another video creation website I’ve used a bit, but so far it seems to be in a class by itself. Animoto allows users to submit images and music to have a short video created automatically with some impressive special effects. I wrote about Animoto in my September post, “No time to make a video? No problem with Animoto!” While the results of a few mouse clicks with Animoto can be entertaining and even amazing, as is the case with all multimedia in schools and learning environments, we should remain wary to not be awed by bells and whistles. “Lots of bells and whistles do not a critical thinker make.”

For better or for worse, the availability of webcams, video editing software and websites, and video sharing sites will continue to invite the creation and sharing of inappropriate as well as appropriate content on the global stage of the Internet. I’ve recently amended my now-standard Internet safety / safe online social networking discussions during presentations to move beyond “pencils and pens” and the choices we can make with them. Instead of just having audience members brainstorm (for about 30 seconds) the good and bad choices we could make with a pencil, I have started recording a short, live video using QuickTime Pro and then challenged folks to think of all the good and bad choices I could choose to make with a webcam. We don’t need to ask for many volunteers to get the idea out in the open that people certainly can (and are) using webcams and web videos for destructive, offensive purposes. Yet those negative examples should not entirely color and define our perceptions of web video.

Websites like Ustream.tv and justin.tv not only permit live and archived sharing of formal presentations at conferences (like mine from ESC10 this past week) but also permit “lifecasting.” The English WikiPedia currently defines “lifecasting” as:

a continual broadcast of events in a person’s life through digital media. Typically, lifecasting is transmitted through the medium of the Internet and can involve wearable technology. Lifecasting reverses the concept of surveillance, giving rise to sousveillance through portability, personal experience capture, daily routines and interactive communication with viewers.

In our media-drenched society, which grows ever more replete with digitally interactive environments and opportunities, it is absolutely essential that we focus our attention on the critical goal of helping students develop their own capacities for ethical decision making. Digital citizenship may not be on your state’s list of formal curriculum standards, but it is none-the-less an essential topic of discussion and debate for learners of all ages in the 21st century.

Alan Levine’s amazing wiki project “50 Web 2.0 Ways To Tell a Story” lists even more sites than those I’ve referenced here for creating online digital stories. He categorizes tools in the following groups:

  1. Slideshow Tools
  2. Timeline Tools
  3. Mixer Tools
  4. Comic Tools
  5. Map Tools
  6. Flickr Tools / Ideas
  7. Audio Tools
  8. Video Tools
  9. Presentation Tools
  10. New Tools

This is an amazing list and a helpful taxonomy to use when considering the different tools available for digital storytelling. If you are organizing a professional development event this summer (in the northern hemisphere) or winter (in the southern hemisphere) consider an activity in which teachers use some of these tools to create and share their own stories.

Experience is generally a much more persuasive and valuable teacher than bulleted lists in a PowerPoint presentation. To help other educators learn the value and practical “step by step” procedures for using tools like those mentioned in this post for digital storytelling, we can’t just talk the talk. We have to walk the walk, and provide opportunities for teachers to USE these tools AS STUDENTS in learning environments which closely mirror the sorts of interactive, project-based environments we HOPEFULLY want teachers to create in our classrooms with students.

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  • http://paulhami.edublogs.org Paul Hamilton

    The rapidly growing number of options for “digital storytelling” sometimes seems almost overwhelming. I just blogged about an impressive hybrid option available for the PC platform, called “Flypaper”. You download the program, so you can work on the presentation off line. You can also view and share your work offline. BUT, there are numerous options for uploading, embedding, and sharing online as well. I quite like it! My more detailed observations are at http://paulhami.edublogs.org.

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