Finding Free Films

Are you in search of a video to share with your students? Video can be a great way to bring outside experts and experiences right to your students. A video need not mirror course readings – rather, a film can slide in alternate perspectives, demonstrate the application of course concepts, or serve as a mini case-study.

Here are some resources for finding videos:

Haven’t found the perfect video yet? Don’t let the perfect be the enemy of the good: even a few minutes of a bad movie can lead to a great discussion. In fact, films with inaccuracies, exaggerations, or other flaws can be the perfect entry for a critical review of differing perspectives or popular perceptions of course content.

Here are some of our past posts discussing strategies for getting the most out of films: Teaching with Videos, Making a TED Video Your Own, and Video Day.

We’d love to hear about how you use films in your class – please let us know in the comments!

Xtranormal is Ending

We’ve discussed the animation-creation website Xtranormal a few times. Now it looks like Xtranormal will be no more (at least not in the way it was). Xtranormal, we hardly knew ye. Where else will we get our snarky videos about awkward social situations?

You have until July 31st to complete any Xtranormal projects and download all your content.

Go!Animate is a reasonable alternative; you might also consult this list of Five Innovative Animation Tools.

Animations remain a great way to introduce a topic, start a discussion based on a model scenario, or highlight other applications of course content. You or your students can easily create animations. Generally, one begins by selecting, creating, or uploading avatars and backgrounds; then typing in the text the avatars will speak; and last adding other effects (music, captions, links, etc.).

Free Group Video Calling on Skype

Last month, Skype announced a great deal for educational users: free group video calling for a year.

The freebie is associated with Skype’s educational arm, Skype in the classroom. Skype in the classroom skews more to a K-12 audience, but there’s nothing to stop you from joining the Skype in the classroom site and then using those features (such as the group video calling) that work for you. After all, group video calling is an excellent way to chat with far-flung collaborators about research, check-in with  groups of students working together off-campus, or invite a remote panel of experts and practitioners into your classroom.

Previously, users had to pay for group video calling as part of Skype Premium; Now, instructors can video chat with up to nine other users at a time (although quality may decline with more than five users on the call). Directions and screenshots on the Skype blog explain how to get started.

A word to the wise: The process requires you to create a Skype in the classroom account (you’ll need to enter your email address), but you should also take the opportunity to check that the email addresses associated with your primary Skype account are correct and current. This is crucial since once Skype verifies you as an educational user, they’ll send an email with a voucher code for the free group video calling and other Skype premium services.

Once you’re all ready to go – or while your educational user verification is pending – you might want to review our past post all about Skype resources.

Thanksgiving 2012

For those out there who find themselves somewhere on the continuum between hard at work and hardly working on this last day before Thanksgiving, here are some fun holiday links:

First, if you’re still looking for that one last recipe, here’s a link to a source for handwritten European and American recipes from the 1600s to the1960s. If you can’t find something good in there, you may not be trying hard enough. The bad news is that you will likely have to hit the grocery store. The good news? Digital archives making our lives better (and maybe even tastier?).

Second, here’s some common ground if find yourself needing to make small talk with strangers: crossword puzzles. Love ’em? Hate ’em? Never tried ’em?  There’s enough in there for a few minutes of polite chitchat. If you really want to elevate your game to the next level, however, there’s this video with the puzzle editor of the New York Times offering a behind the scenes look at how crosswords are made. Also, he majored in engimatology. How cool is that?

Last, here’s one more thing to to think about if you find yourself trapped in conversation over the holidays: this TED video starring Adam Savage (host of MythBusters on the Discovery Channel) explains how simple observations can lay the groundwork for great scientific discoveries. Maybe your seemingly dull conversation partner is actually laying the groundwork for your amazing forthcoming scientific discovery! Or, you know, you can take control of the conversation and impress the other person with some great science stories. Actually, I think this short video has a lot of food for thought regarding curiosity, how we can all use observations, and the stories we tell about science and discoveries.


If this post comes too late for your Thanksgiving festivities, never fear – the winter holidays are just around the corner!

p.s. If you’re looking more holiday-related content, you can always check out our post from Thanksgiving 2011 and our 2011 winter break post.

Teaching with Videos

We write about videos with some degree of frequency. And, well, why not? Videos are great ways to introduce yourself or the course, transition to new content or concepts, and address class themes and discussion points. In addition, the right video content can provide an experience beyond the classroom walls or course shell.

Consider this infographic about the impact of video in education, courtesy of the networking / communications / collaboration company Cisco Systems:

Inforgraphic provided by Cisco systems on benefits and prevalence of videos in education

If you’re considering using or creating a video for your course (perhaps as part of a flipped classroom experience or experiment), this list of different styles for integrating video content into your course may help you think about your goals and starting point. In particular, instructor-created video can be much more than a recorded lecture. Note that the last video integration style mentioned might also be read as “Video Engages Interested Others” – meaning community members, colleagues, university administrators, etc.

This is a list of 15 eLearning video tips. Some of them, such as using actors, probably aren’t practical on the individual course level. However, the points about having a transcript available (an important accessibility concern), the optimal length of videos, and establishing the context for your video are all well worth reading. Aimed more at faculty producing their own videos, this list of video tips for faculty is a great pre-recording checklist. I just love condensed tip lists like this: it’s as if someone has already made the mistakes and is now sharing their pearls of wisdom, saving you from mediocre results!

Note that the Koehler Center has some information about recording your own content and uploading it to your Pearson LearningStudio course shell.

Of course, not all videos need to star you or your students. There are several animation options that allow you to upload an image of your own or work with selected sets of avatars. Need a comical take on two molecules joining together? Want to create a funny little animation of two historical or literary characters to start a class discussion? This is a summary of five easy animation tools; these tools are aimed at young students, but that means the learning curve for the new tools should be quite feasible. In the context of creating your own animations, I’d also be remiss not to mention Xtranormal – perhaps the most popular easy web animation tool.

If integrating existing videos is your preference, this list of curated educational internet video sources is a good starting point. In addition, the Koehler Center has collected an extensive list of internet streaming video resources that may be helpful. Last, I just found out about the website Documentary Heaven the other day. The site gathers and embeds documentaries available elsewhere on the internet, serving as a sort of clearinghouse for streaming documentaries.

If you are thinking about working with existing video, this is an intriguing article from the Academic Technology blog at the College of William and Mary about recording your own audio commentary to accompany video resources. Providing your own audio track means that students can stop the video, take notes, rewind, re-watch, and re-listen to your insights as many times as needed. This is a great alternative to the pace of in-class film screenings, with the added bonus of allowing you to use class time for other learning activities. Likewise, you can also ask students to create a commentary of their own for short segments of videos – a great way for them to demonstrate their skills and apply course content.

If you are TCU faculty and have a Pearson LearningStudio course shell, here are the how-to guides for embedding audio and video content in your course shell.

As always, we’d love to hear what video resources you’re using and how you’re using them!

Cool Tools (On the TCU Campus)

If you’re here at TCU, I recommend checking out the monthly brown bag sessions offered by the TCU New Media Writing Studio on free digital tools. I attended the first one of these last week; you can find upcoming dates listed on the New Media Writing Studio workshop schedule.

In the hour-long session, three presenters shared how they each use a different tool to improve their teaching and research. Discussion was informal, with plenty of time for questions, clarification, and examples.

The tools covered were:

Join.me: A simple, quick screen-sharing tool. The individual sharing his/her screen downloads some basic free software, while viewers need only navigate to the join.me webpage and enter a designated nine-digit code to see the shared screen. Clearly useful when viewers are not in the same physical location, this tool also has broad applicability for face-to-face classes. For example, the instructor or student presenter can bypass plugging a personal machine or thumb drive into the projector by navigating to join.me on the classroom computer’s web browser, entering the code, and then projecting the shared screen – progression through the presentation or other content is actually controlled from a personal laptop or tablet elsewhere in the classroom. The ability to manipulate content on the classroom projector while not standing at the podium allows for greater flexibility regarding how classroom space can be used: students and the instructor can sit together in a circle or around a seminar table. Likewise, students who bring their own devices to class can enter the designated screen sharing code and then view the speaker’s content on their own screens – no need to face the front of the classroom at all! Last, screen sharing, instead of directly attempting to load files on the classroom computer, can also help to avoid version or software compatibility issues that might arise from attempting to open content created on a different machine.

Diigo: A link aggregating and organizing tool, complete with sharing and social networking features.  In order to use Diigo, you place a small toolbar on your browser, and then save and tag websites that catch your eye. You also have the ability to share your links with groups you create or preexisting Diigo groups you can join. Likewise, you can see other links saved by individuals who also saved your initial link, allowing you to perhaps discover relevant, related content. The ability to search your links by tag (or keyword) is what makes Diigo so versatile; a saved bookmark can generally exist in only one folder, but a given Diigo link can have multiple tags. You can then search your all your links for a specific tag or search all user-saved Diigo links for a specific tag. Additionally, since your Diigo bookmarks live in the cloud, they are available to you no matter your location or device. Basic Diigo membership is free and comes with unlimited bookmarking and some advertising; upgraded plans with no advertising and increased highlighting, note-taking, and searching powers cost $20-$40 per year (note that there are also educator upgrades available).

PBworks: We’ve written about wikis on this blog already, but a good tool bears repeating! PbWorks is a wiki hosting service that allows you to create a free, basic wiki for educational / non-commercial use. Wikis are great tools for organizing your teaching and professional materials. Instead of collecting items in folders or sub-folders by class or year, you can put up a wiki page with your notes or upload and link to relevant files. A wiki organized topically like this means that if you cover the same topic in multiple courses over a period of years, there’s no need to go hunting for content – it’s all linked together, based on relationships you establish among the files and wiki pages. Likewise, as you gather materials for research or professional projects of your own, a wiki can help you store and organize files, web links, and your own typed notes. While the wiki grows over time, you never need to worry about losing your notes or files, as these are no longer stored on your local machine; you can access your files from home, work, or using your mobile / tablet device. Complete with tagging features, the ability to search the contents of the entire wiki, and privacy controls (including allowing comments and sharing editing rights), wikis have some real advantages over simply storing files or taking notes on your local machine.

If cool tools like this have piqued your interest, you might be interested in the multimedia and teaching tools collected by the Koehler Center team. We’ve broken these tools down into audio, video, collaboration, digital storytelling, graphics, presentations and slidecasts, social networking, mobile and tablet apps, and an exciting grab bag of other web 2.0 tools (maps, calculators, study aids, etc.) that defy neat classification. You’re sure to find something interesting!

Tiny Habits

I recently came across this video interview with the director of Stanford University’s Behavior Design Lab, B.J. Fogg. I think his point about how to form habits is pretty interesting, especially his perspective on motivation and willpower. I also love that he addresses eLearning directly through the lens of goals/outcomes, habits, and behaviors. I think it’s well worth clicking the link and taking nine minutes of your time to watch it.

I’m interested in what others think. What would this look like in practice in your course or course shell? Do you think you’d see changes in student behavior? And how would you grow tiny habits into mastering course objectives?