Animoto, an amazing web tool I first discovered and shared back in September 2007, has released a portal site specific for education, educators and students: education.animoto.com. The overview page declares:

Your classroom will never be the same. Add Animoto to your classroom’s digital storytelling kit. Takes just minutes to create a video. Bring your lessons to life. Post/embed videos elsewhere or download them for in-class presentations!

This is one of the example videos showcased on the Animoto for Education site, created by elementary educator Tod Baker. Todd teachers 5th grade at the International School of Tianjin in China. Tod’s educational blog is “Watch Your Bobber.”


Time to Make a Difference from Tod Baker on Vimeo.

Stand back, this is sure to be Gary Stager’s favorite web 2.0 application portal for education yet! (If you background on this, see Gary’s post from September 2007 on Animoto.)

It IS very important to think carefully and deliberately about the QUESTIONS and IDEAS we want students to explore when they create multimedia projects with Animoto or with other tools. I’ve attended web design workshops where the presenter boldly declared, “Content is king.” Content is VERY important, but higher order thinking skills are as well. As you use Animoto and other multimedia technologies with students to create, communicate and collaborate, consider how Bloom’s Taxonomy is or can be fully integrated into student projects. This WikiMedia Commons graphic of “Bloom’s Taxonomy – Learning in Action” from WikiPedia provides excellent ideas for ways in which students can DEMONSTRATE their knowledge, skills and understanding of ideas utilizing the 2001 revision of Bloom’s Taxonomy by Anderson & Krathwohl. Obviously “Create a video with Animoto for Education” isn’t on this list, but many of the activities and tasks which ARE on the list can be done as students create their final multimedia product with Animoto and other tools.

Bloom's Taxonomy - Learning in Action

Like other tools, it’s possible to use a powerful website like Animoto for Education in shallow or deep ways, in constructive or destructive ways. Or, it’s possible to just ban the website with the school content filter in an attempt to limit the decisions learners will make in the school building which pertain to digital ethics.

Many school district board members ARE more comfortable with Big Chief tablets in their own hands and the hands of their students rather than computer keyboards. In those cases, it’s just too bad the breadth of information, ideas and skills which students can access with paper and pencil is so limited. If we’re interested in helping students develop and refine relevant literacy skills in the 21st century, we HAVE to be using digital tools and resources regularly in our classrooms and homes.

Son of Big Chief tablet

Learning how to appropriately and effectively teach and learn with multimedia technologies should not be an option in our schools and classrooms. Animoto permits students as well as teachers to create some engaging videos, but ultimately the same responsibility for appropriate and effective uses of a learning tool applies to this website just as it does to a pencil or a pair of scissors. HOW will we use this tool? What engaging questions and tasks will we answer and engage in which relate to important ideas and issues about which we are curious and have developed existing background knowledge?

Back in September of last year, the Animoto CEO hadn’t anticipated how the tool his team created would be received and utilized by teachers and students. With the release of this portal, it’s clear those perceptions have been changed, and it seems the feedback and conversations which have taken place here in the blogosphere have been a significant contributor to those changes.

Tools like Animoto which potentially allow individuals to remix and repackage media in meaningful ways are inherently valuable. All the content which is created with Animoto, or any other tool for that matter (just look at YouTube for plenty of examples) are NOT inherently valuable, however. It’s up to the user and author to create with meaning and purpose, or create without thinking. As educators, part of our role is to encourage thoughtful and purposeful creation with digital as well as analog tools.

It will be interesting to see how COPPA compliance plays out with the Animoto for Education site. On the “learn more” page of the site, one FAQ states:

Children under 13 aren’t allowed to register. How then can I have my younger students use this program?
To ensure that your younger students are protected, we suggest that you come up with dummy e-mails for them that are under your control. This way you can monitor the activities that go on under their Animoto accounts.

I suspect VoiceThread’s method (via ed.voicethread.com) of having teachers or schools pay a nominal fee for a classroom account and then permitting students to create “child” accounts which are tied to / accountable to their teacher’s account may be a more straightforward procedure for most classroom teachers to follow in cases like this where individual emails are required for each student and the school does not provide student emails.

For step-by-step instructions about how teachers can use a single Google Mail account to setup student email addresses to use a tool like Animoto, see Sue Water’s post on EduBlogs “Creating Student Accounts Using One Gmail Account” from July 24th. Alternatively, consider setting up FREE and filtered / moderated student email accounts at your school using ePals SchoolMail. In either case, be sure you obtain parent permission and work with your school district’s administration so they are aware of your online activities as well as those of your students and support them.

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  • http://blog.genyes.com sylvia martinez

    Wes, You say, “It’s up to the user and author to create with meaning and purpose, or create without thinking. As educators, part of our role is to encourage thoughtful and purposeful creation with digital as well as analog tools.”

    I’m at a loss to see why you think Animoto is “inherently valuable” when the tool is specifically designed to eliminate the possibility of “thoughtful and purposeful creation”. Putting photos in a folder and clicking a button is not purposeful or thoughtful. What meaning can be attributed to a video that is automatically generated?

    Sure, it makes cool videos. But the user is deprived of the storytelling experience, of learning how to create a mood, how to use sound to support it, or learning how editing can make a video better. What is left for the user to learn? What does the user DO besides click a button? All the potential educational benefits of digital storytelling are completely lost.

    I think cool tools are fine. I’m happy the fine folks at Animoto Inc. like teachers. But to to call clicking a button an educational experience seems like quite a stretch.

  • Norman Morgan

    Wes,
    I think Animoto is a great tool as well. My class did end of the year research projects using Animoto as well as PowerPoint and Audacity. They loved the project and had a great time.

    Sylvia, the students had to decide what went into their video as slides and find supporting images for their 45-60 second video. They had to decide what was important, how to support it with images, decide on the audio script as well as what information could be presented in the PowerPoint slides. They had the ability to organize the layout of the slides of the PowerPoint as well as the images. Each of them recorded their script using Audacity and had to have background music that supported or did not distract from the project. I think it was a great introduction to using Web2.0 and opened up doors for further investigation and groundwork for these students.
    As Wes says “Animoto permits students as well as teachers to create some engaging videos, but ultimately the same responsibility for appropriate and effective uses of a learning tool applies to this website just as it does to a pencil or a pair of scissors. HOW will we use this tool?” They DO much more than just click a button depending on how you design the project.

  • http://webquest.org/bdodge Bernie Dodge

    Have to agree with Sylvia. “Thoughtful” doesn’t belong in the same sentence as Animoto. The glitz to thinking ratio is too high. Of course if you smoosh the Animoto video in with some non-automated GarageBand / Audacity / iMovie action then something like creativity and synthesis could occur. But only then and Animoto doesn’t get any credit for that part. To call the selection of images to send up to Animoto “thinking” is setting the bar pretty low.

    After you’ve seen two or three of these things, the thrill is gone.

  • http://www.wesfryer.com Wesley Fryer

    I think student created videos with Animoto will answer your concerns better than I can with text, Sylvia. True, if students unthinkingly simply upload images and set them to music, there is less chance of a meaningful media message being created than if they use a timeline-based video editing program or website.

    I’ll take this on as a personal challenge in the months ahead to see if I can find a way to work with students, and see if we can use Animoto in its current iteration to create some meaningful digital stories. Perhaps you’ll be right and it will be impossible. We’ll see.

  • http://blog.genyes.com sylvia martinez

    Have to say, Wes, it seems like a waste of time. In the same time you spend with this, you could let the students use a video editing tool they can actually have some creative control over. Why deliberately choose a tool that allows no control?

    Here’s a more interesting challenge – have kids make an “Animoto style” video themselves with any video editor you have access to.

    To do this, they will have to dissect what it is about the timing, transitions, and editing that make the videos exciting, powerful, boring, or whatever they see in them. And maybe they will see different things than you do. Why are some videos that pop out of the Amimoto toaster “better” than others? They should be trying to figure out what makes a video happy or sad, what makes you go “awwww”, what makes you jump out of your seat. And then try to do it themselves by playing with timing, transitions, mood effects, music, etc.

    Maybe every student can edit and score their own video out of the same folder of photos, and compare them with the other students. Maybe everyone can choose a emotion to illustrate, and see if the other students can guess what they were going for. That way every student can choose to make a sad story, a happy story, a scary story, a funny story, etc.

    That way students can see the power of editing to create emotional response in an audience — and experience it for themselves.

  • http:/www.stager.org Gary Stager

    I guess I should be grateful for the shout-out, but it’s a mixed blessing since I’m obviously such a lousy teacher. I’ve yet to persuade you.

    1) It remains possible for a technology to be wicked cool and useless as a learning environment at the same time.

    2) You continue to be euphoric about any and all hardware & software while blaming teachers for the efficacy of its use. This ignores the fact that technology has a trajectory, a designed dominant intent if you will. It is in fact possible to hammer a nail with a trumpet, but that is not an argument for classroom trumpets.

    3) I assume that people read your blog and look to you for leadership. Therefore, why not advocate for the richest highest-level uses of technology you can imagine? Wouldn’t that raise the bar for everyone? The advocate everything approach you advocate (with the bad teacher caveat included) justifies mediocre practices in the hope that something magically will happen later.

    4) Cheap & easy are terrible justifications for any educational action and typically result in cheap and easy results.

    5) I’ll ask again, is there any software or hardware you would recommend against for use in a classroom?

  • http://blog.mrmeyer.com/ Dan Meyer

    Basically everything Sylvia said. I want to add that Animoto is wrong for education in every way that it’s right for consumers — and the befuddlement of its creators at its educational market share affirms this directly.

    Consumers want something that takes the difficulty out of an engaging slideshow but difficulty is essential to learning. Do you see how the goals of Animoto’s founders and those of teachers are fundamentally at odds?

    Blogged this one at length awhile back.

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