Handful of Pictures. Amazing Results. Animoto.

12 pictures is all you need to get started with some really amazing video creation. Animoto.com adds another facet to digital storytelling in a very simple package. What exactly is Animoto? Think Microsoft’s Photostory; only hipper, much hipper, and easily accesible on the web. I like Photostory for what it does – creates videos with a documentary feel in the mold of Ken Burns’ pan and zoom technique. Animoto is different in that the videos have the feel of a television commercial or movie trailer. This makes sense when you realize that Animoto.com is the brain-child of a group of TV and film producers who have created content for major television and film studios.

The Animoto interface is streamlined and clear, ensuring success for even the limited user. You have multiple choices for image sources including digital images from your own computer or by connecting to popular sites like Flickr, Facebook, Smugbug, Picasa, and Photobucket through Animoto. After getting the pictures in place, you can upload your own audio file or use one of multiple tracks from up and coming artists hosted by Animoto.

That’s it. Now sit back and let Animoto do the rest. I must admit that the automatically generated effects are impressive. Animoto uses a patent-pending technology based on artificial intelligence to create a unique video incorporating motion design based on elements like the tempo of the music. Very cool. Bear in mind that the video will take 10 – 15 minutes to render and since this is done on the Web, there are some bandwidth issues to consider if you are planning to have a number of students uploading pictures or processing video all at once.

Animoto has all sorts of applications in the educational environment. It is a good tool for a morning news show, a storytelling activity, sharing a slideshow, or a new take on show-and-tell to name a few. You can view several examples from a Media Center Specialist in Texas here.


Flickr and the Very Short Story

by Tim Cushman

Getting students to create original writing pieces that represent their “best thinking” is difficult.  One of the teacher’s challenges is framing an assignment that is interesting and unique.  Teachers using the power of the web have been able to tap into tools like blogs and wikis in producing more conscientious writers.  The advantage of the Web lies in the access the average user has to present and interact with a global audience instead of being constrained to writing for one’s instructor and fellow classmates.  Blogs and wikis are both excellent tools, but the Web has much more to offer evolving writers.

As with all things in life, the “law of diminishing returns” applies to Web 2.0 as well.  Consider something different in the upcoming semester by making use of a Flickr “group” known as the 6 Word Story.  A one sentence, six-word story as a writing assignment you may wonder?  Definitely.  Just think of it as the equivalent of the haiku poem – structured and compact.  The history of the 6 Word Story supposedly can be traced back to Ernest Hemingway when he was pressed to create a complete story composed of a mere six words.  (Sources: http://www.flickr.com/groups/sixwordstory/ and http://www.wired.com/wired/archive/14.11/sixwords.html)  Hemingway’s concise response was, “For sale: baby shoes, never used.”  Several more examples can be found here: http://www.caterina.net/archive/001008.html and http://www.wired.com/wired/archive/14.11/sixwords.html.   

The natural response for students when beginning this type of assignment is to simply write a description of the image and unflinchingly await their easy “A”.  However, a good 6 Word Story should read more like a newspaper headline in the New York Times then a caption in the school yearbook.  This is much harder than you think and requires a great deal of creativity and mental effort.  Try composing a few 6 Word Stories of your own with the pictures below.  Click on the photos to see the actual 6 Word Story posted on Flickr.

Bucky     Girl

You can view 6 Word Stories from the Flickr community as well as pair a photo with a story.  There are several pictures awaiting a story at http://www.flickr.com/groups/sixwordstory/.    When searching Flickr, bear in mind that the 6 Word Story is often tagged as sixwordstory or 6WS. 

Be sure to post your classroom 6 Word Story experiences to this blog.

Digital Storytelling in the Classroom

Digital storytelling sounds like the type of project that only the most skilled of technology practitioners dare attempt. The truth is there are several modern ways to tell a “story” in the age-old tradition of sharing oral histories.

The ability to incorporate multimedia tools into the storytelling model greatly enriches the power of the story while creating the opportunity for students to reach a much wider audience beyond the four walls of the classroom. Digital storytelling typically consists of a series of photos or video enhanced by music and narration.

The modern “story” has been defined by what many have referred to as the “Ken Burns Effect.” Ken Burns, the creator of such documentaries as The Civil War, Baseball, and The War, used still images with a “pan and zoom” technique layered with a soundtrack and narration to bring historical pictures to life. The “pan and zoom” involves moving the camera back and forth across an image or zooming in and out to highlight a particular region of the picture. The style is simple, but it is an innovative means for telling a story.

There are several software tools for organizing a simple slideshow for digital photos. However, a digital story is far more than a parade of random snapshots. A good digital story should be more like a well written book or a memorable movie in the effect it has on the audience. This requires the creator to take a focused viewpoint while limiting the content to the essentials in order to communicate a specific message. A few examples can be found at http://www.storycenter.org/stories/. A more thorough examination of digital storytelling can be found at http://www.coe.uh.edu/digital-storytelling/default.htm.

I believe in the value of digital storytelling in the classroom. A digital story project challenges students and can be incorporated into almost any subject area. A well-designed digital story project requires a student to research, plan (best when done using a storyboard), and synthesize what they have learned. Research skills, effective communication, and opportunities for higher order thinking fit naturally with the storytelling process. A few implementation ideas are as follows:

  • a historical biography (especially those individuals that have been overlooked by history, such as the role of minorities in World War II)
  • retelling a piece of literature from the perspective of a specific character
  • illustrating parts of speech
  • highlighting a scientific process· conveying a technical process
  • demonstrating cause and effect
  • sharing poetry
  • creating a summary of text or ideas

There are multiple programs for creating digital stories. Below is a list of the more popular programs:

1. Microsoft PhotoStory 3

  • Cost: Free with a valid copy of Windows XP
  • Platform: Windows Only· Automatically adds the “Ken Burns Effect”
  • An excellent tool for working with digital pictures, and my personal favorite
  • Very easy to use, perfect for students of all ages and abilities.

2. Windows Movie Maker 2.1

  • Cost: Free with a valid copy of Windows XP
  • Platform: Windows Only
  • Images and videos can be added to create a story
  • A basic movie editor that can be learned quickly

3. Adobe Premiere Elements 3.0

  • Cost: $100
  • Platform: Windows or Mac
  • A powerful tool from Adobe with the user in mind. Some previous experience editing video or with Adobe products is
  • recommended.

4. Cyberlink Power Director 6

  • Cost: $80
  • Platform: Windows or Mac
  • Several built in aids for editing pictures and videos in the creation of professional looking product.

5. Apple iMovie

  • Cost: Free with Mac operating system
  • Platform: Mac
  • An easy to use application for creating digital stories from pictures or videos.
  • Includes the option for adding the “Ken Burns Effect.”

6. Memory Miner

  • Cost: $45
  • Platform: Mac
  • Dynamic software for creating digital stories and sharing them online