For one of my classes I was asked to explore educational software. I chose to explore Tech4Learning. I downloaded Video Blender to create a Machinama, and discovered that the software wouldn't allow me to upload video clips. I had to either open the video file with the software, or load each frame individually. It also wouldn't allow me to draw. I had to create the frames in a photo editing program, and then import it in. Lastly I was unable to import all of the sounds I wanted that were different file formats. The software seemed best fitted for adding sound to a PowerPoint, but as I was saving my file I noticed gif was an option. I realized that this software cost money to do the same thing I can get from various free software. I then looked at examples of the various products from the software, and couldn't help laughing when I saw the product of the SimplyVR. I saw the same "Virtual Reality" type photos ten years ago, on a walk through the Bible CD. I though it was lame then as a teen and I think it’s still nothing close to virtual reality. I can make that with an animated Gif with screenshots in Second Life if you guys want to see, but that won't capture the reality of the virtual world, because you can't truly interact with it. It’s just a 360 rotation of High definition photos.
I once used kidspiration my freshman year in my undergrad. I thought it was alright, but I quickly realized you were paying for the graphics. I can make the links and text boxes in Paint, and if I had the graphic collection of Kidspiration I could make the exact same thing for $10 (the cost of a graphics collection from Best Buy). Word offers a similar feature, but you can't switch models as easily as you can with inspiration. Is $50 per student a worthwhile investment for a visual brainstorming tool? Is there any other software that could be used?
With Flickr’s Creative Commons license, it should be easy now to get pictures a teacher needs to use. There is some great freeware that allows you to search Flickr as well. Two examples are a Color Picker , and a Shape Drawer , in addition to the regular tag search.
As I used Kidspiration, I could see how useful it is for elementary school classrooms, which need to have software that is easy to use for both the teacher and the student. As the student enters Middle School and High School I think they should have software that has multiple uses, and keeps up with their skills. The Macromedia Package , now owned by Adobe, has three software programs that allow for teens creativity (Dreamweaver for Web Design, Flash for Animations, and Fireworks for Graphic Editing), and Apple offers a similar package in iLife . How can we expect the educational software to compare with these? What about the schools who can’t afford this? What will happen now that Adobe owns Macromedia?
There is some free software that is better than VideoBlender, and Inspiration, but not as good as the software Macromedia and Apple offers.
For those who want to know what is possible you can look at www.chooserespect.org. This website lets teens edit little movies, and mix their own soundtrack. Everything is preselected, so it only has one purpose, but that doesn’t mean we should not strive to meet at least that level of interactivity. Another web-based software is Clesh, , which allows the user to upload video to edit it and add soundtracks; this is very useful for creating Machinama. Garageband from Apple is very popular for editing sound, but if the software is too expensive, Audacity is a free sound editing tool, that many podcasters use. Photo editing can be very difficult, but normally you don’t need the all the features they offer, unless you are on a very advanced level. When I was talking to adults about creating outfits for Second Life, they recommend Gimp. I have found this software just as complicated as Adobe and Fireworks, but more advanced than Paint. The only option it lacks is the ability to make animated gifs, which is what I used for my icon. The best software I have found to make this type of animation is Gif Animator. The only software from the Multimedia packages that I haven’t mentioned a free counterpart for is Web Development. If you know html, you can use HTML Kit to create WebPages very easily. It color codes the text so that you can visibly see the structure of the code, and all of the tags are available through the shortcut bar.
All of the free software mentioned does have its disadvantages, but it’s better than having tools that students don’t want to use. I grew up with computers. In third grade I had already learned how to type well enough to do my spelling words with a Garfield game, and had mastered a game called Mario Paint that allowed me to do everything available in VideoBlender except export to the computer. In school, I had computer classes every week, and by the time I was in middle school, I could access anything on the library computers I wanted to, including the games students like me hid on the hard drive, I could create flyers, greeting cards, and handouts using Publisher; Charts and Spreadsheets using excel; Word documents with word art; and by the time I entered high school I knew how to use PowerPoint.
I can adapt to computers very quickly, and the teens and children we have today are even smarter, and more tech savvy than me. I think we should prepare to help them use the tools that are as flexible as they are. If not we will be left in the dust.
The way I look at technology is as a tool. It lets me get things done faster and better. When you stop treating it like a tool, and expect that just having the technology is good enough we risk failing to meet the needs of the children and young adults we work with.
Posted by Jami Schwarzwalder